Women and work — it’s time to talk about it

with 3 Comments

THE CENTRAL LINE — I read an article this morning that I have been mulling over all day. There are probably many reasons not to write about it… not least because I am not a woman… but I can’t think of any reason that is really good enough.

It has to do with the different way in which men and women are forced to face the world of work. The article that got me thinking is about the wife of Michael Chabon. He’s a brilliant author whose books (including The Wonder Boys which was made into a film) were part of a new wave of American fiction in the 1990s. She is an author in her own right and many more impressive things. Her name is Ayelet Waldman.

She has been booed on Oprah, castigated by the all-women team of hosts at The View and generally disrespected in many ways.

And the controversy she has caused can be summarised in a few words:

“It would be nice if women could be flawed, likable, intelligent, and able to talk about both their successes and failures.”

That probably seems pretty straight-forward. But it’s maybe worth looking into her book Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace. There are definitely some shocking things in what she says. She talks frankly about how she feels about her children… how much she disliked endlessly pushing a swing… and talking rubbish in the playground.

And for me there is the root of the issue: why do we continue to expect women to do things that few men would consider:

• subjugate all their ambitions (and self) for the love of their children?
• balance the irreconcilable demands of motherhood/ supportive wife with any personal ambition?
• (and receive — so all the statistics say — consistently less pay for doing so?

The most illustrative story I read from Waldman was one she and her husband tell of him simply holding a child in his arms while ordering a cafe-latte one morning, when someone told him he was “such a great father.”

The contrast that draws is what it takes for a woman to be told that she is even a passable mother.

We can’t really go on working like this.


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3 Responses

  1. Roger

    Amen, David.

  2. Sue Stockdale

    I think there is change required from both genders – men to choose to accept responsibility for more of the childcare, and domestic chores and women to be willing to accept that men may not do it like them, and differently is okay too. It will free them up to explore what they are capable of too…

  3. Kate

    A much more insightful take on on our working lives than provided by Stuart Rose http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8075642.stm which is sadly all too predictable – and indicitave of a patriarchal business leadership model … patronising … ill-informed … anyway you can see where I’m going with this.
    Thanks David. I’m going to get hold of the book – it sounds interesting. I can see there’s just as much agressive expectation of being a good mother as a successful career woman. And if you’ve no inclination for either then you’re a spinster with Britain’s Got Talent as your best hope! That appears to be the current populist view.

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