So, I’m going to let you into a bit of a secret: I like men.
I point this out because some people think you can’t be divorced and a feminist and like men. Some people are stupid, what can I say?
Anyway, I do like men. I date men. A lot of my most long-standing friends, and work chums are men. I’m even pretty good friends with my ex-husband.
But sometimes I think a lot of us really don’t like men very much. That our default position about men (especially those we don’t know well) is that they’re probably Bad News. And God forbid you should be a man who enjoys spending time with children – because that’s just not natural, is it?
I grew up with three big brothers – and my eldest brother is one of the very best people I know.
He’s the sort of guy who gives up his weekend to re-build walls at the local church or help out with a fundraising event for Nepal. He’s a school governor. He knows how to build shelves and garden planters. He can start your car (usually) when it won’t work. He knows everything there is to know about Star Wars and Judge Dredd.
He’s a loyal, devoted husband and an amazing Dad to his two kids – he’s always ferrying them to cubs and guides, and swimming and football. He paints their rooms and builds them desks and helps with homework. He’s the sort of Dad who will happily spend a weekend on a bike ride, or kayaking, passing on his love of the outdoors to them. He doesn’t like overdrafts, or being late. Obviously, we are pretty much polar opposites in almost every way, but he’s the best sort of big brother I could hope for.
Anyway, once or twice a year, he gets together with a couple of his Dad friends, and they take the kids camping – sometimes in Wales, sometimes the Lake District – but always somewhere great, with a river for the kids to paddle in, and woods to play games. They will run around like savages all day, climbing hills and making swings over the water, then settle around the fire at night, telling stories and playing games. “Dadcamp”, as it’s known in the family, is a highlight of the year for my niece and nephew. And it’s the sort of thing I love about my brother – he adores spending time with the kids, and is just the most amazing role model I can imagine.
So I couldn’t believe it when my brother told me that Dadcamp almost didn’t happen this year – because the campsite the group wanted to visit wouldn’t accept them.
“We don’t accept solo men travelling with children.”
Are you kidding me?
Apparently it wasn’t a one-off. My brother tells me that a number of campsites he approached this year wouldn’t accept men travelling with kids.
I’m assuming this is related to the fact that lots of campsites don’t accept large single-sex groups – stag parties not necessarily being the clientele they want to attract. Or perhaps it’s another version of that, “we don’t let men into public parks unless they’re with a child” – assuming that every man without a wife is obviously a paedophile.
It seems crazy to me. On the one hand, we ask that men are more involved in child-rearing in society. We want shared parental leave and criticise ‘deadbeat dads’ who lose contact with their kids after a divorce or separation.
But culturally, it seems, we’re still wired to think there’s something wrong or dangerous about men with kids.
It strikes me that campsites need to radically re-think their policies – not just for single Dads and gay Dads and uncles who want to spend time with their kids, but for regular Dads like my brother who are perfectly entitled to spend time with their own children at exactly the same sites that are available to their wives and partners. It’s 2015 – how is this sort of discrimination still considered okay?