An article in the Telegraph earlier this week caught my eye: “Women are on the march – but there’s still one great obstacle” by Isabel Hardman. The “one great obstacle” turns out to be lack of affordable childcare. What made me ponder was that there was absolutely no suggestion anywhere in the article that being at home to raise your children when they are young could be a satisfying alternative “career choice”, every bit as rewarding and challenging as going out to work, if not more so. When highly intelligent women journalists like Hardman write articles like this I am aware that feminist propaganda has done its work with great efficiency and effectiveness.
Hardman argues that girls now outperform boys during the whole of the school years and including university; so why, she asks, “do women disappear when they have such an impressive start in life?” She believes “there is one simple and depressing answer to this. It is not about a culture of achievement, or innate biological differences. It’s that our childcare system is broken – with costs so absurd, so prohibitive, that they price women out of the labour market entirely.”
This, according to the author, is the great setback to women’s progress in our times. Lack of cheap childcare has “huge knock-on consequences. A woman disappearing – reluctantly – from the workplace to look after her children is not just a personal blow. It cuts the supply of role models for younger women” which means that “fewer girls are inspired to consider a high-flying profession or trade.” It seems that “fewer than 30% of applicants to become Tory MPs are women, which hardly helps increase the number sitting in the Commons.” Hardman believes that aspiring female politicians “have a chance of enjoying a very good career trajectory in Parliament” – but only if all the political parties “agree to do something really radical about child care.”
Significantly, the two powerful political “role models” that Hardman cites in her article are Theresa May, the Home Secretary, and Angela Merkel, the German chancellor. She does not mention the most glaring fact about these two highly successful politicians: they don’t have children. And this is where it matters to point out what the author doesn’t say or even seem to realise: having children changes most women – deeply and permanently. It doesn’t mean they cease to be intelligent or never want to use their minds in some occupation outside the home again; or that housework or infant conversation won’t sometimes be frustrating or exhausting. It means that a completely new role – that of a mother – comes on them with extraordinary suddenness and they know in their heart that this – their relationship with their baby – is a game-changer of enormous consequence.
Even to write this seems like heresy. How can being at home with your children be compared to the exciting prospect that the workplace has to offer during the vital years that your career must take off if you are to reach the top of the ladder? An organisation I belong to, Mothers At Home Matter, started in the early 1990s, has a constant uphill battle to persuade our society that there is an alternative to the constant drip-drip of media propaganda which refuses to recognise that there are indeed innate differences between men and women, that you can’t “have it all” as the phrase goes, and that putting very young children in full-time day-care except in very serious circumstances is not good for their emotional development.
Perhaps there is a simple answer to the fact that so few women seem to want to be MPs: the world of national politics does not attract the “feminine genius” (another heretical phrase.) Enoch Powell once remarked of Margaret Thatcher that her problem was one of isolation: being a woman, she didn’t understand the essentially clubbable nature of the House of Commons. He meant that men generally like clubs and women don’t. If crèches and nurseries were laid on at the House of Commons would more women be drawn to politics? I somehow doubt it. Margaret Thatcher, a mother as well as a supremely successful politician, is the exception; and in later life she expressed regret for the consequences of the choice she had made, to put politics before family life.
On this subject, I watched a quite interesting DVD last night: “Oranges and Sunshine”, which told the rather shocking story of young children in care in the 1940s and 1950s being shipped off to Australia without their parents’ knowledge or consent. What struck me in the sad stories of these now elderly men and women, searching for their roots, was their overwhelming longing to find their mothers – testimony to a lost bond that they yearned for and which they sensed was irreplaceable.
Christian art also reflects this mother-child relationship. It does not undermine St Joseph’s crucial role that there are countless paintings of Our Lady and the Christ-child; it simply indicates the primary importance of mothering. For the same reason, the Australian “orphans” did not speak of a yearning to find their lost fathers – not because fathers don’t matter but because a fatherly bond flows and develops from the baby’s initial bond with its mother.
I don’t mention this to criticise working mothers, some of whom are forced to work by circumstances beyond their control, but to point out how important is the mother-child bond and how easily it can be affected or damaged if young children are put into day-care and separated from their primary love relationship for many hours every day – the kind of day-care that would be necessary, as Hardman implies, if you want to get near the top of the greasy pole.
Perhaps the one great obstacle to women in our times is that they are not perceived as having a crucial role to play in the development of their young children’s emotional wellbeing that cannot be replicated by professional day-care – whatever the propaganda tells us.
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