It’s a man’s world…

a woman's place

I know I’ve been absent from The Prompt for a few weeks. Somehow inspiration has failed me. But I saw this week’s prompt – the saying above – and I wanted to think about it because I think it is an interesting and controversial one.

Before I had children I didn’t think too much about this. The hubster and I both had full time jobs. I never really pursued my ambitions to be a writer but I know I could have done and stood on an equal footing with a man in that profession. I knew that some professions were very male-dominated and that women found it hard to be taken seriously in certain roles. In some cases I think it is true that there is a glass ceiling for women, but at the same time, the large and well known organisation I work for now is currently headed by a woman and also has a professional association dedicated to women (which doesn’t stop male colleagues joking about the unfairness of this kind of ‘positive discrimination’ or ‘affirmative action’).

The thing about having children is that it gives you a whole new perspective on where you stand in the pecking order. As women, we are automatically granted up to a year’s maternity leave (in the UK – not all of it paid), and then we are given the opportunity to work flexibly in order to accommodate childcare needs (although having said that, the legislation in the UK has just recently changed to allow everyone and anyone the right to request flexible working). I think the mind-set is that women fulfil the ‘caring’ role and so therefore it is almost the unspoken norm for the woman to either give up work completely or work part-time.

I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of what it’s like to look after little children day in day out – sometimes it can be a thankless task – but it can also be seen as a ‘privilege’. If a man doesn’t like his job he can see that as a reason to feel some envy for this flexibility women seem to be granted almost automatically, but if he loves his job then he’s laughing.

But it’s not the workplace where the idea of a ‘man’s world’ really resonates for me. It’s the home. Whilst I appreciate that I could be making a sweeping generalisation here, I hear from female friends and colleagues (all mothers) time and time again that essentially, there is no real ‘equality’ in their relationship when it comes to organising and running the home, ensuring childcare needs are met and everyone is fed and watered and happy. And we’re talking about all different working arrangements – be it stay at home mums, full-timers, part time workers or situations where men have some time alone with the children each week whilst the mother works. It is nearly always the mother who is ‘on call’ 24-7.

In this respect, nothing seems to change from one generation to the next. It is easy for ‘equality’ to be a political issue in the workplace, not so much in the home. A mere suggestion of this kind of thinking is enough for some men to shout ‘feminist’ as if it is some kind of filthy dirty word which leaves a bad taste in their mouths.

I’m sure from a man’s perspective there are many negatives to the shared juggle of family life too. They have the burden (in many cases) of being the breadwinner. Up to now they have not been granted the courtesy of asking for flexible working. Often they earn the highest salary and so therefore they are automatically expected to be the breadwinner.

I know from personal experience with my husband and his ex, that men are given very short shrift by the courts when it comes to father’s rights. But equally, without a sense of moral responsibility and a good work ethic, a man is capable of walking away and abandoning a woman and child far more easily than a mother could ever do the reverse (or would want to).

Men seem to somehow maintain a good proportion of their freedom when they start a family. They are still able to pursue both their careers and their out of work pursuits whilst women are left at home, literally “‘er indoors”. OK, sometimes we are granted time off for good behaviour, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

So yes, in my mind it is still very much ‘a man’s world’ and I can’t see that changing any time soon…



The Prompt Week 4


‘Lengthen school days and cut holidays, says former Tory Advisor’ The Guardian (online) 29 Jan 2014

OK so for those of you who don’t know the above suggestion was made by someone who no longer works in government and who aired his thoughts on his own blog.

The main thrust of his argument seems to be the desire to woo Tory voters by giving mums who currently stay at home or work part time the opportunity to banish their childcare money worries and launch themselves back into full time work whilst their kids receive free childcare sorry, ‘better education’.

He’s looked at the education system in South Korea where academic outcomes excel, and children spend up to 12 hours a day at school on any given day.

He suggests that teachers will like his proposal because it should make for a less pressured environment. (Apparently teachers wouldn’t lose out on holiday because there would be some sort of holiday staggering scheme in place).

He argues that more time at school would lead to an extended curriculum and give children a greater breadth of educational experiences.

Personally I find this to be incredibly cynical and I do not believe that children, particularly infant schoolers, would be able to cope with that amount of time in an institutional setting.

And what of precious time together as a family? I thought the Tories were supposed to believe in family values but surely this suggestion flies in the face of that notion?

I cannot speak for the opinion of teachers on this matter, but as a part-time, flexi-worker and mother I have to wonder whether Paul Kirby ( the former Tory advisor in question) may secretly err on the side of the resentment that can sometimes be a by-product in the workplace. After all its not uncommon for some full time workers (often men) to see ‘flexible working’ as some sort of reward to those who they may feel don’t deserve it. The idea seems to be that you clock off early and jaunt off to put your feet up while they are left to do your work for you. In the back of their minds they’re thinking “how is this fair? I could be off fishing now!”.

The plain fact of the matter is that looking after small children and running a household is damn hard work. But that’s not to say that it isn’t rewarding and enjoyable – there would be hardly any point in having children if you just counted down the days til you could pack them off to the nearest comprehensive and rush joyously back into a full time office job. Not everyone has the great fortune to love their job with a passion and not everyone would put financial gain above the love, interaction with, and enjoyment of their family. One can only imagine what they would witness if they were a fly on the wall of the average South Korean home. Land of Smiles? Oh no, sorry, that’s Thailand.

As others have suggested perhaps more flexible working schemes and more affordable, and crucially, optional, before and after school clubs are what’s needed. As a nation I feel we need to re-evaluate what really matters – because surely it isn’t high academic achievement and maximum earnings at the cost of happiness, leisure, rest and family life?