Saturday, April 21, 2012

Where are Nick Clegg's weird critics?

Last Sunday, following an interview Nick Clegg gave to the Independent, I blogged about the increasingly collectivist turn that Lib Dem family policy appears to be taking.

There was a point in that interview that I wanted to return to, but I have been too busy with work this week.

That point is this:
And he pledged to take on those with the "sepia-tinted 1950s" opinion that mothers should not work, after attacks on his City lawyer wife Miriam, claiming her critics are as "weird" as homophobes.
Nick is right to be angry at attacks on his wife, but the rest of the argument is odd.

Who are these people who believe mothers should not work? Perhaps you come across them if you spend too long reading the comments on the Daily Mail website, but I don't meet them in real life. Perhaps Nick does, but surely it is possible to disagree with people without calling them "weird"?

But there is a more important point here. Far from there being pressure on mothers not to work, the reverse is true.

For a family to maintain what most regard as a comfortable way of life now takes two full-time incomes - just look at house prices. This is an enormous change from the position in the 1950s. I suspect one cause was Nigel Lawson's tax changes in the 1980s, but no doubt there are many others.

This change has liberated many women - though not all jobs are as fulfilling as being a City lawyer. But somehow the idea that feminism would liberate men by family structures more flexible has been lost. Now everyone works full time.

The collectivisation of childcare has its roots in this too. The right, far from believing a woman's place is in the home, tend to believe that life is about making money. The left are just pleased to see children spending more time in state-approved institutions.

But when I see them arriving at school in the nursery minibus, I can't help feeling they are paying the price.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice


Gawain said...

I was taught that the pressure on mothers to work arose when building societies decided to take second incomes into account when granting mortgages. I think this would have been in the 70s? What was cause and what effect, I'm not sure, but you can see how being a working mother could rapidly have gone from option to obligation .

Anonymous said...

"Far from there being pressure on mothers not to work, the reverse is true."

Jonathan, my experience as a working mother is that both are true: whatever mothers do, they are criticised. Stay-at-home mothers are sponging off their husbands/the state, working mothers are neglecting their children, mothers who work part-time lack commitment. Dividing mothers against themselves seems to be a favourite pastime of the media, setting up artificial "debates" on the topic. Fathers are usually absent from these discussions, or mentioned as an afterthought "there are some stay-at-home dads of course", and almost all discussion of childcare focuses on mothers.

You don't have to go to the Daily Mail to meet people of the opinion that mothers shouldn't work. When I wrote on LibDemVoice last summer about my frustrations moving to the state school system from a privately-run nursery, I got a number of comments along the lines that it was all my fault anyway for wanting a career / more money / a flashy lifestyle. I should have stayed at home with the children and taken the system I was given.

Kelly-Marie Blundell said...

rmc28 is correct, there is a disjointed approach to womens' role in society once they have children.

Women's magazines, female "friendly" parts of newspapers that feature fashion etc and mainstream media place an unbelievable amount of pressure on women with children. The amount of spurious research that implies a mother must remain at home at least until her child is five to ensure the child reaches their full potential is ridiculous. (I say spurious as most of it is small scale, localised studies which are not longitudinal, fail to take into account primary care givers of other genders or positions in the family and often only apply to British families).

Alongside the "damage" a woman inflicts upon her child if she cannot breastfeed, the battle of mothers and work is one of the great unresolved feminist issues in the UK today.

Art said...

The big thing missing here is mention of the cost of childcare. UK has some of the world's most expensive - in many cases totally unaffordable. Couple that with an obsession with the nuclear family over the extended one (the latter being a key source of childcare in societies all over the world) and the cost and time of communting/congestion and you end up with this mess.

Kelly-Marie Blundell said...

Hi Jonathon, I came across an article I wrote on the issue in 2009!