Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Follow the Aka men?

The Melbourne Herald Sun this morning carried a large article headed “Dads urged to get maternal”.

They weren’t kidding when they wrote the heading. The article begins by urging men to suckle their babies (for soothing rather than feeding purposes). Why? Because an anthropologist has found a small tribe of African pygmies in which this male suckling happens.

These pygmy men have been declared “World’s Best Dads” by FatherWorld magazine because they’re near their children 47% of the time.

Now, before men rush out to buy their maternity bras a few words of warning. First of all, liberals routinely misuse these kinds of anthropological findings.

Let’s remember that these Aka pygmies number roughly 30,000 out of a male population of over 3 billion. It’s not reasonable to suggest on the basis of this tiny population that male suckling of children is normal.

Remember, too, that when the Aka visit villages the mothers hold onto their babies for 90% of the time. It’s only when the tribe is moving around the forest foraging for food that mothers reduce their baby time to 40% by handing the baby around (7.3 times per hour).

I wonder too if Western women would want to follow a model of society in which 17% of men have more than one wife and child mortality runs at 20%. Note also that the anthropologist who has studied the Aka, Barry Hewlett, reports that “Aka society is very adult-centered in that parents seldom stop their activities to pay undivided attention to their children.” How can you be a world’s best dad if you seldom stop your activities to pay undivided attention to your children?

Nor do Aka fathers seek to discipline or role model their children. Instead, the children are left to be autonomous and therefore often act in disrespectful ways to their elders: an example given is a group of boys throwing sticks at an elderly man, who protested but was forced to retreat into the forest.

However, it’s not only a flawed use of the anthropology which undermines what is claimed in the Herald Sun article. There is also the assumption that a man makes himself a good father by holding onto a baby and doing maternal things. In other words, a very limited criteria for judging fatherhood has been employed.

Why shouldn’t a man’s efforts to provide material comfort for his family be counted as good fatherhood? Or his ability to successfully guide, educate and socialise his children? Or his ability to provide physical and emotional security for his wife and children? Why is it always just nappies, or even worse, “suckling”?

Which brings us to a final flaw. It is no accident that men are being judged in terms of their maternal rather than their paternal skills. Our political class is liberal and liberals believe that traditional sex roles are oppressive because they are “imposed” by biology rather than being individually chosen. Therefore, liberals assume that it’s a good thing to “throw off” traditional sex roles – for them it means that we are less limited in what we can choose to become.

But this is an ideological rather than a realistic view of things. The reality is that the natures of men and women are different and that most men will not be able to reproduce the kind of mother-love which women bestow upon their children.

The world’s best dads will be those who provide the most protected conditions for this mother-love to develop and flourish. This is one of the important gifts of a father to his children – a distinctive act of paternal care, rather than an ideological attempt to follow a unisex maternalism all the way to the nipple.

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