The Guardian’s weird take on a U.N. study about fatherhood

18 Feb

Another day, another new U.N. study.

This time it’s a study on the role of fatherhood globally and its implications for policy. What did they find?

The Guardian somehow took away from this report the following:

United Nations report launched in New York concludes that we need a new way to describe the “fluid and changing” ways in which men care for and support children.

Crucially, men should stop being measured against a “maternal template”, according to the report, Men in Families and Family Policy in a Changing World.

Instead of being straightforward fathers, men are taking on a parenting role more accurately described as “social fatherhood”, says the report, published by the department of economic and social affairs of the UN secretariat.

My initial reaction was, oh lovely, another study pointing out that the roles of women and men in families are innately different and we should define them as such. The Guardian article gives the impression that the central conclusion of the report was that fathers are now more than ever less engaged in the lives of their biological children and that we should redefine our understanding of fathers this way.

BUT, check your sources!

I looked up the report, and the definition of “social fatherhood” appears in chapter two. The rest of the report is basically about how governments should encourage more paternity leave, more early life skills about parenting for young men and family-friendly policies that allow men to be involved more as caretakers and have more access to their children when relationships with the mother are ended. Stuff like this:

Although family policies are becoming more father-inclusive, there is a long way to go in most countries, especially developing nations, which are most in need of harnessing men’s caring competencies. Evidence has revealed how vulnerable fathers, male carers and fathers in vulnerable family contexts tend to be excluded from support serv-ices as if they did not have family support needs. In many countries, men’s “caring” or “need for care” roles are relatively hidden, with more attention and responsibilities given to women and mothers. The support deficit is a refection of the consistent underplaying of men’s caring responsibilities and obligations to children and partners. Th e chapter recommends that Governments and local service providers ensure greater inclusion and enhanced visibility of men’s parenting and care responsibilities throughout the life course.

So the question for me is why on earth the Guardian chose to focus on only the definition concept brought up in the second chapter, or that they seemingly chose to make the report about how we should perceive fathers as just “the guy who is hanging around.” They even culled some quotes from annoyed fatherhood groups, like this one:

Rob Williams, chief executive of the Fatherhood Institute, questioned the claim. “Men can certainly father their own children, as well as those from other relationships. But this report is wrong about it not being key to a child to know who their biological father is,” he said.

It doesn’t seem like the report is really focused on this aspect at all. Did Rob Williams read the report?


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