chapter  8
22 Pages

‘FEMINISING’ THE WORKPLACE? LAW, THE ‘GOOD PARENT’ AND THE ‘PROBLEM OF MEN’

ByRichard Collier

This chapter presents a critical analysis and overview of attempts presently taking place in Britain to use law to shift cultural attitudes and practices in relation to what has been widely perceived to be the growing need to achieve a more desirable ‘balance’ between the demands of employment and the ‘quality’ of ‘family life’. What follows is an exploration, more generally, of the relationship between the shifting contours of family structures, the changing experience of employment and the possibilities of, and limits to, legal intervention as a means of changing the practices and attitudes of both employers and employees to both paid work and child care. At the present moment in Britain, the promotion of ‘equality’ in the workplace is widely seen, at the level of rhetoric at least, as being a desirable goal of both government and employers alike.1 This chapter seeks to question the ways in which present debates about work and family life are dealing in certain ideas of both the ‘gendered’ (feminine, masculine) and ‘gender neutral’ subject (whether conceived of as parent or as worker). It seeks, in particular, to question the pervasive and multi-faceted notion of the ‘feminisation’ of work via a surfacing of something of the complexity of men’s subjective experiences as both ‘workers’ and, I shall suggest, ‘family men’.2 It does so by addressing, first and foremost, the way in which ideas of sexual difference become, in particular instances, socially, politically and ethically significant. What follows does not seek to reproduce current understandings of ‘gender’ at ‘work’. The aim, rather,

is to contribute to a more general project of ‘opening [out] the present to different ways of being a woman or a man, along with different ways of negotiating that [sexual] difference’.3