A childcare recruitment agency Tinies conducted a survey of 1,500 British families to see if parents would be as happy hiring a man to look after their children as they would a woman. A whopping 94 per cent said they would. Since then, the national press has published numerous stories about busy career women who have hired mannies in favour of nannies often because, as single mothers, they feel their children (and particularly boys) would benefit from a male presence in the house.
Still, the male nanny is regarded as something of a rarity in childcare. And since the candidates are often young, handsome men who are either studying or saving money to start their careers, their appearance at nurseries and school gates provides many mums with ideal eye candy. When we asked our members if they would hire a manny, many of the responses we received were positive, especially if the potential employee were ‘tall’, ‘dark’, ‘slim’ and ‘muscular’.
A threat to your marriage?
The question that begs to be asked here is whether mums would be happy with their husbands hiring a nanny on the condition that she was ‘tall’, ‘leggy’, ‘slim’ and ‘blonde’. This is doubtful. With such stories as Jude Law infamously cheating on his partner Sadie Frost with the home help, a certain sense of paranoia has entered the world of private childcare. This has even been acknowledged in the October 2006 issue of MED Magazine, the online webzine of the Macmillan English Dictionaries, which attributed the growing popularity of male caregivers to “insecure mums who feel that hiring an attractive female nanny might be a threat to their marriages.”
While women bemoan the ever-present problem of inequality in the home and in familial responsibility, it seems that many do not trust men to do as good a job as women when it comes to housework and childcare. Holly Peterson, in her interview with us, admitted this, saying that her mannies just aren’t as concerned with her children’s appearance as a nanny would be, although she didn’t rate this as a big issue. For one babyworld member, however, this would be a major disadvantage. “Just imagine: you’d come home from work to find the dishwasher not loaded and all your children’s white clothes dyed pink and not ironed. Nightmare!”
Men need (not) apply
Not all our members shared her negative view of men’s domestic abilities. Many said that we ought to actively encourage the employment of men in childcare and primary school teaching to dispel outdated misconceptions. “Unless men are given the opportunities to work with young kids then the myth will always remain that the only ones who want to are perverts or emasculated.”
The only man brave enough to join the discussion, PunkPete, agreed and gave a very personal insight into what working life is like for a man in a predominantly female profession. “I’m in the final few months of my training and will soon be qualified as a social work assistant. On my course, there are only two men out of 30 students and comments have
been passed about us being a rare find and that to expect some degree of boundaries. This is even worse for my friend Paul, who recently qualified as a nurse! I’m also thinking of applying to provide overnight care for children and young people in care or from families that need a break occasionally.
“From my experiences of employment, in all the teams I have worked in and services I have been involved with over the years, women mainly run things in the caring professions. In the last six or seven years I think I have only come in contact with five male workers. I say these services should try to encourage more male workers!”
Breaking down the barriers
Many Western countries are slowly trying to dispel the traditional stereotypes associated with childcare and family life. Better paternity leave is on offer, as well as a move towards more flexible working conditions, enabling dads to be around more at the start and end of the day. We have also seen an increase in the number of stay-at-home dads, with homedad.org.uk estimating that 189,000 men do this in the UK.
However, this number is still a drop in the parenting ocean. Childcare is still primarily seen as a female occupation, although men are certainly as welcome to apply as women. It seems the main barriers to equality within childcare, teaching and social care professions are our prejudices and, until these change, occupations such as the manny will remain relatively
rare for men.