Note to God: in my next incarnation, please bring me back as a woman wearing the burqa in Saudi Arabia rather than a working mom trying to raise kids in Great Britain.
I first visited England in the early 90s when I was in business school, acutely aware of gender bias in the workplace and at home. I was struck -- astonished in fact -- by how openly disparaging British society is to women, particularly mothers. Particularly in comparison to the relative equality women enjoy in the United States.
And now, there’s proof. Well, my kind of proof at least: a media prism reflecting British societal views that working mothers are evil incarnate. Namely, Telegraph headlines clucking over recent research findings that prove:
Okay, I admit I added the exclamation point. However, this “finding” hardly constitutes a news flash for the 70 million working moms in the United States. Apparently the idea that Working Mom ≠ Child Abuser is “groundbreaking” in England. It seems that every man, woman and child in England agrees that working mothers are on par with pedophiles and shysters who bilk widows of their pensions. Ironically it took U.S. researchers at Columbia University to convince the Brits that women can actually care for children and work simultaneously without destroying children’s self-esteem, health and IQs.
Further damning to British society are the six Related Articles lined up next to the Telegraph article. Read these “objective” news headlines and weep:
And you thought we face discrimination here in the U.S.? We do, but blimey! Based on these headlines, the following prejudices reign in Britannia as unchallenged truths:
Mothers who work – according to no lesser moral authority than Unicef – put children “at risk.” For what exactly is not clear – probably … everything. By working, moms make their children fat and damage their health. The concept of the “slacker dad” who does little housework or childcare is a myth invented by insecure, guilt-ridden working mothers desperate to feel more powerful and feminine. Women – that catty gender – are constantly undermining and undercutting each other, vying for advancement and filled with resentment.
Funny, I thought blokes had something to do with creating and raising kids – at least here in the U.S. I guess in England they don’t. None of these articles even mention dads or anything about the role fathers’ influence plays in the health and welfare of children.
Now for a few facts: British law and society do little to help mothers care for kids. Less than one per cent of the nation’s GDP is spent on early childhood services. England has high child poverty levels and nothing near to universal health services for children. Daycare laws include low standards like allowing 15 preschool children to be looked after by one member of staff. Maternity leaves are among the shortest in Europe.
Now I’m not about to argue that the United States, with our pitiful Family Medical Leave Act minimums, inadequate daycare options, and pathetic percentages of female executives at the highest levels of government and private sector companies, should be held aloft as a model of gender equality. But crikey! I expect a twee bit more from one of the world’s oldest and allegedly greatest civilizations, a Commonwealth of 53 countries, ruled by Queen Elizabeth -- yes, a woman and mother herself -- for over 50 years.
Leslie Morgan Steiner writes the Two Cents column for Mommy Tracked. She is the author of a memoir, Crazy Love, and the anthology Mommy Wars, and a parenting contributor to the National Public Radio show “Tell Me More.”
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