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One child equals a “nominal family”? Women choosing to “marry up” in preference to establishing a career? When women attack women everyone loses

Earlier this week I wrote about the fact that everyone loses when women leave their careers.  The same is true when women attack women: everyone loses.  I’ve seen first hand the vengeance of stay at home mums whoattack women for using childcare.  Then there’s the Ladder Kickers who get to the top and refuse to support the women behind them (“they got there the hard way so why shouldn’t others?”)  And now there’s a ridiculous new report by British Academic Catherine Hakim who slams executive women for having “nominal families with a single child” and “subcontracting out the work of caring for them to other women.” 

In a report called Feminist Myths and Magic Medicine Hakim adds that women still want to “marry up” in preference to establishing careers and financial independence and that “the truth is that most men and women have different career aspirations and priorities”.

I’m sure there are more examples of women attacking women, what I can’t understand is why they do it.  Why do women feel the need to be so offensive and unhelpful to one another?  It’s a behaviour I rarely see in men who – whether through the concept of mateship or because they simply have better things to do with their time and energy – barely seem to notice let alone pass comment on what each other gets up to.

Hakim believes that feminism is a fraud because women are now able to make an active choice about whether to have a family or enter a senior position at work, and that most women prefer not to work at all.

Her claims are based on a survey that found that 55 per cent of women she surveyed would stay at home with their children in preference to working, if money was no object.  Really?  55 per cent?  Is that all?  If going to work is such a burden then why wouldn’t 80 or 90 or 100 per cent of mothers stay home with their children, given the choice?  Possibly because many of them enjoy the challenge and stimulation and – dare I say it – the adult time away from their kids that they get from their careers; because they enjoy what they do at work; and maybe because there’s only so many shitty nappies you can change in a day before the novelty wears thin.

From what I can gather the report is simply a PR stunt by Hakim, but it’s unhelpful on a number of levels to men and women and families alike because:

  1. It sends a message to men that women only want them to be the breadwinners in households and therefore traps them into the traditional worker model
  2. It implies that women are better at parenting than men which is unfair to all those dads – including my husband – who do a stellar job in raising their kids
  3. It sends a confusing message to employers who are doing their best to challenge the cultural and other barriers that women say are holding them back, only to have a women saying that no barriers exist
  4. It’s completely disrespectful to parents and children to imply that having one child equals a “nominal family” – any parent knows that raising even one child is not trivial
  5. It perpetuates the debate amongst women about who are the better parents – those who work, or not
  6. It’s simply not true that women are less ambitious than men – a Bain & Co survey of 1200 workers last year found that there was no material difference in the levels of ambition between men and women
  7. It’s unhelpful to men and women who are both fighting for job redesign that better suits today’s ideal of work and life harmony to argue that “there are no short cuts to success at the top, which requires long hours and almost total commitment to a career, regardless of your sex”.  Just because this has been the path to the top in the past, doesn’t mean it has to be in the future – my guess is in ten years time there’ll be no one willing to sign up to this paradigm.
  8. It appears to support a view that it’s okay for women to choose between a successful career or family – which is a very unsustainable and ultimately unsatisfactory choice for many women and men alike
  9. The implication that women who access childcare while working “struggle to spend time” with their children suggests that child rearing is solely a woman’s issue and that anything less than 24×7 is substandard parenting.  In the context of all the advantage the developed world offers to children this is surely sensationalism at its best.

It’s my belief that women, men, employers, children and our society at large are no better off by the arguments of Hakim’s report.  I wish for a day when we see an end to commentary like hers.

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