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The idea of anti-sexism has hardly scratched the surface of the popular male imagination - compare it for example with feminism whose ideas are taken for granted by many women who would not even call themselves feminists.

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Introduction

The idea of anti-sexism has hardly scratched the surface of the popular male imagination - compare it for example with feminism whose ideas are taken for granted by many women who would not even call themselves feminists. The usual view of men's anti-sexism is that it centres around men who find it personally important to challenge the pressure to conform to a 'macho' image plus a handful of politically aware men wanting to assist on what are seen as feminist issues. In fact any man giving it serious thought will come to see domestic violence, rape, care of their children and suchlike as being men's issues. However, the average man will not be drawn into men's groups by these issues, and will tend to see men's anti-sexism as a movement without a cause. But I believe it's a movement which has remained marginal by failing to acknowledge its biggest cause. Men's groups tend to look for a personal response to the contradictions their members face - THEY are the problem, they must change. This seems to be unrelated to the impersonal world of politics and the hard realities of jobs, pay, working hours and conditions, etc. But this is exactly the area where anti-sexism could have its greatest impact. Because, in spite of the effects of massive unemployment, little has changed men's ideas about work. The classic picture of man-as-incomplete-person that men's groups invoke - emotionally retarded, distant from his children, competitive at work and dominant at home - describes a man well moulded to the career world. ...read more.

Middle

It would be a move against the binding domination of full-time work and the undervaluing of part-time work, which would allow a balance of working and domestic life to suit the priorities of individual men and women. In particular, parents would be free to share childcare and earning according to their own values. A practical shift in the distribution of the tasks between the sexes would open the door to many other changes. If the responsibility for financial support was no longer borne principally by men this could undermine the damaging tendency for manhood to be measured by economic success - which is often won at the price of being a second rate parent. And for women, work on these terms would mean not only an increase in real economic power and independence, but with this a greater participation in public and political life. Also any overall reduction in average hours worked could help to reduce unemployment in the right circumstances. So how might these ideas be realised in practice? Three possibilities for change are better provision for job sharing, more flexibility of working hours (especially total hours worked) and better parental leave allowances. As far as trade unions are concerned, defending the interests (primarily financial) of those in work comes before freeing members to work less. So small reductions in the working week, (which would probably serve mainly to increase overtime payments), take priority over genuine flexibility of hours and job-sharing provisions. ...read more.

Conclusion

Even if employers, unions and the Government could be persuaded that this sort of parental leave provision is in their interests, there is a danger that it would divert attention away from the need to extend workplace nurseries and local authority childcare provision, and further privatise the provision of 'care' in our society. Another important issue is how, 'parental' schemes like this should be linked to more general ones like a Flexible Work Right. Which should have higher priority, and what would their effects be on the level of unemployment? Finally, I doubt if such voluntary schemes would be enough to bring about major changes in the distribution of labour between the sexes. Particularly in times of high unemployment and low wage increases, when the perceived priority of maximising the 'breadwinners' earnings is greatest, many men would not willingly reduce their hours worked. Schemes involving paid leave avoid this problem, but inevitably involve smaller changes in hours worked so as not to be prohibitively expensive. Compulsory schemes, such as legal limits on basic hours of work and overtime (to encourage men to invest more time and effort in the home) would probably also be needed, but care would be needed to avoid reducing low-paid workers' wages oven further. But, to end on a positive note, it is true that there is a long-term trend towards fewer hours spent in paid employment by each male worker - the average has fallen by over one third in the last 100 years. Let's hope it continues and that employed men make good use of the growing part of their lives spent outside paid jobs. ...read more.

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