A few nights ago I was at a dinner party with a group of good friends. Wine and conversation flowed: the usual mixture of gossip, current events and piss-taking and, given that it was still dominating the headlines, we got on to the topic of Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s custody battle over their son Rocco.
For most of us sitting around that table, this seemed like a fairly cut-and-dried case. Rocco is a 15 year-old boy who, to my mind, is clearly better served by being in a stable, loving home where he can go to school, develop friendships and in essence be a normal teenager, than being schlepped around the world and living out of 5 star hotels – and that’s before you even begin to consider that he is easily old enough for his clearly stated preference to be the first consideration. All in all, it’s very hard to argue that the boy should be with his mother, regardless of her fame, wealth or how much she undoubtedly loves him.
As we talked it became clear that one of our group, herself a mother of three, did not agree with the rest of us, arguing that Rocco should have been made to go back to Madonna. As we continued to talk, the rest of us putting forward all the arguments stated above, and with my friend struggling to offer a valid reason why the child’s welfare was best served on tour, she eventually threw up her hands and said “Well, I just think a child should be with his mother!”
My friend is an intelligent woman and certainly one who considers herself a feminist. She knows that Cameron and I have joint custody of our two kids with their mum and she has never been anything but supportive of us as parents. I think if she had stopped and thought it through she would have realised that saying something like that could easily have offended us, but in the heat of the moment she spilled an unconscious belief that she’s far from alone in holding.
The idea that women are better, more ‘natural’ caregivers than men is deeply embedded in almost all societies and it’s another weapon in the arsenal of those who object to gay parenting. The words ‘mothering’ and ‘fathering’ are not just gendered versions of the same thing, they have completely different meanings. ‘Mothering’ denotes care, love, the provision of safety and the meeting of needs. ‘Fathering’ means the supplying of sperm: it is an altogether more clinical word. These ideas run deep, and they add to the notion that two men as parents will always lack some essential component of parenting. The gentleness, the tenderness, the softness.
My friend meant no harm by her remarks and, given the setting and my desire not to spoil an otherwise lovely night, I let it go at the table. But I was still feeling unsettled when I got home. I know that my friend thinks I’m a good dad, even a fantastic one – but it is clear that as a parent she fundamentally believes that I’ll never be as good as her. I believe that we have a duty to challenge that idea. As gay men in particular, we are more aware than most that men can be tender and loving and gentle. It is obvious to us that we can comfort each other when we are sad, reassure each other when we are scared and be just as empathetic and intuitive with our children as any other parent.
In some ways I even feel that we, as gay parents, have the advantage. When my kids need feeding, or bathing or comforting, Cam and I both step up to the plate. We both do rough and tumble play and we both do princess dress-up. Our children’s needs are met by whoever is best placed to meet them at that particular time, not by some outmoded idea of what my job is and what his job is.
As gay parents we have enough battles to fight already. This kind of sexism disadvantages us all; men, women and children alike, and we need to speak out against it. For everybody’s sake.
Follow Charlie on Twitter @Charliecondou
Opinion pieces reflect the views of the writer and do no necessarily reflect the views of Attitude Media Ltd.