Jane Bradley: Back to 1965 with ballot box baby

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Picture: PA
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NICOLA Sturgeon hit the nail on the head. It was as if we’d gone to sleep in an egalitarian utopia, then woken up to find that the last 50 years of feminism had been erased.

This week’s New Statesman cover illustrated Sturgeon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Home Secretary Theresa May and Labour leadership candidate Liz Kendall huddled round a baby’s crib containing a ballot box - adorned with a pink rosette, natch. Suspended in the lurid blue sky of the painting was the headline “The Motherhood Trap”, followed by the strapline: “Why are so many successful women childless?” Ah. I see what they were trying to do there. These women do not have children, so POLITICS is their baby. Clever. Subtle. The cover, quite rightfully, sparked horror from female politicians.

The current New Statesman issue

The current New Statesman issue

“Jeezo... we appear to have woken up in 1965 this morning!” tweeted Sturgeon.

“Oh, do sod right off,” added Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, bluntly, tweeting a link to the cover. I couldn’t have put it better myself.

When Sturgeon is asked an inane question about her childless status, she brushes it off with: “Alex has never been asked that question.”

She is right. It has never occurred to anyone to wonder if Alex Salmond’s childcare policies were up to scratch merely because he hadn’t experienced the issue himself. Just as if Sturgeon has not lived through the minutiae of every other aspect of her citizens’ lives, it does not mean she cannot lead a government.

Sturgeon’s cabinet belies the theory touted by the New Statesman that a mother cannot reach the top in politics: Shona Robison, Angela Constance, Fiona Hyslop. All mothers. Meanwhile, it is hard to find a male politician who does not have offspring.

Of course, it would never have occurred to the magazine to print a cover which portrayed childless politicians Salmond, Labour deputy leadership candidate Ben Bradshaw and former PM Ted Heath looking longingly into a crib. They’re men, so their parental status is irrelevant. Childless? Power on! Father of three? Don’t worry, there’ll be a little woman at home looking after them – not your responsibility! This is not true. Not if they’re half-decent fathers at any rate.

It cannot be denied that having children poses a career crisis for a parent. The issue, however, is that this is not a specifically female problem. If, once someone has reproduced, they find they actually quite like their children and want to spend time with them, it may be a period when previously ambitious men and women take their foot off the career pedal.

The other alternative is for one parent to take a step back while the other motors on. Denis Thatcher was around at home for Carol and Mark far more than their superhuman mother. Margaret Thatcher paid the price for this, however – her daughter, Carol, has spoken publicly of an uneasy relationship with her mother. Having it all isn’t easy, it seems, even for the Iron Lady. Equally, there are many working men who have expressed regrets that they spent too little time with their children.

Then there are those, like David Cameron or Tony Blair, who manage to create a public image of being quite happy juggling what appears to be a fairly hands-on parenting style with huge chunks of time away from the family home and insanely long working hours. To be honest, I don’t believe it’s all quite as Boden catalogue as they make out.

However, various studies have indeed found there is a “fatherhood bonus” but a “motherhood penalty” when it comes to the workplace.

A friend who recently welcomed his first child into the world told me he was looking forward to listing his daughter’s arrival on his CV. I stared at him. Why? Because, he explained, having a child makes him appear stable. Just like he added the word “married” when he got hitched. It gave the impression of a steady, reliable family man.

When I told him that if I ever planned to attend a job interview I would probably take off my wedding rings and erase all traces of my daughter’s existence from social media, he baulked. Motherhood penalty, you see. Wouldn’t make me look stable, just flaky. The kind of woman who’d turn up to work with a Tommy Tippee cup sticking out of her handbag and a half chewed banana in her pocket. You’d never catch Nicola Sturgeon like that.