Simon Harris is not having an easy time right now. From the cervical check scandal to the ongoing saga that is the cost of the new Paediatric Hospital, he’s on shaky ground. I can’t help but wonder though: if Simon Harris were a woman, who had just had her first child, would he be expected to answer questions in the Dáil, and in front of an Oireachtas Committee, and on Prime Time, all while coming to grips with all that parenthood entails? Or would we cut the poor woman some slack, and allow junior ministers in the Department of Health, or the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister for Finance do the political explaining, even just for those first few weeks?
Simon Harris is not a woman, of course. However, he has just had his first child. This can be an incredibly difficult time for anyone, and a new father in particular needs to devote his time and energy to his wife or partner and their baby. The Irish government only recently acknowledged how important this role is by introducing paternity leave for the first time in 2016, and has also extended parental leave. In spite of this, the expectations on the Minister for Health, arguably one of the hardest jobs in the country, have not let up. I can only imagine how bad he feels every morning, when his wife has been up all night with the baby, but instead of telling her to go back to bed for an hour, he’s got this, instead he has to tell her to put on a brave face and figure it out on her own, while he goes to face the angry Opposition and an even angrier media.
This is not some contrarian argument about how feminism has got it all wrong and it’s so much harder to be a man than a woman today. On the contrary; the discrepancy in how we treat new mothers and fathers backfires, and backfires badly, on women. When we excoriate a new mother for having the audacity to do her hair and wear a nice dress for five minutes postpartum, but expect a new father to continue full steam ahead with one of the hardest jobs in Ireland without pausing for breath, we are hammering home an incredibly damaging idea: childcare is women’s work. Women must shoulder the burden of pregnancy, labour, and childrearing completely alone, while men continue to go out and do Real Jobs like nothing changed. Mothers of new babies must sit around in their pajamas in tears, with bags under their eyes and vomit on their sofa, while fathers of new babies put on their best suit and tie and take on the world.
This narrative serves no one, not women, not men, and definitely not children. Raising the next generation is an incredibly important and difficult job, and it needs buy-in and commitment from both parents. As a society, we need to stop telling women that they’re on their own. We need to support and encourage men in their roles as fathers, and let them know their responsibilities to their families are as important as any woman’s. We need to build a culture where women are free to have children and men are free to support them. And, of course, in providing genuine support to women and men in this way, we can normalise parenthood and decrease the demand for abortion.
The pro-life movement needs to be at the forefront of this new culture, because women and their babies deserve better.