When will there be a film called ‘I Don’t Know How He Does It’ ?

20 September 2011

Fiona McAllister writes:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last couple of weeks, you’ll have noted that Hollywood blockbuster ‘I Don’t Know How She Does It’ is in town, garnering endless coverage as TV and newspaper reviewers queue up to pick apart (but largely agree with) its portrayal of the modern working mum.

Which led us to wonder, when might we be treated to ‘I Don’t Know How He Does It’, a warm, sympathetic yet hilarious rendering of the challenges of being a modern working dad?

The boring consumerist answer to this question is: when part-time working men and non-employed dads become a sufficiently significant niche market that they are worth film companies entertaining. And when employed men are seen as working dads, rather than breadwinners with children elsewhere (on that note, do please ‘like’ our Facebook page www.facebook.com/workingdads).

Until then all you’re going to get is the klutzy romcom, where newly single dad drowns in his own domestic incompetence until cute single mum realises that he just needs a bit of help…Various slapstick involving overflowing sinks, cross-dressing children and food poisoning, culminates in the two lone parents realising that they really love each other, and they move into a blended home with their tribe of children and a mischievous dog. At which point she realises that her dream has always been to start a fabric stencilling company in the attic (fits so well with the school hours) while his patented invention goes global – so he’ll be away a lot, secure in the knowledge that his and her kids are safe at home in their kooky menagerie watched over by creative mum…

Talking more scientifically, we need to know more about the experiences of flexibly working men and full-time fathers. We don’t really know what the average stay-at-home dad looks like. Wouldn’t it be great to compare how fathers and mothers who are not employed actually use their time and to see how (if at all) they differ? Plus we still don’t know very much about how employed fathers make work-life choices. Is it simply economics?

The exciting cultural answer is that the evidence indicates that there are growing instances of the working dad, for whom fatherhood is as important as career; and of the stay-at-home dad.

But there remains a hurdle: how come full-time fathers are usually described as ‘stay-at-home’ while full-time mothers can still be referred to as ‘housewives’? The man’s description implies that he has chosen his lifestyle; the woman’s that she is her husband’s dependent. So until we have househusbands and stay-at-home mothers – or even better when the term ‘parent’ doesn’t mean woman – the movie will have to wait.

Meanwhile the best first step is to sort out flexible working and parental leave so that it is equally available (and comparably paid) for working parents of both sexes. That’s something lots of us want (read our recent poll and submission to the Government’s Modern Workplaces consultation here), but unlike in Hollywood, we don’t always get what we want…

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  • Rob Williams says:

    Great blog.

    Men are definitely spending more time with their children. And generally using that time to play with them, put them to bed etc… Cooking also is rising in the studies of how men use their time at home.

    If there is a final frontier to real sharing of duties at home I would nominate the housework. Whilst some fathers do a lot of it the average father in a couple relationship does 25% of household tasks in the week and 33% at the weekends. Why 33%? Why not 50%?

    I spent Friday with a group of academic researchers who study the care giving behaviours of fathers. The women on my table at lunch, all highly committed to gender equality and experts in the field, commented that their houses still had some very gendered assumptions about who was responsible for washing the clothes, for example, or doing the ironing.

    We need to take the gender assumptions out of the laundry basket. Until we do that the realistic film title in many households would still be ‘How does he get away with it?’.

  • Mark Osborn says:

    The movie world is indeed soon (30th September) to be treated to a film which seeks to address the challenges of being a modern working dad. However I am not sure that it will quite be what Fiona had in mind. I suspect that ‘Courageous’ will not be a “warm, sympathetic yet hilarious rendering “ of fatherhood; this will be an action packed police drama with four men presented as working heroes all with, “one calling: To serve and protect”. It is no surprise that these men will be focused on their work and failing in various degrees as fathers and how they engage with this particular role in their lives. Quite what the messages of the film will be we don’t yet know, however, I am sorry to say that I don’t believe that this is going to step boldly into a cultural discourse with the issues and challenges that fathers working, or not working, face. I suspect that we are more likely to be subjected to a view of men who learn to support the mothers of their children, but we will have wait and see; however, the promo gives a clue to what we can expect: “Protecting the streets is second nature to these men. Raising their children in a God-honoring way? That’s courageous”. Will someone please save me from more fathers dressed as superheroes!

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