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Sexual Discrimination in the Playground

Sexual Discrimination in the Playground

There was snow, and ice. It was cold.

We gathered, us Mums, the warmth of our numbers protecting us from the bitter, late November wind. The school yard had its own microclimate, channelling the coldest wind, and forcing us to huddle together like penguins.

Peering from under frosted eyebrows, I scanned the whiteboard outside our classroom for new information, information that was vital to the success of my children’s education and therefore their future career prospects. They are aged 3 and 5.
“Cake bake for Year 3 next week” the whiteboard read. “Payments for Panto trip now due” it demanded. “Pet Rabbits – free to good home” it cajoled, and then that slow, sinking feeling as I read the latest announcement: “Mums Night out next Friday – All Bar One” it threatened.

“Mums Night Out!?!?” I thought.

For I was not a Mum.

Yes, I did the cake bakes, yes I took them to ballet, I made the packed lunches, I painted their faces, I had tea and girly chats with other mums, I had innumerable walks in the park with a buggy, and generally looked after my 2 young daughters with slightly clumsy devotion, but I was not a housewife. I was a rarer breed, a househusband.

I read it again and the questions flicked across my mind. What did that whiteboard mean? Did it mean Mums and ‘Mums’? Was I an honorary Mum? Was I excluded simply for being born with a Y chromosome? Would they be wearing skimpy clothes? Was my exclusion sexual discrimination? Was I a victim? Me, a victim? And who could I sue?

Now, to be a full time dad in the school playground is to experience an odd mix of emotions. Pride that you are intimately involved in the care of your children, shame you are not putting bread on the table to feed them. Illicit excitement that you are a rare male presence in a gathering of ladies, but the bitter disappointment of a eunuch in a brothel. Totally out of one’s comfort zone. Having said that, none of those Mums could knock out a Victoria Sponge half as good as mine. Though a man taking on such a traditionally female role might be the norm in Scandinavia, it certainly isn’t in Yorkshire.

Thanks to the best efforts of feminists such as Emmeline Pankhurst, Germaine Greer and Karen Brady, the sisterhood has changed over the course of the past century or so. Their place in society has changed to such an extent that no-one bats an eye when a female doctor, priest, lawyer, businessperson, or politician raises her (pretty little?) head. And so it should be. So why not when men become nursery nurses , midwives, or indeed house husbands?

Now, bear with me here as I veer off on a slight tangent. The employment market has been squeezed by this recession. As businesses try to mitigate its effect, they have made redundancies, cut employees hours and instigated flexible working practices. Families across the country are having to adapt, and in many households (such as mine) the traditional work/childcare roles have been reversed. There might just be a long term consolation – cultural change.

The learnt behaviour of both employees and employers will have changed over the course of this recession. Men will return to the workplace, with a greater understanding of part time work patterns, or the role of the homemaker. This awareness should lead to a greater openness in terms of considering job shares, flexitime, part time working, and paternity leave.

What a waste of resources, I think, as I see many Mums in the school yard, craving the intellectual stimulus of a job yet wanting that flexibility to look after children. Many of them being experienced business people, often with a pile of skills and attributes to offer yet that part time requirement creating an issue for hiring managers. This recession may have taught some men that if they happen to be on the other side of the desk as hiring manager, perhaps they should give a chance to that female candidate with the strong background but needing 3 days a week only. Or that male candidate who can will happily work late and through lunch but can’t get to the office after 9am, when he has dropped the kids off at school.

As for me? Well, I know that since my redundancy and my time as a house husband, I look at lawyers wishing to work part time differently, more acutely aware of their bigger picture. I know that my time as a house husband doesn’t negate the 8 years’ experience as a permanent legal recruiter, and if a candidate has a similar background, then I try to represent this to our clients. And as other men return to the workforce, I believe their learnt behaviour will subtly change. This huge talent pool of women who want to look after children and work part time, will find the route to market easing up just a little. And across the land, men’s baking skills will surely have improved.

“So”, I hear you say, “Enough of the social commentary, what we really want to know is did you go on the Mums night out?”
Well, of course not, I bottled it. Wouldn’t you? Terrifying bunch they were. Anyway, despite my New Man credentials, I reckon some experiences should remain solely ‘for the ladies’.

And winning bets from a boys school rugby team for shots of Sambuca in the Slug & Lettuce in Harrogate in return for taking your bra off….well, that’s definitely one of them.

If you’d like to talk about the issues raised in this blog, or in-house legal recruitment, what in-house legal jobs are available, or how to make the best Victoria Sponge cake in the whole of Yorkshire, then contact me at tomfleet@bcllegal.co.uk

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