Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Support for working mothers declining

Ugh. Go read it, click the title. Public opinion is turning against working mothers (more so) as, both here and across the pond, surveys show that more and more people are believing that those women who have kids and also go out to work are compromising their family life.

"While British attitudes are more egalitarian than in the 1980s, there are signs that support for gender equality may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s," said Scott. "When it comes to the clash between work and family life, doubts about whether a woman should be doing both are starting to creep in."

First, I can't help but notice that the public opinion of what a family is consists, yet again, of mummy, daddy and the kids. I'm not sure that the 'family life' of single mothers would be vastly improved if they dropped out of the workforce and relied solely upon benefits purely so that they can fit into the idealised role of the stay-at-home mother*. I'm sure that their children are happier when there's money coming in too, but maybe I'm just crazy. What about stay-at-home fathers, are they just not up to scratch? And as for lesbian couples who are allowed to adopt here, which of them counts as 'house-mummy'? Dear public - think. Cheers.

Focussing upon the 'traditional' family now. There are poor families. There have ALWAYS been poor families, and in these families a second income is extremely helpful. Not every family unit is fortunate enough to be able to rely solely upon Daddy's income. There seems to be this bizarre notion flying about that, 'back in the day', no married woman ever did any work outside of the home, taking her away from her children. What wash. When living below the poverty line, it has always been that those women able to bring in more money for the family have gone out to do work along with the father. They may have been able to get the children looked after by the extended family, friends or neighbours, or they may have had to hope that the children could look after each other, but when times are hard women have always tried to do something about it. It's about survival, about looking after yourself and your offspring. It is, in short, motherhood.

Moving on to the middle classes - the ones with a well-earning father where the woman 'chooses' to work. (Note that Daddy never 'chooses' to work, it's just assumed that he will be the default. No matter if Mummy was also working successfully before her marriage and the birth of her children, once that wedding band's on it's her who's choosing.) If both parents are working, the numbers show that it is still the woman shouldering most of the parental role. Oh, no doubt that more and more fathers are taking a more active role in family life aside from breadwinning, but in a breakdown of hours, mothers are still disproportionately more busy here. They are the ones organising the babysitters, cooking and clearing up, laundering the football kits and so on. They are getting more worn out in general - social attitudes about the division of family labour here aren't equalising at the same pace as working rights, and women are feeling the pressure as a result. At the same time, many workplaces aren't adjusting to allow for the flexible hours that such women require. Women do still want to be there with their children, particularly at the beginning, but for some dropping out for a year may mean losing their job or being demoted to a lower-paid role. If they do manage to hang on their careers, not everyone can afford a full-time nanny upon their return to the workforce. So, juggling difficult work hours with their household roles is hard and this will have a knock-on effect for their family if the struggle is particularly bad, making more mothers feel that they must make the decision between working and having a family.

Social attitudes are clearly outdated too. There's still the idea of mummy always being there personally for her children, the father being an authoritative but slightly more distant figure. Many people grew up with this, little boys and girls grew into men and women without ever having this notion challenged, and the lesson is sometimes hard to unlearn. It's time we started teaching our children that a family is no longer about gender roles. When children grow up expecting to be modern parents as opposed to the traditional Mummy or Daddy, change will be far closer than it is now. We're getting there. There's been progress. But we aren't at the finishing line yet.

*I say idealised, but I do recognise that many women who do want to stay at home receive a lot of flack for it. You just can't win, t'would seem.

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