It’s too fine an art to balance profession and parenthood
‘YOU can’t be a mother and an artist, says Emin”. That’s not actually what Tracey Emin said, but “woman slags off other women” is a top trump in headline terms. Still, when I read what the artist had said, it struck me as uncomfortable but not entirely untrue.
Maybe it’s just timing. My son is one. I’m a bit punchy from lack of sleep. We – his parents – are trying to get things right, to do what we think is best for him while not giving up on what we want either – satisfying jobs, ambition, something that resembles a life-work balance. It’s not easy.
It could be that what Emin said is specific to art, but I don’t think so. I don’t think she was describing how things should be either – “Turner Prize winner calls for mothers to desist from all creative pursuits (other than cupcake baking, natch)”. Nor was she having a go at women – “Women too rubbish to do anything other than child rearing (and they’re not even very good at that) claims artist”. This is not about women’s limitations, or their child-rearing choices, whether they have the option – or want it – to stay at home or whether they want to attempt the juggling act that is working and having children. Or about what it takes to be an artist. It’s about the fact that the way things stand, there is no real choice for many, the question is: do you want to have children or a career?
Emin was talking about herself. Nothing new, some might say, just look at her art. But there’s more to it. “I don’t think I’d be making work [if I were a mother],” she said. “I would have been either 100 per cent mother or 100 per cent artist … Having children and being a mother … It would be a compromise to be an artist at the same time. I know some women can. But that’s not the kind of artist I aspire to be. There are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men.”
The point is, men don’t have to be 100 per cent father or 100 per cent professional, they get to make both work. Or neither. They get to choose, or at least they get more choice. I like Emin. I like her art. I like too that she is messy and uncompromising. I’ve even managed to forgive her support for the Tories. I don’t like what she said about motherhood, but there is an uncomfortable truth in there. And it’s not the cheap one about women who have kids not being able to cut it as artists (or investment bankers. Or MPs. Or architects. Or journalists. Or… take your pick) because they can’t commit themselves 100 per cent. The real point is, when it comes to parenting, we’re getting a raw deal. That hideous phrase “having it all” is actually about “doing it all”. And that’s not progress.
Women still do the vast majority of childcare because nothing supports them not to do so. Women earn less than men for doing the same jobs. They are discriminated against when it comes to pregnancy and maternity in terms of pay and rights. And childcare costs an arm and a leg. I can’t be alone in knowing plenty of talented, smart, capable women who face an impossible task balancing family and professional lives and some who might decide it’s just not worth it. And that’s not just in the art world.
A little help for saving wildlife
HAVE you seen the photos, or better, the video of Britain’s smallest horse? His name is Acer and he lives in Essex. He’s 22 inches tall, or a bit shorter than a black lab. Line up the video for just after you’ve read the next bit because things are about to take a turn for the dark side. The London Zoological Society has revealed that the global loss of species is worse than was previously thought. According to its Living Planet Index, populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish have declined by an average of 52 per cent. (Bring on the tiny horse!) The number of tigers has plummeted from 100,000 a century ago to 3,000. Forest felling in West Africa means elephants have got just 6 or 7 per cent of the space to roam they once enjoyed. Basically, we are screwing this planet. A herd of tiny horses galloping in time to Crazy Horses by The Osmonds couldn’t make that any less grim. But there is method in my tiny horse madness because it comes with an endorsement from chimpanzee expert Dr Jane Goodall. I’m not sure she’d seen Acer but she did say that online animal videos play a part in “connecting heart and head” to help us treat animals differently. So get those animal vids flying. You can start with Acer.
Departure from good taste
RYANAIR has decided to put an end to its “charity” bikini calendar. Hooray! Sales of the calendar raised funds for the Teenage Cancer Trust last year, which is obviously a good thing, but seldom has the word charity looked so ill at ease on a front cover, perched between a Ryanair plane and a row of scantily clad cabin crew. “I think it was a great idea by the cabin crew,” CEO Michael O’Leary said of the calendar’s demise, simultaneously missing the opportunity to prove he is anything other than an eejit and giving a textbook display of total abdication of responsibility. «