Women of the World Festival; one man’s experience

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Women of the World Festival, #WOWLDN, gender equality, equality, Chore Wars and Domestic Lives
Deep in discussion from L-R; counsellor and lifelong feminist Pauline Latchem , Rowan Davies of Mumsnet, me, teacher and writer Lola Okolosie and Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project.

My world has been dominated by one thing over the past few days; the Women of the World (WOW) Festival that took place in London’s Southbank Centre.

As I revealed the week before last, I was presented with a great opportunity to speak at two sessions during the festival. The first one on Friday was called Childcare Utopia and compared the expensive, British childcare system with the heavily state-sponsored systems in the Nordic countries. The final session I spoke at took place yesterday (Sunday, 13 March). It was called Chore Wars and Domestic Lives and explored the reasons why men don’t do more housework and childcare.

I was quizzed by one or two individuals who expected me to turn such an invitation down. Truth is, if an event has the words “mum” or “women” in the title, I find myself drawn to it. As a stay at home father I think such events are a superb opportunity to discuss and highlight the issues I find myself dealing with.

I confess, however, that I was a little nervous about attending. I had certainly heard of WOW festivals before, but never attended one. It’s a global movement and I knew this was a high profile event.

During both sessions I was going to be the only guy participating and the list of other speakers who had spoken over the weekend in other sessions was simply awesome. Among the many participants were Annie Lennox, Sandi Toksvig, Sharmi Chakrabarti, and Caitlin Moran. The Chore Wars and Domestic Lives session was going to be chaired by none other that Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. How did lil’ ol’ me end up in amongst this amazing mix of people?

Was I going to get a rough ride? Would it be like the Rev Ian Paisley going for a casual stroll in the Vatican?

As it happens, I had been told to expect a carnival atmosphere. That’s exactly what I got. Far from being the odd man out, I found myself being made to feel very, very welcome. There seemed to be a genuine desire to hear things from the guy’s perspective and to understand it.

So what exactly was discussed? The Childcare Utopia Session was truly fascinating. The session was chaired by Shazia Mustafa, a member of the Women’s Equality Party and co-founder of Third Door, a co-working space and nursery in South London. Other participants included former Finnish MP Johanna Sumuvuori, a Danish mum of two presently living in London and an Icelandic nursery school teacher who has worked in the UK.

I won’t go into detail bout the Nordic system. You can read about it in detail here. Suffice it to say, all the Nordic countries invest heavily in quality childcare that is available to children from a younger age compared to the UK. They also have better parental leave systems in place and this pincer movement has led to improved gender equality in the workplace and home.

The first thing that struck me about these three Nordic women was their confidence and no nonsense, can-do approach. They spoke about parenting in a much more collegiate way; it was something to be done by men and women and it was quite normal for men in their respective nations to look after children and for women to be in the workplace. The education systems were also designed to promote gender equality.

As I said to the audience, I had planned to turn up and say that it would be fantastic for the UK to have such a system in place, but that we simply aren’t a Nordic nation. We have a bigger, more diverse population, we aren’t as socialist in our outlook and we’d never tolerate Nordic rates of taxation.

When I was doing some research ahead of the event, however, I stumbled across a fascinating nugget of information. The UK spends 3.6% of its Gross Domestic Product on families. Bizarrely this makes us one of the most generous nations in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development in terms of spending on the family. By comparison, Denmark invests slightly more at 3.7%.

The big difference? The UK pumps all its money into tax credits and benefits while Denmark provides practical solutions such as childcare facilities that families can make use of. The result; greater involvement of Danish women in the workforce and greater involvement of Danish men in the home and family. The UK, meanwhile, seems to be unwittingly perpetuating a benefits culture that no one, well, ‘benefits’ from. Instead of saying the UK simply couldn’t replicate what happens in the Nordic countries, I said we need to revisit our priorities and what we spend our money on.

Women of the World Festival

A couple of days later I was back at the Royal Festival Hall for the Chore Wars and Domestic Lives session. This session was inspired by the #ChoreChallenge campaign that was, in part, organised by the Everyday Sexism Project.

In addition to Laura Bates of Everyday Sexism, the panel was made up of writer and teacher Lola Okolosie, Rowan Davies who is head of policy and campaigns at Mumsnet and counsellor and lifelong feminist Pauline Latchem.

This session was a real eye opener for me. I could go on in detail about all that was said by the brilliant panel and equally brilliant audience. Instead I want to focus on one aspect I found truly staggering.

I was genuinely stunned about the level of guilt and pressure that women said they felt. One thing came out loud and clear from the panel and the audience; women feel under massive pressure to run the perfect home and to have housework and childcare done to their standards.

As a guy fulfilling the traditionally female homemaking role, I’ve never felt that pressure. As I explained to the audience, it’s one of the fringe benefits of being a stay at home father; you don’t face the same judgement.

I said women needed to give up the guilt and pressure and accept the fact that men can do this stuff. Us men may do things differently or to different standards, but we’re quite capable of looking after our children and doing housework. The challenge, of course, being to get those men who don’t see it as part of their role, to get active on the domestic front.

There was so much more I could say about that session. To be honest it needs its own book, not a blog post. I think I prepared about 10 pages of notes before the session and we all agreed there was just so much to discuss on this subject.

That was my experience of WOW. I’m pleased to say it was nothing like Paisley visiting the Vatican. It was fun and raised some fascinating points for consideration. Above all, it was very inspiring.

Were you at WOW? What were the highlights for you? Do you think we need a Nordic system of childcare? Crucially, do you agree women need to drop the guilt and pressure?

And then the fun began...

Let's Talk Mommy

24 thoughts on “Women of the World Festival; one man’s experience”

  1. What an interesting read! Yes women definitely need to drop the guilt and the pressure, and even more so, accept that you can’t do all to perfect standards. Delegate and accept, and retain your sanity 😀

    Interesting statistics on the GDP allocation to family – didn’t know those numbers before and interesting to see the difference between Denmark an UK.

    1. The difference between the UK and Denmark is truly staggering. I am a convert; we need to examine our priorities very closely. And yes, a whole load of guilt needs dumping!

  2. Sounds like an awesome event! I often feel like the reluctance to overhaul the UK system of childcare, etc, is a leftover of our obsession with promoting ‘traditional’ family values – things like the married couples tax allowance which gives you most benefit if only one spouse is working. We need a bigger change in thinking within govt, I guess.

    Definitely agree that women feel way too much pressure to ‘have it all’. I work and my partner is a SAHD but if we have people coming round or something, I still find it hard not to redo all his cleaning to my own standards! #thetruthabout

    1. First things first, stop redoing his cleaning. Are your OH’s standards really that low???

      Anyway, interesting point about retaining family values. I have heard it said that the Conservative party has been too obsessed with focusing on marriage in its family policies. Your comments make a lot of sense.

    1. It was a real joy to meet you Pauline. You’re a very inspiring individual I’m sure our paths will cross again and I’ll be upset if they don’t!

  3. This is so interesting John. Being in the US makes the UK system look positively amazing to be honest, but I agree that rethinking where money is spent in the UK should be the priority. What really interests me though is your comments about guilt. I’ve been reading a bit about the concept of kinkeeping recently, and while I’ve always been a believer in playing to your strengths and sharing domestic tasks, there are definitely a lot of underlying, expected behaviours that are at play too that I think I’m more influenced by than I like to think. That and being a control freak 🙂 #thetruthabout

    1. Bizarrely, I have heard it said there is greater equality in the US because of the poor childcare / parental leave system. In other words, it’s so bad everyone is treated badly! Kinkeeping came up in the discussion. One woman from the audience asked what she could do about it and I explained that I simply don’t do any for my wife’s relatives. They’re her relatives, so she can send them birthday cards etc!

  4. Wow what an experience that must have been and so fascinating. I do absolutely think women need to drop the pressure and I’ve been thinking recently about hoe technology, blogging and social media can perpetuate that pressure. So I am not sure what the solution is! Great read xx

    1. Yeah, I think social media etc can be a repressive force (although if used properly the reverse is true). It was, however, really fascinating and I’m so glad to have participated in #WOWLDN.

  5. I think it’s brilliant that you took part in this John and glad that you were made to feel so welcome! Really interesting debates too – the differences between us and the Nordic countries are huge aren’t they? Do they get free childcare? And is that cheaper to run than the cost of the childcare element of tax credits? I guess that’s what you’re saying. The second debate is really summed up by your point that the challenge is ” to get those men who don’t see it as part of their role, to get active on the domestic front.” because it’s a lovely idea that men and woman pitch in to family life equally but everyone has to be on board for that to happen. I note that many female bloggers have nothing but praise for the contribution that their partners make around the home and with the kids but that’s not the story for everyone. Thanks for linking up to #thetruthabout

    1. Denmark is considered the gold standard and parents pay around 25% of the cost of childcare. In Iceland, childcare from the age of two is seen as a legal right for the child. All the nations have some form of shared parental leave with some of the leave ring-fenced for the father’s use (thereby forcing a change in workplace culture). I couldn’t honestly tell you if it is cheaper than a system of tax credits, but as the Finnish lady pointed out, you’d have greater female participation in the workforce and therefore greater tax revenues to spend.

      And yes, the crux of the matter is to get those men that don’t see domestic chores as part of their role to undertake them. Answers on a postcard please for that one!

  6. What a great event to attend and an honour to have been asked, well done you. I think you’re very inspiring John, there needs to be so many more men out there like you. #thetruthabout

    1. It was a real honour and I’m so glad I participated. I wasn’t entirely sure if the vibe of the place would be wholly positive but it most certainly was!

  7. I’m amazed by the figures that the UK spend and yet the Nordic principles seem so sensible and successful! We do have a long way to come. In terms of the pressure…I can see why women feel it. I’m quite lazy sometimes and let the house slip and if Mum comes over I don’t mind. However, a friend or the MIL I’m stressed!! I think the biggest pressure is occupying your children in a Pinterest way! Sometimes all my daughter wants is glue, paper and buttons and doesn’t care about some photogenic, impressive creation. Well done for being invited xx #thetruthabout

    1. Oh yes, the pressure of the visiting friend was mentioned during the second session. Oddly MiLs didn’t come up. If anyone is going to induce a sense of stress, you’d imagine it would be the MiL!.

  8. Female guilt is a funny thing, I think it is just inbuilt and it is very hard to overcome, I think it is designed to be there to make us strive harder to be the best we can. Lovely to hear about it all from your perspective. #SharewithMe

    1. Female guilt must, however, be soul destroying! I was really taken aback at the strength of feeling from the audience.

  9. Two incredible opportunities for you – wow! (pun intended). I’ve always been fascinated by the way that the Danes run their country and attitudes to parenting. It’s so far removed from us but makes a lot of sense. A friend moved there about 5 years ago and she’s always sharing the differences on Facebook. Sounds like we could learn a thing or two!

    1. Oh we could learn such a lot from the Danes. The only issue is that it’s simply accepted that both partners will work full time after a period of shared parental leave so it kinda takes the choice out of the system. What they have in place, however, is very good.

  10. Wow what a great opportunity and you seem to take it all in your stride for something so huge. Way to go. Bravery right there. Good for you for joining in whenever it says mom or women Dad’s should be heard too. I think there needs to be more stay at home dads sharing their experience. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me and the continual support. #sharewithme

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