Thursday, November 09, 2006

That Pesky Glass Ceiling Part 2

There must be something in the ether....

Thanks to the lovely MadMuthas who came visiting my blog, I found the lovely Glamorouse Bec of the Ladies Lounge, and discovered on both blogs some of the issues I had raised in my recent post about the glass ceiling being discussed fairly vigorously. You can find them by following these links:

One comment that interested me from Bec's blog was the notion that there should be a divide between working mums and stay at homes, so not only do we have a glass ceiling, but also a glass wall which we've erected between us.

Personally I don't give a stuff about whether someone opts to be a mum who goes to work, or one who stays at home to work. Both involve sacrifices of some kind. We were sold a lie by whoever told us that you can have it all, because quite frankly, in my view you can't. But whatever sacrifices we choose to make, they are our sacrifices, we have to live with the consequences, and no one else should give a damn about it.

I have to confess, I hate both ephitets - working mum is just daft because all mums work, period. Some go out to a job, some work at home - and stay at home just conjures up horrific images of prozac junkies of the Stepford wife kind (as indeed it is probably intended too).

Anyway, as usual I've digressed from the point in hand.

Tuning into my favourite radio station yesterday at lunchtime, I heard Jeremy Vine talking about this very issue. Apparently figures out recently suggest that there are fewer women reaching the boardroom then there were a year ago, which not unnaturally led into a discussion about the glass ceiling and whether or not women just can't cut it at the top. Finger on the pulse or what...

I found myself in the rather odd position of agreeing in part with Erin Pizzey (I always thought of her as 70s lefties radical, hence my surprise), who quite rightly said that it is very difficult for women to reach the top and keep their family life going. There was a businesswoman who was arguing the opposite point of view, but I felt her position was weakened because she didn't have children. She was clearly very successful in her field (and hurrah for her say I), but she hadn't had to ever face the dilemma that those of us who choose to have children do face. Do we still keep struggling up the coalface, against more and more odds, or do we call it a day and slide gracefully out of play?

For many women, the guilt of going out to work, the strain of juggling two lives and the natural desire to spend more time with the children, make this decision a no brainer. I also have plenty of friends who weren't particularly wedded to their careers, for whom being at home has come as a glorious liberation, allowing them not only to be with their families, but to explore other interests which they would never have done while in the workplace.

I count myself in that too - I would never have started writing had I stayed at work as all my creative energies were going into other people's ideas. I doubt I would have started running/triathlon training either, as working for me was so all consuming, exercise often came a very poor second. Taking time out of the ratrace has been very good for me personally, giving me pause for thought, and making me reassess my priorities. Which is not to say that I don't miss it, and wouldn't jump at the chance to get back in, if I could only work out a way of figuring how to do it without the family collapsing.

On the other hand, there are also plenty of women who love their children but hate domesticity (I'm one of those too!), and for whom the day to day drudgery involved in bringing up children just isn't sufficient reward for being at home. For those women, the domestic environment can be very very stifling, and personally I think they are better off being in the workplace, and probably better mothers as a result. Surely being forced to stay at home day in and day out will only breed a resentment that can do more harm then good?

The thing that always gets me about this discussion though, is it is always seen as an either/or. And always with reference to women, never ever to men. More and more we read about how bad it is for children not to have a fatherly influence, but on the whether mums should work or not debate, they barely get a mention.

So yesterday on the radio we heard from:

a neanderthal, who began his comments with the immortal words, I'm not a male chauvinist, but a woman's place is in the home (really, he did. If you don't believe me, go to the listen again facility!!), and claimed that his wife was happy at home (I'd have loved to have heard her version of events) ;

a granny who told us how brilliantly hard her daughter worked and how proud she was of her, then in the same breath undercut all that with the fact that her daughter's children were out of control because she worked ;

and finally (and this was the one that really did me in) a bitter old hag who claimed that she can spot a stay at home mum at a hundred paces. Apparently we are sad old hagbags, who don't have a political opinion and just pathetically talk about our children all the time.

Really? Really? I was throwing brickbats at the radio in response to that comment. That's how come last week at the tennis club I was in conversation with half a dozen mums about the state of our local hospital (same conversation also came up at a coffee morning); going out with friends last week we covered: Iraq, teenage pregnancies, a friend's divorce and another friend's possible impending move abroad. Sure we talk about our kids (in the same way that anyone at work talks endlessly about their job), but shoot, we all have other things in our lives too.

Of the sahms I know, one is a flute teacher, who learned music in Paris and is trying to revive her stage career; another went back to work for a mental health charity and is now a mental health commissioner; a third is a homeopath, a fourth doesn't work as such but does lots of voluntary work, a fifth gardens and so on. Plenty of my friends work in the NHS, with term time working contracts, so they can combine work and home very successfully.

Like everything in life there are no absolutes, only shades of grey, where people find the right balance to suit them and their family life.

And as to granny and her unruly grandchildren, all I would say, is one of my sisters has five children (yes I did say five) and works full time. And they aren't out of control...

The MCP doesn't merit a response...

What this debate needs I feel is a slightly different focus. Rather then beating women up for going back to work (terrible heartless crap mothers that they are) or for staying at home (Sistah! You have just betrayed the feminist movement by your actions and will be condemned to a male chauvinist hell), why not have a discussion about family life in general.

How about making it easier for men to spend time with their families, for men to be allowed to take time out from the workplace and get more involved in their children's lives? I do know one or two couples where the childcare is shared and the parents box and cox between them, but they are far and few between.

Mostly it is probably a case of money - in my case my husband's earning potential is probably three times my own, but on the other hand I would love to be able to work a way of him cutting back even if it is only one day a week, so I could work some more. It would be good for both of us: he gets vital time out from the workplace (why should men be deprived of that particular perk of parenthood?) and I get some time to feel more like a grown up and less like a faceless parent (don't you just hate being introduced to people as x's mum?).

So many of the dads I know work stupidly long hours and barely see the kids in the week - it is no fun for them, the children or their wives and I don't think it is healthy for family life.

So forget the glass ceiling.

Forget the working mum/sahm divide.

Let's call for more family friendly working conditions for all. (And that includes people without children - they should have the flexibility to deal with their own crises like dealing with elderly parents/sick pets etc). It's got to be a more rational and civilised response to the demands of modern day life.

And who knows society might even improve a tad as a result...


Anonymous said...

The notion that all fathers yearn to spend more time with their families is quite often misplaced. There are notorious numbers of husbands who "artifically" prolong their working day because they can't bear the thought of going home to the turmoil of "the kids and missus". And at weekends they sidle off to a football match, pub, golf course, and so on.

Maalie said...

Jane, it was me, Maalie, that posted the comment above, no idea why it came out as anonymous. Regards, Jim

Jane Henry said...

OK Maalie, I was sort of assuming there were SOME dads out there who kind of wanted to spend a bit more time with their offspring. If my husband did that to me he might get an axe between his ears. Actually he does sometimes, but that's another story...


Viki said...

Goodness, and I thought my blogs were long... I got about six paragraphs into it and lost interest (sorry, short attention span -- look, something shiny!)
But anyway I just stopped by to say thanks for your comments on my blog the other day. And I agree with you on the part about working mom being kind of a dumb expression... my mom has worked hard always, and she's been both a stay at home mom and and now an employed mom due to her divorce.

Bec said...

Well, rest assured I read right to the end Jane and I thought it was terrific. And thanks for the shout out: I agree with your conclusion totally and wonder how different this entire public debate/discussion/diatribe would be if we brought it all back to what EVERYONE can do for the community and the children within the community. We all play a part in our own way, don't we??

Dreaming on...

Anonymous said...

Hi Jane,

Mad Twin here.I have to add my penn'orth or two.

I think the basic problem in this debate is it always focusses on the mothers.

Thus we are damned if we do and damned if we don't

I have seen research that says if you put your child in nursery at a young age, you are dooming aforesaid sprog to lifetime of grief, despair and asbos. BAD BAD MOTHER.I have seen almost simultaneous research that says if you don't get your child into nursery at a young age s/he will be years behind in the race for educational excellence. Instead of Oxbridge they'll end up serving customers in Waitrose. BAD BAD MOTHER.

What I want to know is when do we actually hear about the role of Fathers in all this? Don't they get a decision about childcare? Don't they have a responsibility to do a bit as well?

I just don't buy this women do it better. There is nothing inherent in the female psyche that says we can wipe bottoms,clean runny noses, comfort children better than men can. That is just lazy thinking. The truth is that some women are great with babies, some aren't, some women are better with toddlers, some aren't. Some do better with older children or teenagers. And some just don't do children at all. But the same goes for men too.

I think there are three basic reasons that prevent society from allowing it to be acceptable for men to be equal parents. Firstly men get hideous role models - to be a man you have to be physical, violent, carry a gun, don't show your emotions. To be anything less is a sign of weakness. Secondly (and particularly in these modern times) we have a huge hysteria about paedophilia. So men who want to be part of their children's lives can be seen as suspect,because no real man would want to do this, and any man who does must have a bad intent mustn't they? Thirdly (and I hate to say it) but I think women sometimes guard the family space like rottweilers. Perhaps it is because it is the place where we are powerful, but it isn't fair to our partners and husbands. On countless occasions I have been furious with other mothers for their catty put downs about the ineptitude of their other half. No wonder some men won't cross the threshold if their every effort is depised and rejected.

Having said all that, it's better now than it was when we were growing up, so you have got to have faith in the next generation. My husband and I have both cared for our children at home and I see plenty of others doing this successfully (& probably better than us). We are trying to teach our girls and our boy that it is OK for us all to feel things, all to care, all to look after each other and that this is genderless.

With any luck our grandchildren will look back at our current debates and wonder , what were they thinking? It is our job now to make this possible for them.

Mad Twinx

Maalie said...

Mad Twinx, I agree with so much of what you say. I think I was good with my sons when they were babies, found difficulties during their school years, and came back into my own from teenage onwards. Now I consider them my best friends!