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MARY KENNY Comment

The dangers of ‘unisex ideology’

Iam sure we would all want to support the idea of fathers being involved with their families and their children. This has always been a Christian ideal, after all, and is often exemplified by the character of St Joseph in the narrative of the Nativity.

being the earlier pioneers of the genre). Baroness James specialised in the murder mystery which took place in churchy surroundings, and she was herself a serious and committed High Anglican, and an enthusiast for the traditional language of the Bible.

So, yes, it is a good and positive idea to encourage men to take paternity leave when they become fathers, and new legislation which promotes the idea of “equal parenting” may well have its heart in the right place.

And yet there is another aspect of the “equal parenting” proposals which I think we might examine with care. Is this part of a wider agenda to promote a “unisex” ideology throughout family and society? That is, to move away from what is disparagingly called “biological determinism” (the idea that biology determines our identity – Freud’s quip that “anatomy is destiny”), and towards the idea that parents are interchangeable, as are men and women.

The unisex ideology has promoted the word “partner” in an effort to destroy sex-specific roles such as “husband” and “wife”, and has sought to include “transgender” identities into the spectrum of “personal choice”. When filling up some prosaic form for a product or a service, we are now frequently asked which gender we “choose”.

The word “parenting” is preferred to “mothering” or “fathering” (although “fathering” was only ever used in a biological sense – “he fathered a child” – and not, as with mothering, in a nurturing sense).

The Government’s proposal to extend paternity leave to fathers on an equal basis with mothers tends to obscure the different biological role of mums and dads when a child is born. Yet it’s surely flying in the face of biological facts to deny this – and any man who has accompanied his wife into the labour room is dramatically aware of this.

Fathers are very important in any child’s life, and we should underline that importance in social policy. It’s just that they are important in a different and complementary way to mothers.

Fathers: not an optional extra

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Yet I suspect we won’t be allowed to make that distinction much longer, as gender-neutral and interchangeable “parenting” becomes the official protocol.

Mums and dads are different. Just ask any man standing next to his wife in the labour ward

Many tributes were paid to Baroness James of Holland Park – better known as the crime writer P D James – who died last week at the age of 94. The tributes underlined her integrity and fortitude. She had known some hardships in life: her mother was admitted to a mental hospital and her husband suffered from schizophrenia. She had to leave school at 16 because of her family’s financial difficulties.

But she overcame her adversities and gradually established herself as a “queen of crime”, in that particularly feminine tradition of the whodunnit (Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh

Her science fiction novel The Children of Men – subsequently made into a compelling film in 2006 – was a fascinating futuristic parable about the decline of fertility, and the shortage of children, in human society. It was strongly pro-natalistic and, I would say, pro-life, in that it emphasised that a pregnancy is something to be valued and cherished, and how doomed any society would be if there weren’t any children. She said the idea came to her out of the blue one day when she saw an empty swing in a child’s playground.

Perhaps Andrew Mitchell MP, who has lost his “Plebgate” legal action and run up a lawyers’ bill calculated to be in the region of £3 million, should have consulted the New Testament before embarking on this endeavour to prove that he never called a policeman a “pleb”. Jesus quite clearly advises us in Chapter 5 of the Gospel of Matthew to avoid going to court: “If any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.” And moreover: “Agree with thine adversary quickly… lest the adversary deliver thee to the judge… (and thou be cast into prison.) Verily, I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence till thou hast paid the uttermost farthing.” (This is from the King James version, which P D James so venerated for being more dignified and more poetic than modern translations.)

Much litigation is based on pride – on our determination always to prove that we are right. Mostly, we merely demonstrate that top lawyers may earn anything up to £3,500 a day to represent our wounded pride. Follow Mary Kenny on Twitter @MaryKenny4

CATHOLIC HERALD, DECEMBER 5 2014 25

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