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.