It's common for male workmates of mine to declare, with a distinct air of virtue, that meetings have to be rearranged and deadlines extended "because of childcare obligations".
Not so long ago, I was fighting hard to encourage men to take on their fair share of childcare. But I have begun to wonder if men haven't started to flaunt their family obligations in ways not entirely supportive to women.
It's become the norm for male colleagues to leave meetings to pick up children from school. Given the whiff of high-mindedness that accompanies these explanations, it's clear my colleagues want it known that they take their fathering responsibilities seriously.
Instead of showing admiration, I find myself quietly fuming. It's not because I object to paternal involvement; I welcome it. But men seem to have seized the high ground around childcare, making themselves look good for something that women still have difficulty making public.
Even when my children were of school age, I never felt able to expose my domestic commitments. I was determined not to compromise my professional identity. Domestic needs and crises inevitably arose but, like a swan - calm on the surface, but with feet paddling wildly underneath - I would try to keep all this hidden.
There's now far more acceptance of the reality of trying to raise a family while working. Yet when I hear these men flaunting their fatherhood, I am sceptical about how much things have really changed. Speaking about parenthood at work still has different resonances for men and women. Mothers often hold back from exposing their domestic responsibilities. For men, it will add kudos but, for women, there is still a risk that if they openly show concern for their domestic life, their commitment to work will be questioned.
But it's not just scepticism that makes me wince at displays of paternal prowess. Although no longer caring for small children, I'm involved in a demanding form of caring - but not one that I would ever be keen to flaunt. My 89-year-old mother has dementia and lives in her own home, kept there by complicated arrangements of carers, managed mainly by me. A lot of the day-to-day care falls to me, too.
Research from the University of Adelaide shows Australians aged over 50 typically spend about five hours a week assisting family members, including helping elderly parents with paperwork and housework, taking them shopping and to the doctor. When I attend medical appointments with my mother, the waiting rooms are often full of smartly dressed women who appear to have come straight from the boardroom. Like myself, they look like working women in the ''squeezed middle''. We're not only caring for elderly parents but also attending to the needs of young-adult offspring. Some also have grandchildren with whom they try to be involved.
You can be certain that these women will not be slipping out of meetings early "because they have to get their mother to the glaucoma clinic". They will rearrange those appointments a hundred times rather than mention them in the office.
In the past, childcare was the unglamorous, unmentionable reality of women's lives. Now, caring for the young and the ever-growing numbers of elderly has become a deadly combination of drudgery that women must keep hidden.
It may be fashionable for men to flaunt fatherhood, but it is women who continue to do the caring that garners no kudos.
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