The misogyny and sexism of men has featured prominently in the news recently, and rightly so. The sentencing of convicted rapist Brock Turner in America; Eddie Maguire “joking” about drowning journalist Caroline Wilson; radio personality Steve Price’s overt sexism on Q&A; to name but three stories.
On the flipside, another piece of news popped up not too long ago and hasn’t ruffled too many feathers. Mamamia – usually a progressive publication I follow for its insights into women’s rights, parenting and relationships – recently published a piece titled, “‘That’s not my… husband’ The hilarious parody book all mums can relate to”.
While obviously from the title I (a dad) was not the intended audience, the post’s caption: “That’s not my husband ... he's doing the laundry. Now THIS is a book we can relate to,” reeled me in immediately. Probably because I do a lot of laundry.
The article is based on a book Melbourne writer Kasey Edwards released five years ago and is gathering momentum for another edition after a decent run of publicity. It is a parody of the popular Usborne series of touch-and-feel books in which a child says things like, “that’s not my monkey, its ears are too fuzzy.” In place are zingers such as, “That’s not my husband … he’s changing a nappy.”
Essential Baby notes that, “While irate dad bloggers and men’s rights activists have been appalled by a book they see as degrading to men, Edwards sees the overwhelming response from mothers as validation that many women can relate to the sentiments."
I’m certainly no men’s rights activist. I get that women have a tougher time in life due to institutionalised sexism; that men are the greatest threat to women’s safety and well-being; that women get paid less to do the same work as men. I get that the cards are stacked in my favour because I am a man. And I get that all of this, and more, needs to change.
What I don’t get is how fighting sexism with sexism in anyway advances the feminist movement. Is sexism really validated by the fact that others share the same sentiments and can relate to them?
Though the book started as a joke between the author and her husband, the subtext is clear: most, if not all, fathers are one or more of lazy, incompetent and/or hopeless. And most, if not all, fathers are not fit to raise children. It is dehumanising and reeks of the "Mere Male" column New Idea used to publish (someone please tell me they don't still do this).
While “punching up” at the dominant group is generally accepted in comedy and satire, there are probably a whole heap of people – myself included – who feel punched down at.
Being a stay-at-home dad means I do my fair share of child-rearing and housework, so perhaps I was ripe to feel aggrieved. And given I'm a dad-blogger, my experience of parenting and relationships might be somewhat atypical.
Maybe there are indeed men out there who don’t lift a finger around the house and send their wives texts from the pub reading, “Sex 2nite?”, as the book lampoons. And maybe the wives of these men can relate to these sentiments and find comfort in them. Perhaps caricaturing fathers in such a book is merely one drop in the bucket of sexism women have to face every single day.
But if we want more men to play an active part in raising kids; to have more women in the workforce; as the case should be, belittling one sex or another based on outdated gender stereotypes is surely doing more harm than good.
Confused as to why the book was popular, and perplexed why it upset me so much (was I being irate or hysterical?), I sought comment from my wife, who is a proud feminist. She assures me that no malice or offence is intended: that the book is just trying to be funny and is not trying to assist in women’s liberation, empowerment or emancipation.
But surely it cannot help.
Surely, women do not want equal right to demean and degrade; to partake equally in the casual sexism so many men are wont to. “Equality” after all, should not be the end-goal of the feminist movement. As Ruby Hamad – with reference to Germaine Greer, and in the context of Michelle Payne’s victory in the Melbourne Cup – so eloquently put it, the true goal of feminism should be liberation from patriarchal norms and standards, not equality within them.