There have been at least three recent articles in The Guardian commenting on Alison Wolf’s Prospect article about the supposed downside of women’s freedom. We have apparently reached the end of an era where “women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than men” and the whispered implication in all this posturing seems to be that this sort of success somehow betrays the sisterhood. Indeed, it’s as if the whole point of feminism was for women to restrict each other to the same experiences rather than widen opportunity and change society.
First of all, we have David Goodhart talking about “The Price of Progress” and sternly telling us that
“most familiar, is the impact of employment change on childbearing. We all know about the prospect of demographic decline, yet we ignore, sometimes wilfully, the extent to which educated women face disincentives to bear children”
Demographic decline? Is he serious? Hasn’t the Earth’s population actually doubled since 1950 and consumption risen even faster?
Like Wolf, Goodhart has been keen to stress that he isn’t saying we should “go back”. I particularly like Daniel Davies’s response to this (in the Comment is Free section after Goodhart’s article):
“if you have already decided that we “cannot and do not want to go back”, then what precisely is the point of this “hard headed evaluation” of the costs of female emancipation that you propose to have?…I put it to you that this exercise is in fact not really very “hard headed” at all…The sentence “the cost to society of the emancipation of women” means “the cost to society of the emancipation of half of society”
Three days later, Anushka Asthana and Denis Campbell are holding up the example of Chiara Cargnel, one of the “new generation of ‘go-getting women'” Wolf is talking about, and Mary Riddell is also referencing Wolf and commenting on apparent disincentives to have children.
Amongst the cacaphony of opinions, it seems to me that Fawcett director, Katherine Rake (quoted in the Asthana and Campbell article) is the one on the money:
“Rake dismissed as ‘an unfair portrayal’ the idea that feminism focused overly on getting women into employment. She argued: ‘The most interesting and radical strands of feminism value a whole variety of roles. It is about working on a balance between men and women and valuing unpaid work such as looking after the children.’ She said women did not have a true choice about whether to take the larger burden of childcare because the pay gap meant it was often more economical for the woman to do it. She highlighted the fact that part-time work was often not available in the professions chosen by ‘elite women”
Cargnel herself backs this up:
“Women are given up to a year off in maternity leave and men are given two weeks – that is intrinsically discriminatory, and an assumption that women should stay at home. I believe it should say men and women can take the same leave, so it is a true choice that we face”
Wolf admits that behaving “like a man” means the fact that you are a woman will not stop you. Does “behaving like a man” amount to working a 50 hour week? If so, I think it’s time to facilitate change so that everyone, woman or man, is equally free to divide their time between home and work.