A while ago, my husband took our little girl, who at the time was about 2 months old, to the zoo. He wanted to give me some "me time," so while I was getting a massage, the two of them shared their first little walk. My husband carefully planned their first trip, choosing the zoo over a walk in the park, because of all the facilities zoos supposedly have. Even though our little girl is still too young to enjoy the surroundings, zoos are known to be child-friendly, he figured. Also, we live right next door, so should anything happen, the two of them would be home in no time.
And home in no time they were. For a split-second, my heart jumped a beat, seeing how my husband was frowning, sweating and in such hurry. But nothing bad had happened, he soon explained. The baby had filled up her diaper with quite the amount of poop and there was no place to change her nappie. Well, there were facilities, but there was no place for him to change her diaper; the changing rooms were for women only, because -- duh -- changing diapers is a woman's task.
When I speak of feminism and equality, I often get told that things aren't as bad as I sometimes portray them to be. That I'm exaggerating. Surely, men and women are, in the western parts of the world, equal by law. But what some fail to understand is that those laws -- however wonderful they may be -- do not ensure day-to-day equality. You may be given freedom by law, but circumstantially, you can still live an imprisoned life. So when women become mothers, and men become fathers, our society tells us that it is the woman who should stay home with the kids. Those choices aren't always made out of free will. I cannot stretch this enough: Men still earn more money than women on average, thus it is more likely for mom to become the stay-at-home parent. In the end, we are all slaves to the economy. We explain it away by telling ourselves that women are more nurturing than men, so it's a good choice. At the same time, we tell men that they shouldn't physically take care of their kids. We demand that they are "strong" and "tough," two features that don't coincide with being a soft, gentle and loving caretaker.
Recently, I was asked what we could do to ensure more equality between men and women. My list is a long one, which mainly focuses on improving work conditions for women (i.e. equal pay, equal hiring, free day care, quotas for hiring women), but after seeing how my husband can't enjoy a day out with our daughter, I realize there are also plenty other hurdles to tackle when it comes to men. Society still considers men who take care of their kids, who are openly loving and caring instead of macho or aggressive, as less manly, forcing them into a role, into a box, they themselves probably don't even want to fit in. As if the presence of more testosterone turns men into Neanderthals.
So, I took a trip around the center of my hometown in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to see what my husband would encounter trying to change our baby's nappie.
1. As a dad, you can't take your child to the public library. Many kids love to be read to, but if you want to change their diapers, this is what you'll encounter:
2. Across the street from the library, you can find the widely-acclaimed Markthal, a typical modern building, with typical old-fashioned standards:
3. How about having a bite at McDonalds? Don't! You'll actually have to enter the women's room all the way to turn that dirty poo frown upside down:
4. Maybe have a more healthy lunch at Grandcafé Dudok? Nope, no dads aloud:
5. Buy some cool kids stuff at Ikea Delft? Think again. Dads should turn the other way:
6. Traveling by train? Make sure your kiddo has a clean nappie on, since this changing room is women only:
I just can't get my head around it. Especially because it could all be so simple...
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