Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Trouble With Cruella

Re-posted from The F-Word, where I am currently guest-blogging.

As some readers will have noticed, I was interviewed for a BBC Two documentary about working women called "The Trouble With Working Women" which was shown this evening. You can see the whole thing here on the BBC iPlayer. And if you just want to see my bit - it starts at 37 minutes in, so you can scroll it along.

I've just finished watching the whole thing and I thought it was quite interesting, they do speak to a range of people on the subject. I had a few notes though.

They talk a lot about the extent to which having children holds women back but they never stop to ask whether that in itself is a result of sexism. I mean if having children made you a bad employee we would assume that the small number of women who do get to the top would all be women without children. Surprise - not true! Margaret Thatcher has two children, Segolene Royal four children, Hillary Clinton one child. And the most successful women in business: Dame Marjorie Scardino has three children, Dorothy Thompson two children, Linda Cook three children. There is no evidence to suggest mothers make less valuable employees. What we do know is that female bosses, regardless of the number of children they have, work an average three hours more per week than their male counterparts.

Later they gravely warn that one in four women with a degree is "childless at forty" - something they should probably mention to the noxious woman complaining she wouldn't hire a woman of child-bearing age. Note to any female readers currently navigating the credit crunch job market - why not consider a career-enhancing hysterectomy... oh that's right because it's totally screwed up and sickening.

Even so the one in four figure is useless information without telling us what percentage of men with degrees are childless at the same age - among my college friends most of the women have children but almost none of the guys. And anyway one in five women overall do not have children in their lifetimes so it seems like the degree might not be the main factor. Plus what percentage of these women wanted children in the first place? Maybe getting a degree opened them up to other things that they enjoy more. Maybe they're thrilled to be without children and able to focus their free time on travel and artistic pursuits (as a friend said to me the other day "Oh God Kate I wouldn't have had children if I'd know I was creative!"). Maybe they would prefer to be described with the term "child free".

They then say that 30% of mothers stay at home full time but that two-thirds of working mothers said they did so out of necessity. For me there's a gap there where they should be asking what can be done to support mothers who want to spend more time with kids and why the benefit system forces women back to work so quickly after they have children. There is a lot of talk about women making tough choices but the reality for many women is clearly that it's not a choice at all.

But also I'd like to know what percentage of stay at home mothers do so at least partly because their job prospects are so hampered by sexism - certainly true of all the stay-at-home mums I know.

As so often with these things they seem to get totally sidelined into the motherhood thing and away from the real issue - sexism. Amazing when you consider they actually interview guys who say "women shouldn't be allowed to work", "women aren't put on this earth to work". And then you're telling me it's my choices that are holding my career back? No - it's these assholes!

So where is the documentary asking how so many men manage to "juggle" a career with playing golf and downloading internet porn? Whoops, forgot to make that one!

The notion that women having children explains everything from the pay gap to sexual harassment is totally sexist because only women can be "women having children"! I honestly believe if women rather than men grew the vast majority of beards the government would announce they were unhygienic and we wouldn't be allowed to work in the food industry which would overnight become the best paid industry in the country. And if men had the children they'd be automatically promoted every time they squeezed one out because they were demonstrating an ability to shoulder more responsibility...

We're not victims of biology - we're victims of misogyny.

4 comments:

Mark Reckons said...

I saw you on that programme last night Kate and I thought you came across very well. When I heard your name I ended up squeaking "I know her!" at the TV.

I never realised you used to work in the City. It sounds like a ridiculously macho culture that even me (a man) would find too testosterone charged I am sure.

butterflywings said...

You were great.

Lisa said...

I only watched the beginning of the programme and got so wound up by some of the comments -- especially the company that wouldn't hire women of child bearing age -- that I had to turn it off before I smahsed the TV. So, I didn't catch your appearance, but from comments, it sounds like you smoothed things out. I was wondering why the University lecturer with 4? 5? kids didn't seem to be getting a lot of help with getting the kids ready/fed/off to school. There wasn't much background on that, but I kept wondering why her husband wasn't up at 5 AM to help out more?

Nice blog post. Good and brave to keep the conversation going.

Tell the BBC to check Twitter for the conversation it started -- hopefully they are keeping an eye on women's thoughts on this programme.

butterflywings said...

Lisa - I don't blame you - I found myself shouting and making rude gestures at the TV!