Feb 022009
 

This morning, having returned from my aborted trek to work through the barren waste that is Britain under four inches of precipitation, I switched on BBC Breakfast just in time to hear some (male) official-looking interviewee claiming that Britain’s children are the unhappiest in the developed world, and this is partly due to mothers who go out to work.

Just in time to save me from choking on my indignation, the female host of the program interjected, ‘But the survey still shows that more than three-quarters of British children say they are happy, doesn’t it?’

Cue relieved sigh.

Then, via Tim Worstall, I came across this melodramatic headline in the Telegraph: Female empowerment has caused family break-up, Church-backed report warns: ‘Female empowerment has contributed to the break-up of the traditional family, leaving a generation of children emotionally damaged, according to a controversial report on the state of British childhood.’

Oh, has it indeed? Let’s just see how, then, shall we? The article begins:

The study, backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, criticises the parents of young children for spending long hours at work and relying on childminders.

It describes an increase in the number of mothers going back to work when their babies are less than a year old as a “massive” social change and cites the fact that women are now less dependent on their husbands as a cause of family break-up.

Pass over the fact that any study backed by the Ass-Hat is suspect for that very reason (the luxuriantly-be-eyebrowed hoon), and direct your attention instead to the suggestion that women’s attempt to escape from the slavery of their biological construction damages children. But, cannily, so far our intrepid reporter has not said anything objectionable; women going back to work after birthing is indeed a massive social change (or at least it was when it became commonplace about 35 years ago) and, indeed, women are now less dependent on their husbands (either because they have suddenly become humans with full personal agency, or because so many of them lack husbands that surviving without one became a necessary skill). How, though, is this a cause of family break-up?

“Compared with a century ago, two changes stand out: first, most women now work outside the home and have careers, as well as being mothers.

“Seventy per cent of mothers of nine-to-12-month-old babies now do some paid work, this compares with only 25 per cent 25 years ago – a massive change in the way of life.

“Meantime, the children are cared for by someone other than their parents.”

The comparison, then, is being made with conditions extant in roughly 1909 – an era when, indeed, women mostly remained in the home. However, if one is going to compare women’s lifestyle choices now to those prevalent in 1909, must not one also, for the sake of thoroughness if nothing else, compare the happiness-status of the children, too? I wonder how many of the shorties working twelve hours a day down the mines were free of ’emotional damage.’

There is also the fact that (a) economic conditions, even before this recession began, have more or less necessitated a two-income household for most families, and (b) women’s entry into the workforce in the middle of the twentieth century was also a necessity, at least for those countries whose economies were trashed by the Second World War.

And whilst doing their duty for king and country, women discovered that they liked working; staying at home all day looking after brats who can’t walk or talk is pretty goddamned dull.

They also dared to realise that having an income of their own liberated them from the virtual serfdom under which they had lived in their marriages. For some, whose husbands were abusive/philandering/financially incontinent, the shiny new possibility of leaving without facing starvation or returning to their fathers in disgrace must have appeared as an oasis in the desert.

Life is, therefore, better for children and better for women. Superseding that is going to require some pretty damning evidence. Do we get some?

The article goes on:

“As a result of increased break-up, a third of 16-year-olds in Britain now live apart from their biological father.”

Oh really? A third of 16-year-olds living apart from their biological fathers is not due to the fact that their biological fathers are feckless twits? That their mothers are intellectual dullards (how difficult is it to lay hands on a condom in a nation where all contraception is free?) who have no business spawning in the first place? That custody laws in this country are heavily biased in favour of the mother?

Are these not more serious fucking problems than the fact that Mum is out working while the brat is in school so that she can ensure there’s enough money at home to keep him nourished, clothed, and entertained?

And then, bizarrely:

[The report] will draw on a Unicef study published in 2007 which showed that children in Scandinavian countries appeared happier than their British counterparts despite similar levels of family separation.

So… in other places, family breakdown does not cause childhood misery. Anybody know how Scandinavian countries compare to Britain in features like paternal absenteeism, teen pregnancy, and nakedly partial custody laws? Some statistics would be nice, but I’m prepared to bet a red dime that Scandinavian countries have less of all three.

Finally, as per journalistic convention, we get a bit of opposition at the end of the piece:

Sue Palmer, the educationalist and author of the book Toxic Childhood, said…

…”Women moved to the workplace on men’s terms,” women’s work that had traditionally been done in the home had never been valued because it was free.

“That is how everybody forgot that rearing children is a time consuming and important project.

“The point that we have got to take for the future isn’t that we take women back to the kitchen sink but that we must value what they brought to the social mix in the past.”

How relieved women around Britain must feel to have such an incisive mind working so assiduously on their behalf!

Fuck me if she doesn’t miss the point by a country mile: female empowerment is not a significant cause of ’emotional damage’ in children (as this article shows, almost against its own will), but even if it were, women do not exist to make children happy. Women are human beings too; to fault them for the deterioration of British youthful contentment is to subordinate them, fully-grown individuals with personal agency, to children.

  12 Responses to “Back to the kitchen, bitches!”

  1. I thought I was snappier:

    “Female economic independence does indeed mean that women get to be, err, independent.

    Hey, nobody said that liberty was either without side effects or easy now, did they?”

    But you make the point well…..better than I did.

  2. I’ve no doubt that we’ll disagree upon many, if not most, things. But then that is the reason we do this, no, to gnaw over these things without actually having access to the pint pots with which we might glass each other?

    Well, OK, it’s mine, if not yours. (should that have an ‘…your’s? Humph)

  3. I agree with you up until the last paragraph where you say ‘women do not exist to make children happy’. While this is true, it can be used to justify a rather selfish attitude.

    More to the point, to my mind anyway, is that children are surely a joint responsibility of the parents. I think that maternity/paternity leave should be combined so that either parent could take it. This should have the effect of making employers less wary about employing women of child bearing age (bit off topic from your post, I know).

  4. Should perhaps have made clearer in my first paragraph that I meant this to apply equally to men. i.e. Whilst parents do not exist solely to make children happy, it should still be a pretty high priority

    • That said, though, even the best, most adoring parents must find looking after a baby less than fascinating much of the time. One can only spend so long staring into its gorgeous little eyes and marvelling at the miracle of its creation. I don’t have children myself, but like every other female in the western world, I’ve done my fair share of baby-sitting. Even really cool kids pall after a while.

      On the other hand – because I don’t have children myself, I probably don’t really understand. People say that ‘things are different when it’s your own child.’ Perhaps one day I’ll be eating my words.

  5. So, erm, your view is that having (even very small) children looked after by paid strangers instead of by their mothers makes no difference?

    It’s one way of looking at things, I suppose.

  6. I agree with the majority of what you say here…If we are going to compare one aspect of contemporary society with some traditionalists’ halcyon view of post-war society then we need to go the whole hog to be realistic. One thing I would maybe take issue with is that

    “staying at home all day looking after brats who can’t walk or talk is pretty goddamned dull.”

    Whichever parent is doing the looking after, both should have thought about the implications of having children before conceiving – what’s the point in having children if you don’t want to spend a significant amount of time with them, especially when they’re tiny?

    We set up our own business prior to our daughter’s birth to do that. Granted, I need additional intellectual stimulation – but it’s there to be sought out. As well as getting out lots, I listen to podcasts and the radio, read blogs, mail people, read the papers, books and journals, utilise distance learning, watch TV and do as much work as I can squeeze in. The joys of modern living :-)

    You’re right about Sue Palmer by the way, she’s popping up everywhere at the moment. Moron.

  7. Sorry, it is women’s responsibility to look after little children. And that isn’t male discrimination, it is a fact of nature. You have the breasts to feed a baby, and that is what they are meant for. Obviously women are meant to nurture the young, anyone denying that is denying what you can see in nature. Nature made things the way they are, cry about it if you want, but nature doesn’t give a damn what you want, it is, what it is.

  8. Merci! This is my inaugural voyage into the whole blogging world, so thanks for the encouragement!

  9. Well…judging by what I’ve read on your blog these past two years, we agree rather more often than not! But yes – this method is vastly preferable to debate-by-projectile.

  10. Yes, that is true, and I think it probably is a high priority for most (responsible) parents. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a concern. What I am saying, however, is that the case for suggesting that working women are a cause of family breakdown and children’s unhappiness is incredibly tenuous and does not bother to address what working does for the mental state of women. Surely it is better to have a happy mother who works than a miserable mother who looks after you all day?

    You make a good point, as well, when you say this should apply equally to men. I whole-heartedly agree. Ensuring the happiness of a child is the responsibility of both parents, not one.

  11. You could say that. And some of us don’t even turn out so badly!

    Or, and this is just a wacky suggestion I know, they could be looked after by their fathers. Call me crazy.

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