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Posts Tagged ‘Role Models’

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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Geek Chic Barbie

Oh how glorious. Now Barbie has a job in IT. Apparently (warning: that site is extremely pink: you may need sunglasses) it’s the result of a vote to determine Barbie’s 125th career. The winner was ‘News Anchor Barbie’ but there was such a strong showing for ‘Computer Engineer Barbie’ that she also has her 126th job too. Aside from the fact that she looks ridiculous (and I admit an eye roll at the fact that she has to wear glasses) I don’t believe it will have any effect on young girls and their aspirations. My experience is that little ones will bend their toys to their will using nothing but their imaginations (Postman Pat goes to fairy school? No problem. Peppa Pig fights as a pirate? Of course). Probably just as well really, otherwise we might have a generation of Bratz loving girls turning to prostitution in later life.

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Beauty is as Beauty Does

I have chills up my spine when I read yet another mother-grappling-with-daughter’s-beauty envy. How sad.

My mother was a great beauty in her day — a top model, so it’s not just my biased opinion. Yet she always made me feel that my puddingy, average looks were shiningly beautiful. Actually, while making me feel like a physical goddess, she also gently inculcated in me that looking good was the least important part of being me. I felt deeply valued for being a good human being, working hard, being creative. I never for a moment got the impression she envied me the gift of youth and unblemished skin, even when she was single again in her 40s/50s. And until the day she died she revelled in my *beauty*, which, quite frankly, only a mother could have seen.

So perhaps it’s what we’ve experienced that shapes our own attitudes. I managed to produce a daughter as beautiful as my own mother, and this has only brought me joy — and, like her, I see this as an unimportant part of the whole package. My daughter has much more important and more enduring qualities than the aesthetic. I’ve never felt a twinge of envy as I’ve gazed on her, only pleasure. And also a modicum of worry on her behalf. The beautiful women I’ve known, my mother and daughter included, don’t have it easy. They attract ardent attention that is purely about how they look, and have sometimes had a harder time of it than me and other average-looking women who men want to get to know because there’s something else about us they like. They’ve suffered from men who yearn for their beauty and aren’t interested in the woman behind it.

And now she has a daughter of her own. The most beautiful baby ever to grace this earth. But if she grows up to be as puddingy as me it won’t matter. And if she grows up to be the most beautiful woman in the world I feel sure my daughter won’t feel competitive, only protective. So far her nature is beautiful — sunny, warm and people-loving. What a gift from the fairies. That should see her through to old age and wrinkles very well indeed.

It makes me think: if mothers compete with daughters over who is the fairest of them all and make clear their distress about their own failing looks, how can we expect young girls not to be victims of our looks-iist culture that values youth, beauty and sex-appeal above everything else?

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Pyjamas in Tesco, nighties on the school run – whatever next?

Many of us read with amusement last week that certain Tesco stores have introduced a dress code to stop women from shopping in their pyjamas and slippers.  Later in the week we read that this lack of decorum is also being seen at school gates.  The head of a Belfast primary school alleged that as many as 50 mothers were regularly turning up at the school gates dressed in night-clothes, while dropping off their children.  In a letter home to parents he slated the practice describing it as ‘slovenly and rude’.  He went on to comment that ‘arriving at the school in pyjamas is disrespectful to the school and a bad example to set to children’.

I was intrigued by my reaction to these stories.  Personally I don’t think I have a problem with anyone shopping in their pyjamas.  If I saw someone in my local store in their nightie I’d definitely chuckle but I don’t think I’d be shocked or horrified.  In fact I must confess that having often longed to stagger to Tesco in my slippers and slob-at-home trousers myself, I couldn’t help a smidgeon of grudging admiration for these women.  How nice it must have been for them to be out and proud in their penguin and teddy patterned PJ bottoms and furry slippers, swanning down the Tesco milk aisle without a care in the world.  Somehow I felt that Tesco were spoiling their fun and infringing their rights with the pyjama ban.

However, my reaction to the pyjama clad women at the school gates was instantly one of disapproval.  I am inclined to agree with the head teacher that it is disrespectful to your child to drop them off at school without bothering to get yourself dressed first.  The implication is that you’re going back home to slob around (or even go back to bed), which hardly seems fair when they are going to school to work.

I found myself wondering how the children feel about their mothers’ choice of clothing?  Maybe if 50 other mums are dressed the same it’s not an issue, but I know that my 9 year old son would be mortified if I tried it!  My 6 year old daughter would just worry that I’d be cold apparently, but she doesn’t mind standing out in a crowd.

I was also interested to see that so far this issue appears to be a uniquely female phenomenon.  There has been no mention of men shopping in their PJs, or dads in pyjamas on the school run.  Admittedly less dads do the school run or Tesco shop as a rule but still, it made me wonder.  Do men have more shame?  Or do they not own pyjamas they would be prepared to wear out of the house, or indeed own pyjamas at all?  Believe me you would NOT want to run into my husband in Tesco wearing his usual night-attire.

The whole thing also begs the question: who is to judge what counts as pyjamas anyway?  Imagine the shame of being turned away from your local Tesco or told off at the school gates; when you are actually wearing yoga pants or M&S ‘relax-at-home’ trousers?  Should we keep our receipts to prove they are really not pyjamas even if they look like them?

So, place your bets where will pyjamas be putting in an appearance next?  Cinemas, doctors’ surgeries, Post Offices?

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