British Documentary Says Working Moms "Don't Understand What They've Lost"

Illustration for article titled British Documentary Says Working Moms "Don't Understand What They've Lost"

An article in the Times of London takes as its questionable premise the idea that working mothers' lives suck so much that they all want their daughters to marry rich men.

The article, by India Knight, seems to be inspired by a British TV special called "The Trouble with Working Women." But Knight spends her entire first page chronicling the dissatisfaction of her working-mom friends. One of these friends, "an ultra-successful, glass-ceiling-busting woman with an enviable job," says of her daughters: "I'd like them to marry rich men and do a little light charity work."

Again and again, women tell night they are unhappy with their lives and that they want something different for their offspring. And although Knight takes a stab at objectivity ("Admittedly, two hard-working, successful individuals wishing nothing more than haut-bourgeois domesticity for their daughters does not exactly constitute a sea change"), her piece still lays the blame for the unhappiness not with an inhumane system that doesn't allow for a balance between work and family, but with women and their choices. Knight writes,

The model we are desperately trying to adhere to - the old 'you can have it all' chestnut - is fundamentally broken and, it increasingly seems, always has been. The great plan for 'equality' didn't work because it never took motherhood and its practical and emotional ramifications properly into account. It is therefore ironic - and possibly quite stupid - that we should still be chasing after it.

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It's not a new idea, but it's still infuriating: "having it all," according to Knight, it's impossible not because of lingering sexism or because of capitalism's total lack of a concept of work-life balance, but because motherhood is somehow emotionally incompatible with having a job.

Things get even worse when Knight starts quoting women's shelter founder Erin Pizzey, a contributor to "The Trouble with Working Women." Pizzey says, "There has been a subterranean war between men and women which has largely been won by women, who don't understand what they've lost." She goes on:

The traditional family has been going for thousands of years and it works. What I see now is men disenfranchised from their roles and women who are lost because they have to work full-time. They don't have a choice: there's no proper provision for children.

And on:

Of course, some women can do it - some women can have it all. But they are a tiny, tiny minority. The great myth was that men would get feminised and everything would change. Yes, you now get men pushing prams and so on. But 99% of the work still falls on a woman's shoulders and that is simply a fact.

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This kind of gender essentialism and historical oversimplification hurts women and families far more than any job ever did. The idea that women historically have always been able to stay "home" with their children, the idea that men who are no longer breadwinners become "disenfranchised," the idea that the work of making it home and raising children is naturally female and that men would have to be feminized in order to do it: all of these keep us from making real provisions to help parents work and raise their kids, because they promote the false premise that the real problem is women trying to work in the first place. Essentialists like Pizzey forget not only that gender roles have never been completely cut and dried, but also that culture is as important to parenting as biology, and culture has been and can be changed.

At the end of her article, Knight does reject the marry-a-rich-man solution. Instead, she says, women should plan out their lives better. But it would be much fairer — for women and for men — if the working world would plan how to better accommodate families. To say that this is never going to happen, and that women just need to accept their lot in life, is to admit defeat.

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Having it all is a myth girls, so just make sure your daughters marry rich men [Times of London]

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DISCUSSION

So, growing up (and now) both my parents worked. Almost all my friends who had two parents at home had two working parents at home. And this wasn't something I ever thought about, as a kid, because they were adults, and adults had jobs. It's just the way it was.

Because of this, I have a hard time looking at stay-at-home parenting as anything more than an interesting, completely valid, but rather alien life choice.

But I think it's interesting to think about how I, a feminist, view both my parents and men and women in general as equal, and able to contribute equally to society. I have a hard time imagining (with my limited experience) girls who grow up without seeing any working women would see in themselves the potential to contribute greatly to public life.

Then again, maybe that's the point.