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Sunday, 10 August 2008

Having it all

I was unsurprised, but disappointed, by the widely publicised report this week - written by a woman - stating women can't have it all without harming family life. So why is it that men CAN have it all - i.e children and a high flying career? Men - see the Fathers4Justice campaign - would have us believe men are just as good at bringing up children as women and should have equal rights in custody battles. So why pillory women for the breakdown in family life?

It seems to me that a single woman bringing up children is condemned if she lives on benefits whilst bringing up children. A man in the same situation who gives up his job to live off the state whilst bringing up children is regarded as a hero - look how well he's managing and how well behaved the children are. If a single mother manages to juggle everything and hold down her job so that she is not dependent on state handouts she is equally vilified for not spending quality time with her children and potentially condemning them to a life of crime and delinquency.

As I don't have children I suppose I shouldn't really comment but I do have caring responsibilities which is just as much a battle ground for double standards. I wonder how many men whose aged parents live with them, give up work to run the household and look after said parents? Very few I should think because it always works out that their wives give up their jobs to look after in-laws - your job is so much less well paid than mine dear.

Have things really moved on? I don't think so. It still seems very similar to when Florence Nightingale was writing in the nineteenth century. Most people would not think of her as an advocate for women's rights. I came across a work of hers 'Cassandra' when I was doing an Open University course in 1996. I was sitting at my dining table at 6.00am one morning reading extracts from it about how if a woman wanted to achieve anything in her life she needed to either get up earlier than the rest of her family or go to bed later. I felt like shrieking as I recognised the same dynamic in operation in the 20th century. Much of what she writes in 'Cassandra' is still relevant today.

Florence herself was quite canny and apart from her trips to the Crimea developed a reputation for ill health and virtually took to her bed. From there she wrote to influential people on all manner of subjects and studied parliamentary papers and reports. She became an unsung power behind the throne. She realised that to get any time to herself for her own work she needed to abdicate from the job of running a household. Illness being an acceptable way out of it - she became ill. Sensible lady.

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