Thinking in binary…the good and the bad

gender binary

As a Libran, I am forever weighing out options, balancing and comparing. It is how my brain thinks. Maybe that’s a human thing but I like to think of it more as an astrological influence. Recently I attended a great panel event called Men@Work (ran by the 100% Project), where they addressed the challenges of gender equality at work from a male perspective. The main focus was around achieving true parity between men and women at work. Topics included addressing the taboos for men around asking for flexibility and other topics too with the aim of addressing the challenges of creating true gender equality.

There was one point that kept surfacing that bugged my, of which of course I raised my hand in the Q&A to share my thoughts…it was around the concept of Primary Caregivers. Although flexibility is for everyone, at the moment it is seen mainly as the domain for women, particularly working mothers. In my opinion flexibility in the workplace is the way that we will all work in the future.

However I digress, the reason why the idea of primary caregivers bugged me is why is it solely the responsibility of one parent to take care of a child/ children? Why is it that there is always the one, usually the mother, who is called when a child is sick at care or school, why one parent, usually the mother, needs to compromise their career in order to manage the home life? This is a generalisation, as we do see a number of families where they consciously decide for the wife to be the breadwinner, and the father to the be primary care-giver. Fantastic, why, because it isn’t an automatic assumption of roles but challenging the norm to see what best suits that family. So here is the challenge, what happens when it is a single parent home or where a parent/ parents are LGBTI? We often think heteronormative, but the reality is everything gets turned on its head when we think broader than the binary.

In my family, like most, when the children were born we fell into roles. However after a while the ‘mother’/ ‘father’ roles didn’t suit us as individuals. Let me explain. On a recent speaking tour to Australia run by TalkPoint, Dr. Michael Kimmel talked about why gender equality is good for men (both at work and home, in life in general actually), and a number of things stayed with me – one in particular, we need to take the gender out of the picture. What does this mean? Practically, when we are talking about primary caregivers, why does this always fall to the mother? That is the societal norm…but after a child is born and breast-feeding ends, the gender can start fading away and you are left with parents (rather than a mother and father). This changes the conversation. Why should one parent be required to do 80% of the home stuff whilst still working? Why should one parent miss out on all the great things in their children’s lives because they are expected to work? That doesn’t seem right. In short the roles that we give ourselves are too binary.

Going back to my family, we made a conscious decision to both be primary care givers, or simply put we decided to parent equally. We both do the shopping, alternate who picks up a sick child, support the other when they go travelling and so on. It is not one or the other, it’s both. Yes sometimes one does more parenting and the other more work but then it flips – it’s constantly changing, flexible and adapting to the needs of the time – all needs of the children and family, of the individual and of our work responsibilities.

So why do we fall into binary thinking when problem solving, good/bad, right/wrong? Well so much of world is divided into binary to simplify and bring ease but some basic ideas around Ying and Yang, Good and Evil, Black and White, Male and Female. However we are starting to see even these basic concepts being challenged, which I am glad about. Why, because nothing is simple yet we fear the complex. Look at gender, in recent times transgender has become something more mainstream challenging the very basis of what it means to be a man or woman. My children have friends that have 2 mothers or fathers and other people in our world that are LGBTI. The roles of what it means to be male or female in our society are starting to crumble and be redefined.

The point is things are not black and white, and I don’t want them to be. I have come to realise that the reason that the primary caregiver conversation bugged me so much is that because it is reflective of binary thinking, yet when it came to the conversations in the workplace it was quite the rainbow of ideas including creating flexibility, finding true parity and understanding the chaos that can ensue but to embrace rather than fear it. Yet in the home life binary remained, roles remained – maybe the mother isn’t doing everything but now the father is, but I also see that as limiting. True gender parity in all aspects of life means we respect each persons’ individual needs and wants, not boxing them into a certain role because of societal norms. I, like every parent knows, that this doesn’t mean that one gets to do whatever whenever one wants, quite the opposite, one needs to make many sacrifices. However my point is that I would like to start people living more consciously and more aware of the binary thinking that limits both our home and work lives as parents and as people day to day. Falling into roles blindly can be an enslavement to our society and not one that respects our individual soul. By consciously agreeing with yourself and your partner how you would like to share your lives, your children and your work will bring greater fulfilment. Embrace the mess and chaos and challenge binary thinking.

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