We have made huge strides towards gender equality in recent years and decades. But when it comes to raising children, fathers are usually not the "first choice" parent, writes Zoe Share, and this is something around which perceptions must now change.

As a wife and mother, I know just how valuable the role of my husband is. It's time for the narrative of dads as somehow less essential than (or even inferior to) mums to end because if we don't recognize, and praise, the good fathers of today, how can we raise the reliable and good fathers of tomorrow?

It's a fact that we don't celebrate fathers as much as we celebrate mothers – mothers are amazing and deserve those accolades, but so do dads. According to the US National Retail Federation, in 2018, Mother's Day spending reached $25 billion, whilst Father's Day reached only $16 billion. It took 58 years to recognize that fathers (and father figures deserved a day too). These days, dads must play an increasingly large role in childcare within the family unit.

Mothers are favoured in the courts, especially when it comes to child custody. Some reports suggest that women are awarded child custody up to 90 per cent of the time. In many cases it makes sense for a woman to get custody, but as a woman, I know that gender rights issues do not just affect women; it is an issue that affects everyone. I know there are always exceptions to the rule, but where possible, fathers should be responsible for more than a child care support check. The question we need to start asking is why – why can't men be seen as a vital caregiver? Many already are, and many more can be. Why is the assumption that women do it better? Maybe we just do it differently and that's okay.

There is an implicit assumption that runs through our culture that women are fundamentally better suited to child-rearing. Sharon Hays recognises this assumption in her 1998 book The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood, where she introduces the idea of intensive mothering, which is the "underlying assumption that the child absolutely requires consistent nurture by a single primary caretaker and that the mother is the best person for the job".

This is a harmful idea because it simply isn't true. Moreover, it puts an undue amount of pressure on women to be a perfect parent (not possible). Studies show that joint parenthood is nearly always better than solo parenthood, providing that each parent is in fit mental and financial shape. Children who spend at least 35 per cent of their time with each parent, (or strong parental figures) have better relationships with both their fathers and mothers and do better academically, socially, and psychologically.

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Similarly, there is plenty of evidence that documents the many ways in which kids who do not have fathers in their lives often struggle more in life than those who do.

Fathers, like mothers, need to have their roles respected by society; they certainly respect it themselves. One survey found that 94 per cent of respondents agreed that fatherhood is an extremely or very important part of their identity, and a further 75 per cent of dads call fatherhood their 'most important job' (i.e. they do not just see themselves as breadwinners). The same survey found that 74 per cent of US millennials think that advertisers are out of touch with modern family dynamics.

I agree with them. When fathers are represented in the media, it is often sexist in a way that would be pulled if levelled towards mothers; take German supermarket chain Edeka's appalling mother's day advert portraying men failing to complete basic domestic tasks, for example.

If we had a test for how fairly fathers are represented in the media, the results would be terrible. Such a scoring system exists for female representation in the movies: the Bechdel test. It ranks films based on whether a film has two female characters, and whether their conversation stretches beyond their romantic interest in a man. If the Bechdel test existed for dads, we'd see just how much the media is skewed in the favour of mums. The fact that there is no Bechdel test for dads shows that we are failing.

The idea that women are better suited to childcare also supports a more implicit, insidious assumption that men are better suited to (and deserving of better positions in) the workplace. The gender pay gap exists and needs to be addressed. I believe we can make advances in that area by valuing and placing more emphasis on fathers' roles as fathers, therefore allowing more women to focus on advancing their career.

UK data suggests that, pre-pandemic, there were more women in the workforce than ever before. Obviously the pandemic has had an impact on those statistics, but with economies beginning to bounce back, these figures should resume their rise. We have made progress in including and valuing women in the workplace and at home. Now we need to include and value fathers at home too. We have to understand that true gender equality cuts both ways and affects both sides of the equation.

My husband is an amazing father and partner who shows up. I recognise that, cherish that, and say 'thank you,' just as he does for me. Our societies and media should do the same.

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