Channel 4 debate on extension to paternity leave announced by Miliband

Posted in: MAHM Campaign - Letters

A student midwife watching the programme responds to Channel 4:

The focus of the discussion between John Adams, blogger,  and Lynne Burnham from Mothers at Home Matter was introduced by Jon Snow as, “How much value does a father have in a child’s first few weeks of life?” The policy proposes debated was the proposed extension of  paternity leave from two weeks to four weeks, as announced by Miliband.

The importance ‘of the man’ should not be the focus of the debate here. If people understood the biology and physiology of pregnancy, childbirth and the puerperium (first six weeks after the birth) then the focus would be the woman and the support she needs. A woman who has newly given birth needs to be supported to nurture, feed and bond with her baby. In order to optimise this crucial time, the man’s role could/should be to care for her so that she can achieve this. The woman physically sustains the baby. It is important for the woman’s mental and physical health that she has the opportunity to successfully do this. 

Taking this into account, I was shocked at Jon Snow’s throw away comment to Lynne Burnham regarding the physical nature of bonding between mother and baby. Lynne started to explain that the baby has been growing inside the woman for nine months, Jon Snow then cut her off and said, “Well time for it to get used to somebody else then.” This does not sound like somebody who has researched the topic they are discussing, or who understands the gravitas of what they are undermining. Instead it illustrates perfectly how misinformation is touted in the media.

This is irresponsible journalism, given that many people will watch this debate and form opinions on the subject matter from those of the ‘experts’ and journalists invited to discuss it. 

This is not to state that men do not have a role to play – they do and it is one of importance. However the role is supportive whilst maintaining the woman as the focus of care. 

The difficulty arises in these discussions because men do not traditionally take on primary caring roles within families in our society. So to expect a man to care for a woman who is physically incapacitated in a way she has probably never been before is a challenging concept. So instead of the debate being about how a man can support his partner, the discussion revolves around the ‘importance’ of the man in the child’s life. Ultimately I think that this undermines the vital-to-life role of the woman, and the discussion about how important men are rumbles on… 

At the end of the discussion, when Jon Snow turns to John Adams and states, ‘I do not think this is something (introducing extended paternity leave) Lynne would fight over, would you?’ the two men then proceed to have a discussion about whether or not Lynne would fight to introduce extended paternity leave (and decide that she wouldn’t) without consulting her again. The patriarchy illustrates itself at every turn! 

Ultimately this news piece did nothing to further the cause for extending paternity leave or to clarify the role of the father from the question posed in the introduction. Lynne’s attempts at illustrating the crucial role of the mother were dismissed and used instead to create further divisions between men and women. The whole piece had an air of misinformation about it that is now in the public domain.  More sloppy journalism from Channel 4 news – very disappointing. 

Student midwife

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