9 October 2009

What People Want

We hear a lot about what women want, but do not find a corresponding amount in terms of what women get. Power is still predominantly a men's game - just observe the token woman who still routinely appears on question-time-style panel debates. Women need to move on from using their excellent communication skills and hone the skills of power. Personally, I have never spent any time on 'women's studies' because the fact that so many women (and so few men) do is part of the reason there are so few female economists and politicians.

But I'm going to break my rule to address a new report by the Centre for Policy Studies that is ruffling feminist feathers. The report is based on a survey of 4500-odd men and women and found that, of the mothers interviewed, 12 per cent did not want to work. We were not given figures for the number of men - with children or otherwise - who did not want to work.

Because that is the problem, really, isn't it? This discussion, like the debate last month about whether the children of working women do worse at school, is framed in terms of a nuclear family, with two heterosexual parents, one of whom has a penis and thrives in the workplace, the other of whom has mammaries and yearns to make pretty cushions.

Starting from that assumption you can arrive at a whole lot of different conclusions, and generate the sort of heated debate between old-school feminists, who found their own freedom through work and now argue that vast sums in taxation should be spent bribing other women to do the same, and Tory ladies whose well-paid husbands can afford to subsidise their lives spent at the gym or the WI.

According to the BBC's account of the report: 'The poll found only 1% of mothers and 2% of fathers (with children under five) thought the mother in a family, where the father worked and there were small children, should work full-time. Nearly half said she should not work at all.' But how many thought the man should not work? Or that they should decide to genuinely share parenting? Were they even offered this option?

Nobody asks the men if they want to go to work - especially men outside the chattering classes who do the most unpleasant work. No one is thinking creatively about how bringing up children can be shared within a loving community of men and women. Even the feminists do not question how their daughters will feel about balancing their wish to be loving mothers and their desire to function in the world, when they have spent their working lives struggling to park them in childcare while not challenging the model that says men are more likely to be working than women.

The person who seeks self-actualisation in the post-modern, managerialised workplace is a very sad person indeed. The image of the population as no more than millions of Dobbie-style house elves, eager to meet every latest target, is a false and depressing one. This discussion of work is mythologised (see my rather dated attempts to unpick some of these myths here) and does an injustice to the millions of working people in this country - of both sexes - for whom work is a humiliating daily grind that crushes their creativity and erodes their self-respect.


  1. Well put. I've ended up in a traditional family unit, not through want of choice but through necessity. I'd love to have been a house husband and taken the lead in parenting like a couple of my friends have been able to do but sadly I have had to work full time (more or less) because society has driven us that way.

  2. That is a great article! I think that many families no longer have a choice as to whether both parents work. It is no secret that familes are penalised financially and that for having children to be financially viable both parents will need to work.

    Unfortunately most people do not earn a decent living wage or have the option to work flexible hours, I actually think that some articles that are critical of working parents actually can actually contribute to our culture of guilt. I think this is fundamentally wrong, I refuse to let any so called "experts" make me feel guilty when their lifestyle is so far removed from that of us "ordinary" folk.

    The working parents are not the people who should be feeling guilty as we all know who the real culprits are!

    Also, many people measure their success by what outward trappings of wealth they are able to aquire. It takes two incomes to keep up with the Jonses, to have the nice house, riding and music lessons for the children, holidays abroad and organic food, people do not want to give that stuff up!

    Good luck and respect to all who go their own way though!