Please don't mainpage because I can't be bothered to deal with MRAs.
Some time ago, my boyfriend and I were looking for flats (apartments for non-Brits). Cheap ones, one bedroom, maybe two if we could afford it so that he had somewhere quiet to study, in the city centre so that I didn't have far to get to work. We found an ideal one online, in the heart of the 'pink triangle' where all the gay bars are and anti-fascist rallies take place, which makes a refreshing change from the rest of the city, so we eagerly booked a viewing.
The building was nice, very modern, spacious and secure, and was probably cheap only because of the level of noise from the nearby clubs. We were buzzed in, and we knocked on the door. There was silence, and we worried that maybe we had the wrong flat. But then, the unmistakable voice of a little girl cheerily called 'Hello?' My eyes lit up and my boyfriend smirked at me knowingly. I won't deny it, I am stupidly maternal, and the only thing stopping me from having a baby now is that I know I'm too young/poor/I want to travel. My boyfriend isn't frightened off by this, and is also very good with children, so I was excited about seeing a little girl who sounded absolutely adorable.
The door was opened and we were greeted by a friendly, quiet man, his four year old daughter peering out at us from behind his legs.
'Hello!' my boyfriend said to her enthusiastically. She giggled, blushed, and couldn't take her eyes off him for the rest of the viewing. It was adorable. They were a Muslim family, so we followed their lead and took our shoes off. By the door, there were rows of shoes - professional, converse and flipflops that were all clearly male, and tiny pink jelly shoes and trainers that light up for the little girl. There didn't appear to be any shoes for an adult woman. In fact, nothing in the apartment indicated the presence of a woman.
He showed us round, his daughter trailing after us like an excited puppy, trying to show us things to help sell the flat, perhaps not realising that the rugs, plates and her toys would not be included in the rent. Her bedroom was small but well lived in - Dora the Explorer bedsheets on a cheap, pop-up like bed. Not many toys, but clearly well played with and very much treasured. A plant pot hastily covering up a crayon scribble on the wall. All in all, a very happy, well looked after child.
When we left, I began to break all the dating rules by telling my boyfriend about how much good dads got my heart fluttering, and how broody I was feeling, and oh gosh please could we have a baby, they get along fine and they're only marginally better off than we are pleeeease....
He laughed at me, and then wondered aloud where the mother was. 'I know,' I replied sadly, 'I wonder what happened.'
It took me a total of thirty seconds before I felt like a complete idiot. '...They might just be divorced,' I said. 'We don't know if she's actually there all the time or not.'
My boyfriend suddenly looked a little embarrassed too. We had both leapt to the conclusion that the father was perhaps widowed; heroically struggling to raise his daughter while coping with grief, desperately trying to give her the best start in life despite having to live in an area filled mostly with students, young professionals and party animals - great for us, probably not so great for a kid. I wondered if it had been a single mother whether I would have romanticised everything in the same way. Would I have admired them for getting by with relatively little, or would I have pitied them? I suddenly felt sexist, classist and just generally shitty. We talked it out over lunch and came to the conclusion that we had assumed these things because single dads were so much less common - we had been affected by the patriarchy, like everyone has been, and we had made unfair assumptions.
We were unable to take the flat in the end - although it was cheap considering the size and quality of it, we couldn't justify paying for two bedrooms. But I told all my friends about the experience - it was the sweetest, most amusing viewing we'd had. Every single one of them leapt to the same conclusions as my boyfriend and I did. I don't know if it's a symbol of the sexism in our society or whether I and all of my friends need to take a good look at our selves, but all the girls sighed and agreed that the father sounded just wonderful, and all the boys nodded solemnly and said that it sounded like they had 'coped quite well'.
Coped quite well with what? We had been in that flat for about half an hour. To say that we had seen a snapshot of their lives would be a massive overestimate. None of us had any idea of the personal background of the family, or their finances, or anything. I ended up feeling very angry at myself, and my friends, for this ridiculous, fabricated story we had created around these strangers.
And what really killed me, what really kicked me right in the gut, was that I knew that none of this would have been said if it was a single mother. We might have pitied her and assumed the husband had run off, or been abusive, or the relationship had just completely broken down. We would have sympathised, but that is not the same feeling we had towards the single father. At worst, some of my more "edgy" (read "arsewanks") friends may have made sweeping, nasty generalisations - the standard slut shaming, why have kids if you can't afford them, she's irresponsible raising a child there, I wonder if she even knows who the father is, blah blah blah, all that standard crap that is usually vomited out of misogynistic forums.
Why do we do this? Why do we criticise women for struggling, yet admire, romanticise and even feel attracted to men who struggle with similar problems? Why do we assume that men who do raise children alone are so much more sensitive, caring and decent than other men, yet assume that single mothers have made mistakes and are damaged? Why do we assume that the children of single mothers are going to have troubled teenage years as they cope with their trauma of a "broken home", while the children of single fathers will be okay in the end because their father is just sooooo caring? It's easy to sweep it all under misogyny, or even pull out the old evopsych gender roles crap, but this problem is too specific to be brushed away. A serious shift in how we view the family, and how we portray parenting responsibilities has to occur if we ever want to see true equality in family life.
Prepared for any and all thoughts, even if you think I've been a massive snot rocket about the whole thing, because I certainly think I was.