It is hard to be shocked by misleading media reports about women. After all, it’s commonplace to see the mainstream media gleefully twisting the results of a piece of gender research and claiming we now have conclusive end-of-debate evidence to support traditional ideas about gender. (It’s clearly a pretty determined effort when it even gets framed as if that’s the case when the results seem to contradict such ideas. And what about when website polls with half the results hidden from public view and research studies using very small samples even seem to warrant big definitive-sounding headlines?)
All this makes it no surprise to find some choice juicy quotes from a report from Catherine Hakim spreading through the media and over the internet during the past week (with over 400 sources having posted about the matter in the last 24 hours).
Possibly the most bilious article comes from Cristina Odone at the Daily Telegraph blog. This highlights what we already knew about many women “choosing lower-rung jobs in order to have more time to bring up children and care for elderly parents”, seemingly without any regard to the social expectations that continue to constrain people’s choices (including men’s).
This state of affairs is not exactly news to feminists and, in any case, Hakim’s research was already out there before she published the report in question. Despite this, Odone crows that women “prioritising family above career” and “husbands above autonomy” must come as a horrible shock “to the ‘feminists’ who preached that only a fat salary can fulfill you and only a big title can make you happy”.
This particular sweeping statement completely fails to consider feminists who challenge traditional gender roles and take a dim view of the 9 to 5 work ethic that dominates so many of our lives (not to mention the fact that there are men out there challenging it, along with women). As Katha Pollitt says:
Feminism is about changing the ground rules, not just entering the game. Feminists, in fact, are the ones who first put forward the idea of balance between work and family–for both sexes–of a more humane and flexible and less hierarchical workplace, of childcare as a task for both parents and for society as a whole.
Certainly, I imagine I’m not the only feminist who would dispute Odone’s gross misrepresentation of the movement. I guess it’s just more convenient for her to characterise us as a bunch of chiding squares with no sense of identity outside the conventional workplace.
On a positive note, more critical write-ups worth checking out would be Kate Smurthwaite’s response to questions from The Fresh Outlook about Hakim and Echidne of the Snakes’ analysis of the popular focus on Hakim’s claim that women are still “marrying up”:
Two particularly interesting things Echidne exposes are:
1) The BBC and thisismoney articles (amongst others) state that more women are marrying for money than in the 1940s, according to a new study. However, after reading Hakim’s report and finding the connected quotes in the articles, Echidne found these particular pieces of information were linked to a book Hakim published in 2000 and a Polish paper from 2007.
2) Thisismoney mentions that the percentage of women deciding to ‘marry up’ had climbed to 38% by the 1990s so, as Echidne says,
“Let’s assume that this quote is all true, for the time being. Let’s then compare it to that headline: “Women want rich husbands, not careers.” Notice anything odd? Thirty-eight percent is not all women, not even the majority of women, but both thisismoneyco.uk and the BBC have happily skipped to much more extreme interpretations, such as this one:
Women still want to ‘marry up’ and naturally choose husbands who earn more than themselves, a report suggests.
The idea of most women wanting to be financially independent is a myth, according to Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics.“
Never mind all that though because thisismoney has seen fit to write about the issue again today!
As one of Echidne’s commenters says, this stuff is not just filler. It’s propaganda.
Photo by H is for Home, shared under a Creative Commons Licence.