Challenging gendered views around parenting

In a tweet earlier today, I mentioned this article. The article explores reaction to the photo below (via BBC, photo by Heather Whitten), taken by a mother (who is a photographer) of her husband and son, sat together naked in the shower when her son was unwell.

Heather Whitten

Photo by Heather Whitten via

The photograph has received widespread criticism, the nudity being part of the perceived issue,  and has as a result been taken down off social media (and then reinstated), the BBC article states ;

“for some people the image is inappropriate at best and at worst has undertones of paedophilia. Whitten has been surprised by this reaction and was shocked when people posted negative comments about what was for her a beautiful moment”

The article goes on to compare the response to a highly similar family photo, taken of a parent cradling a small child in a similar pose to the one captured by Whitten, but the difference is the parent is a mother, and the response from others on social media to that photo is described by the BBC as “overwhelmingly positive”.

Why then is it ok for caring and intimate aspects of women’s parenting practices to be captured and shared, but not only can men not do the same, but deeply negative connotations are connected to men’s practices.  The provocative title of the BBC article, “Is this picture disgusting or beautiful?“, allows possibility that some may find the photo in question disgusting, and in this we can see part of the narrative that exists behind this photo.

Within society, women have historically been seen to be caregivers, providers of intimate love and attention for their offspring, and men’s role within the family has focused around other aspects (providing and discipline). Despite the fact that families have changed enormously in their formations over recent decades and women are much more represented within the workforce, this article and reactions to the photo in question demonstrates how views around the acceptability for men being caring and intimate with their children have not moved far.

Such attitudes only further serve to continue to construct gendered views about roles within society. Reinforcing through ‘disgust’ that its not ok for men to be caring/intimate, further replicates the idea that care/child care is ‘women’s work’. Men’s bodies are not seen as something to be seen in proximity to children, whereas women’s are. Therefore not only do men continue to feel ‘locked out’ of being able to demonstrate the caring and intimate aspects of fatherhood and family life, but women remain ‘locked in’ to those aspects being ‘their’ domains.

There therefore needs to be more open and progressive discussions about family life which support other changes in family and of modern work place gendered dynamics. Accepting that caring for children requires the same love, affection, and duties whether you are a man or a women is part of this progression. Responding more equitably to visible representations of family life can be an important part of moving agendas forwards. Whilst the BBC article saddens me from the point of view how far we have yet to travel, I know that lots of people are doing fantastic work changing perceptions around men in families, whether that’s working on the ground with families, or academics illuminating how family life is, so change will come. However we all need to keep challenging outdated views and allow newer and more progressive values in, that way positive changes which benefit both men and women can be allowed to flow.


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