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Posts Tagged ‘gender’

Reading Gaby Hinscliff’s blog ‘I am not a feminist but…’ certainly struck a chord. If truth be told I don’t regard myself as a Feminist, my mental perception is I suppose of bra-burning, men-hating, hardnose career driven women who would hold their hands up in horror at the life I have chosen; sacrificing a promising career in favour of wiping snotty noses, playing with plastic tat and singing The Wheels on the Bus ad infinitum. I most definitely need a bra to keep my ever southwardly disappearing bosoms vaguely hoisted and Emily Davison must have been turning in her grave the election I chose not to vote in.

So am I letting the side down? Despite these transgressions am I a feminist? Maybe I am. I strongly believe in equality and choice. The decisions I have made, be it through career breaks or working part time to breastfeeding my children or being chief cook and bottom wiper have been made precisely because I chose them. The opportunity to work fulltime and devolve child and household tasks to another were there, I simply chose not to avail myself of them. I discovered bringing up my children to be more fulfilling than my career, and my job has become my hobby. For other women the converse is true.  The point is that feminism should be more about women being able to make the choices they want than what those choices actually are. I am eternally thankful I wasn’t a mother thirty odd years ago where maternity leave was routinely began at 29 weeks and the dictates of society would have meant a woman’s career was consigned to oblivion once the umbilical cord was cut. I consider myself fortunate that things have moved on enough to give many women choices that simply didn’t exist a generation ago.

My husband considers himself sympathetic to feminist viewpoints. He sees my role at home to be to bring up the children rather than hoover, cook and clean which is a good thing really as household tasks do not figure largely on my radar. He is a hands-on dad and does his share of chores.  Nevertheless when I challenged him as to whether he would have sacrificed his career in place of mine should I have chosen to return to work fulltime after birth he spluttered and said he was glad that situation never arose. The reality is though that for him to have taken time off or work more flexibily would be near on impossible and viewed as career suicide. For women there is the option of extended maternity leave (that may come with decent renumeration) and the protection of these rights enshrined in law.  My employers might have had the odd grumble when I have been on maternity leave . Should I choose to work more when the children are older I will be supported as it is deemed a ‘worthy’ thing that I have let my career tick over to raise my family. Not so for men. The statutory two weeks paternity leave with derisory pay meaning the majority of men will not avail themselves of this. There is talk of more flexibility with parents sharing ‘maternity’ leave between them but this is yet to come to fruition. Even if these proposals should reach the statute books there is still a whole societal attitude to deal with where childrearing remains the domain of the woman and men who venture into it remain somewhat of an oddity. The pressures, both covert and explicit, from employers, spouses and acquaintances mean it simply is not an option. I think my husband would quite like the opportunity to drop a day a week in favour of family life but unless there is a momental shift in attitudes and economics it will never be a credible alternative. Jim Pollard writes about why feminism favours men but in respect to the work-family balance at least I think I am the more liberated partner, I certainly have more choices.

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Yesterday on International Women’s Day, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend about feminism and motherhood after reading this article.  It gave me a lot to think about because I’ve spent the last three years feeling pulled between being a feminist and taking the traditional ‘woman’s role’ in our household.

I’ve been the one who has looked after our daughter and most of the housework since she was born.  I cook the dinner, it tends to be more or less ready when my husband walks in from work, I do the washing and I plan our holidays. I never thought I’d be the kind of woman who thought there was any pride to be had in looking after a family, and yet here I am, loud and proud. (I should add here in case Lordblahblahs thinks I am doing him a dis-service, that he more than pulls his weight in the home in the evenings and at weekends).

Badinter’s viewpoint is, in my opinion, naive, and well, bollocks, frankly.  I simply can’t see how taking a few months or years out of work to care for your own children can really undermine a lifetime of education and employment.  As my friend said, if she’s that bothered by women pureeing a bit of butternut squash or changing nappies, why isn’t she instead championing family friendly policies at work, equal pay and better childcare etc.?  I’d go further and say why aren’t we championing the right for men to take equal time off (if they choose)?  Where’s the cultural shift towards fathers working flexibly and, ahem, don’t men have any say in their children’s upbringing?  We can’t just have children and leave them to bring up themselves after all, surely both parents are equally responsible?

Mostly, I want to cry:  why, why, why are the soft skills of looking after each other – whoever is providing the care, and surely the foundation of family life – not given the same value as the more easily measurable skills of who got the best bonus, who has the biggest house, who drives the biggest 4 x 4?

The way I see it, being a mum to pre-schoolers (because that’s all I have experience of so far) is a bit like any other job really.   You can make as much of it as you want.  Some will leave their kids with a bag of crisps for breakfast while they watch Jeremy Kyle.  Others will read all the latest research papers, plan their days with military precision to make sure they are fun-packed, educational and that their kids have nutritionally balanced meals every three hours, with lots of interaction and play in big groups as well as lots of one on one time with mummy.  Most of us are somewhere in the middle.  The vast majority of parents, whether we work full time, part time or not at all, are engaged with our children, we want to give them the best start in life and most of us want our children to be well rounded, compassionate individuals with good self esteem who will go on to contribute to wider society.

Being at home with a child doesn’t mean my brain will rot.  I can still read the paper, I can still do evening courses, I can still *shock* talk to friends about their lives.  Just as I never focused only on my (paid) job, I can still be interested in the world around me and not obsessed with how many phonetic sounds my daughter understands,as long as there’s a smile on her face when she’s happy and she has someone to talk to when she’s sad.

So, I read the papers over the weekend, like I do every weekend, and my word, the world seems to be in a depressing state for women.

First off, only 10% of directors in Britain’s top 100 companies are women and some of them have no women at all on their boards.  None of them have a female majority.

In television,   it’s not just whether you’re a woman or not, it’s how old you are.  If you’re a young woman you might be able to have a soft role in a soap or as a bit of fluff, if you get to 40 and still employed, you’ll be lucky.

It seems even Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown – both intelligent women in their own right – are seen as extensions of their husbands.  Ed Vaisey has suggested that Samantha Cameron voted Labour in the last election – which she denies, but if true, surely she’s entitled to vote for who she wants at each and every election (I know, I couldn’t do it either, but I’ve heard of stranger differences in a marriage)?  Just look at Sally and John Bercow!

Melissa Kite of the Telegraph thinks that Sarah Brown should be ‘riding her husband to rescue again’, because she is more personable than he is and doesn’t have her own agenda, unlike Cherie Booth who had the audacity to have her own career as well as being married to the then Prime Minister.

Even the good news that Kathryn Bigelow has won an Oscar for directing The Hurt Locker leaves a bitter taste in my mouth – she’s the first woman ever to win a Director’s Oscar.  What???  So we’ve only got another 80 years to catch up!

Elsewhere in the tabs, we read about the Doormat Wives.  John Terry’s wife Toni Poole has forgiven his transgression – from what I can gather, sleeping with his team mate’s girlfriend and paying for her to have an abortion is just the tip of the iceburg for this man’s hideous behaviour .  Cheryl Cole apparently blames herself  for the fact Ashley couldn’t learn his lesson the last time he sent sleazy texts to a kiss and tell merchant.

I read this stuff and I wonder who we are trying to kid, women should have equal rights, but they don’t, and that’s to say nothing about domestic violence, rape, women dying in childbirth, genital mutilation or the many other issues affecting women in this country and around the world.  Nothing has really changed since I was studying A Level Sociology all those years ago (19 to be precise).  What am I going to tell my daughter when she asks me about equality issues?  What is the best way to bring her up to know that she doesn’t have to accept it?  Am I a good enough female role model (she obviously can’t look to television, celebrities, politics or the workplace for examples)?  How would I parent a son? These are the real things that trouble me, as a feminist, Elisabeth Badinter, not whether I remembered to put on a hot wash.

(and I know I sound like a bit of a miserable old bag, so I’ll post a blog later in the week about all the things that are great about being a woman in 2010!)

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It’s a girl thing?

My not quite 5 year old daughter has very excitedly gone on her first ever trip to the cinema this afternoon, to see the new Disney film “The Princess and the Frog”. Apparently it is notable for having a black heroine (although surely Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine are far from white). But living in multicultural London, my daughter is oblivious to such things and is much more interested in the plot. It’s the typical Disney thing – girl meets boy (or frog), they overcome the baddies, get married, she becomes a princess and they live happily ever after.

When I ask my daughter what she wants to do when she grows up, she tells me “get married”, “be a mummy” or “be a princess”. When her girl friends come over to visit, they always immediately dive into the dressing up box, pull out the frilliest costumes they can find, ignoring the doctor, police officer and builder outfits and embark on elaborate imaginative games involving weddings, princesses, fairies and babies. One guest was horrified to see pirate-themed Playmobil toys in her bedroom, exclaiming “Why have you got those? Pirates are for boys!” I’m proud that she responded that pirates are for everyone, not just boys. But just the other day she asked me to buy her some lipstick, claiming that all her friends have it, and threw a diva-like strop when I refused.

It wasn’t like this back in my day. Toy shops like the Early Learning Centre didn’t produce everything in blue and pink versions. We didn’t need Lego to be pink for us to play with it. And we aspired to more than becoming a footballer’s wife or girl band star. What happened?

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8 boys wanting a girl

Last night I watched “8 boys wanting a girl”, as a mum of 3 boys followed by a girl I thought perhaps the programme might carry thoughts I would resonate with and it did, but very few. How can any mother knowingly destroy perfectly healthy male embryos just because they aren’t female? I found this even harder to bear knowing she had four beautiful boys already, knowing that those 5 unwanted male embryos could have turned into wonderful, individual little beings – just like her sons, just like my sons, if given a chance. What is so different here to terminating a pregnancy at 12 weeks because the foetus is male? it all leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

Then there was the mum of four boys pregnant with her fifth baby after attempting naturally. This lady I did feel empathy for. Growing up I had always presumed I would have a little girl. I am an only child and had a very close relationship with my mother, I always assumed I would have that bond with my own daughter one day, an assumption that was fuelled by the loss of my mother when I was only 21. I was and am still, very feminine and as a child adored playing with dolls – all female (my favourite I name Jennifer). Of course I would have a girl someday. I had spent years rehearsing for her arrival.

When that “someday” came I went mad and purchased a bag full of girl’s clothing, I truly hadn’t even considered the fact I might have a boy. At 20wks we asked at our ultrasound. “It’s a boy”. “”what did you say?”, I didn’t think I had heard correctly. Sure enough, there he was, my son, in all his full spread eagle turtle glory. I didn’t feel sad, more shocked – this wasn’t the plan! where was my baby Jennifer? what would I do with a BOY?! 22wks later he arrived and it was love at first sight. The only time my heart twanged for Jennifer was when the latest Mini Boden catalogue landed on my doormat. Boy’s clothing is so unattractive. I lusted after stripey tights and Mary Janes.

16 months later my second bundle arrived, another boy, just as gorgeous as the first and that’s when the comments started, mostly from friends and family with new “pigeon pair” families, they thought they were clever for having “one of each” and commented “I’ll bet you’ll go for a third, we’re stopping at two now we have the perfect family, a boy and a girl” with a gloating smile.

We did indeed try to conceive again – we always planned a large family. I have to confess to a brief dalliance with Chinese lunar calendars and reading up on the Shettles method. I spent a good proportion of my third pregnancy daydreaming of a perfect pink Cath Kidston nursery only my daydream baby turned out to have testicles, the first thing I touched after “catching” my son underwater with my own hands after the most beautiful home waterbirth. I spent the next few days on a high in babymoon bliss, head over heels in love with my new blue bundle and then the comments started in earnest, cards arrived with “better luck next time” “another boy – wow so much testosterone, poor you”. My new son received hardly any gifts, being another boy he didn’t seem worthy I guess. My elderly aunt even commented when I was pregnant “if you have a girl I’ll buy her a pretty dress”, baby boy number 3 arrived and she didn’t even send a card.

Now, for those of you reading who have less than three of the same gender you really have no idea what it is like to be on the constant receiving end of sympathy from strangers, the constant implication that your all blue team is inferior to a mixed, perfectly blended one. I defy any mother in this situation to not develop a twinge, a tug on her heartstrings when you hear of yet another “perfect pigeon pair” new baby arriving. Whilst I cannot and do not agree with PGD or the extreme feelings I saw in this documentary I will defy any of you with less than three of a kind to comment negatively having never walked in the shoes of a single gender mum. For some reason there seems to be a gulf of difference between just two of one gender and then three.

Eighteen months later we conceived our fourth child. The comments started immediately, I felt that if I did produce a fourth boy I would receive commiserations from everyone rather than congratulations. Upon learning that I was carrying a girl I decided to not share with anyone, mostly because I couldn’t handle the “well done, you must be so happy” comments I knew we would receive. Each one of those comments felt like a knock to my beautiful boys, somehow implying they weren’t good enough. I found myself fiercely protective of my boys and told the world I wanted another boy as mine were so beautiful. So when my daughter arrived – a girl after three boys, I could finally say “my daughter”. But it didn’t feel any better than saying “my son”. I much prefer to dress her in blue or yellow than pink and she hates wearing dresses. She is the biggest tomboy, loves Star Wars, Ben 10, climbing, lego, picking her nose. She is fiercely independent, will never hold my hand, doesn’t like hugs and would rather play with her brother’s action men than Barbies with me, certainly not the rose tinted mother/daughter relationship I expected or longed for when I just had boys. In years to come it is more likely to be one of my cuddly boys who takes me shopping or invites me to take a central role in their wedding preparations.

I just wish the women in the documentary could really see what they have already, how lucky they are, but maybe I am writing this with the benefit of hindsight. How must their sons feel knowing “mummy wants a girl?” or heaven forbid in years time they watch the documentary knowing they are only here because “mummy wanted one last try for a girl – I didn’t want 5 children” I wish they could give up on their dream of a girl, because that’s all it is really…..a dream…and we all know the reality is usually very different. They want the fantasy, the pink, the tutus….I don’t blame them, I did too, but that’s not the way it is and I blame society, I blame the stupid preconception held that the perfect family is “one of each”, because my perfect family is the one I have, MY children, each one of them special and unique, regardless of their x or y chromosomes. Hopefully one day the ladies on the programme will realise that too.

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