Sunday, 2 May 2010

What Women Do

I've always thought of myself as a feminist. Equality between men and women is something I strongly believe in. But just lately if been wondering if we haven't been barking completely up the wrong tree. We (meaning a collective we, full in the knowledge that I personally have done sod all except reap the rewards) have fought bitterly for equal rights with men and have achieved a great deal. But I begin to wonder if we've been fighting the wrong fight; the fight for equal status with men for doing the same things that men do; the right to work, for equal pay - for fairness and promotion and equality. And of course I want those things too. And have benefited from them. I've been one of the lucky ones. A free university education, a good job, good opportunities. A husband and children. I wanted to work and I did. I found a carer for my children - one of my best friends. She wanted to stay home with her children and offered to look after mine too. It worked brilliantly and I'm not complaining and I don't regret my choices. The children love her and she loves them. I wanted it all and I got it all. I've been lucky. But just lately I've been thinking more and more that the feminist movement has got the wrong end of the stick somewhat. Now we have equality at least in law if not in fact - it's illegal to sexually harass, its illegal to pay less for the same work, its illegal to promote a man just because he's a man. We have maternity rights and employment rights - just like men. Better than men, some would say. But we're still not equal. A man can achieve greatness, acclaim and  fortune for doing what men do. And women also can achieve greatness, acclaim and fortune for doing what men do. But not for doing what women do. There is no social status attached to having children. We don't get paid for it. We don't get a medal or a bonus or a raise. We get poorer. I continued to work but paid for my childcare out of my taxed income. Then my friend had to pay tax on the pitiful amount I gave her. Me and the millions of women in the same situation paid millions of other women minimum wage or less to look after our children. I got paid 2 or 3 times more for writing boring reports that no-one ever read than my friend got for looking after my children. In the city where I live, well, all over the country I expect, but more so in cities because that's where the poorest in our society live, there are many government schemes designed a) to stop very young women having children and b) provide child-care schemes so those same feckless young women can leave their children and go out to work for minimum wage and stop being a burden on the state. And the best, unskilled low paid jobs they can get? Looking after other peoples children so they in turn can go to work. Is this mad or is it just me? And now the bankers and politicians are in a spin because there aren't enough children being born to replace their parents and pay our pensions.

Children in this country - the having and raising of them -  is one of the lowest status activities there is. We bear children; we create new people out of thin air. It's amazing, astonishing. Men can't do it. Bankers created money out of thin air. They were feted and paid vast amounts. Governments fell at their feet. And look where it got them. A couple of blokes won the Nobel prize for discovering DNA (and I bet they never mentioned their mothers in their acceptance speeches); women create people out of DNA. Every minute of every day; give them life, nurture, care and raise them. And what happens? We're treated as second class citizens, encouraged to return to 'work' as soon as possible; have our pensions reduced if we don't. Kept out of sight in the backs of pubs and restaurants or even banned from entering. And the children; dear god, the things we do to children in this, one of the richest nations in the world.

Ancient civilizations used to revere women; worship fat, well rounded fertility goddesses. Artists would paint buxom, dimpled, statuesque, fecund (lovely word that) women. Now we aspire to skin and bone, worship at the alter of size zero. I'm sure there's a connection between media attitudes to body image and the denial of womanliness, fertility, fecundity. The lack of celebration, honour, acclaim, respect for this thing that women can do and men can't.


  1. Blimey, there's a rant.
    You have made too many points to answer in detail, I agree with you on many of them, but there is one thing you have overlooked: women's attitude. I am one of those who joined others round the kitchen table in the early days. We made things happen, for ourselves and our daughters and sons. We became stroppy, we 'got attitude'.
    There's still a lot wrong but I'd rather be living now than in my mother's day.

    PS. I am paying another women to clean the house for me but I am also paying a handyman to do the hard work in the garden. I pay the woman more than the man.

  2. Not really a rant - more a stream of consciousness that would have benefited from rigorous editing! I've confused the issue of women's rights with the point I was trying to make about denial of women's power in creating life. I've also completely denied the value of fatherhood which I didn't mean either. I might have another go at this one when I've worked out what I actually want to say.
    I make my kids clean the house and cook meals - both boys!

  3. Talking of Nobel Prizes, a woman, Dame Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell, discovered pulsars. One of the (the?) most important astronomical discoveries of my lifetime and who got the Nobel Prize for it? Two men in charge of the department she worked for.

    Things are changing, I think. I watched a documentary the other week about the first London Marathon. It's amazing how much more awful attitudes were only a few decades ago. The commentator was saying something laughably patronising like: "And here's one of the ladies... You've got to admire the pluck of these girls... It's amazing how good she's looking considering how far she's run... etc..."

  4. I'm looking forward to reading more on this topic!
    I',m keen on it myself. Both my kids, boy and girl, did their own rooms and had to help around the house, when I was still a downtrodden, neglected and totally invisible single mother, desperate to make ends meet. Now they've gone, I've become a lady of (comparative) leisure and I make damn sure I am no longer invisible!

    Thank you for becoming a follower.

  5. Not only did those couple of blokes who won the Nobel Prize not mention their mothers, they failed to mention that they stole the credit for the photo that proved the helical structure of DNA, a photo actually made by a woman, Rosalind Franklin. She died young of ovarian cancer, which she probably got as a result of exposure to radiation doing the work that Watson and Crick got the prize for.

  6. Wow - just give me a moment while I reel from that last comment.

    Amen to much of the above, but being a feminist, I would like to be respected regardless of my ability/desire (or lack thereof) to reproduce.

    Patriarchy, consumerism, fear, oppression - they all go together.

    Great blog - glad I found you.

  7. PS. I linked to you in my last blog post. Hope that's okay. This really gave me food for thought and helped crystalise some stuff that's been going round my head for a while. Thanks!

  8. puncturedbicycle - you're very welcome - I look forward to debating these ides some more