Jane Bradley: Stamp out sexism before women lose confidence

THE constant chipping away at women's status and confidence leaves us stuck in the Dark Ages, writes Jane Bradley

A report from wealth management company Killik into the crippling costs of childcare is shot through with the sexist subtext that it is not worth a woman going back to work once she has children.
A report from wealth management company Killik into the crippling costs of childcare is shot through with the sexist subtext that it is not worth a woman going back to work once she has children.

It is a financial conundrum which perplexes parents the country over. The cost of nursery fees versus salary. The value of continuing in a career you like, versus staying at home. Indeed, it is a conundrum which should concern any parent.

Yet, apparently, according to society, it should only concern half of all parents. The female ones.

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A report from wealth management company Killik claimed that a “woman” paying for two children in full time childcare needs to earn at least £40,000 a year if “she” is to make any money out of going to work. It pointed out that the average salary for a woman is just over £24,000. Therefore most “women” with two young kids are having to pay to go to their job. Not a great situation for anyone to be in.

The study was cited in last week’s edition of The Week. The figures went viral, with parents the country over posting and reposting it on social media.

Everyone was outraged. Me included. Yet, what got me was not the figure itself. It was outrageous – albeit potentially only accurate in London, because even in Edinburgh, private nurseries rarely cost more than £50 a day, which is expensive enough, but would not completely negate a £40,000 salary.

No, what made me most incandescent with rage, angry to the extreme, was the subtext: it is not worth a woman going back to work once she has had children.

While the aim of this little snippet was to point out the ludicrous cost of childcare (a perfectly valid point), the way it was worded had me tearing my hair out.

The woman? The woman? In most cases, there is another partner involved in this baby-making process. Should none of his (or her) salary be taken into account when calculating childcare costs?

In my opinion (and who am I to offer one? I’m only a woman, after all), a family should calculate the cost of childcare, compared with the total of their salaries and work out if it is worth one or both of the partners going part-time, or potentially giving up work altogether.

One or both. Whatever works best for the individual family. Not, automatically, “the woman”.

It was almost as irritating as when a man spending time with his own child is referred to as “babysitting” – by both men and women.

Indeed, it is not only men who consistently put forward this outdated viewpoint.

Women who shared the above information on social media mainly did so without appearing to notice the staggering sexist implication of the report.

It has become so ingrained in society that women are the ones to take the professional hit when it comes to having children, that we have begun to believe it ourselves.

However dedicated – or accomplished – a woman is to her job, there is often an underlying assumption that her male partner’s profession should take priority.

I recently had a bit of a Twitter spat over a blog by a Scottish female journalist who complained that the media was sexist because it was impossible for women to raise their professional profile by appearing on late evening TV news shows – as the programmes are filmed late at night, when women are stuck at home with their children.

Sexist? Surely not. Parentist, possibly (although it is difficult to see how late-night live news programmes can be filmed at any other time than late at night).

Men with children should find it equally difficult to get away for late evening filming if their partner is not around that night to be at home with the sprogs. After all, we can’t leave them home alone.

Yet, they apparently don’t.

When I agreed to work the all-night shift on the day of the General Election last year, a couple of my colleagues were concerned.

“But who’s looking after your daughter?” they asked, in a kindly, legitimately interested, kind of way. It was nice of them to be so concerned.

But, I thought, did they ask that of my male colleague who has two children of a similar age? No, of course they didn’t. While it was assumed that his wife (who also has a demanding career) would naturally pick up the slack, it was presumed – wrongly – that I would have to make a special, exceptional arrangement to ensure my husband was home when I had to work outside of my normal hours.

It is this kind of everday sexism which leaves us stuck in the dark ages.

At an industry awards dinner the other night, one of the speakers – a highly intelligent, well-regarded man in his profession – mentioned his wife. “Or the Mother Ship, as she likes to be referred to as,” he guffawed, to snickers around the (probably 65:35 male:female) room.

Does she? Does she, really? I would like to ask Mrs Awards Dinner Speaker about this and see if that is really how she likes to be addressed.

A woman, who thinks she wears the trousers in a relationship? Hilarious. Oh how we laughed. Personally, I wanted to get up and empty the contents of the table’s ice bucket over his head. I still wish I had.

Of course, it is a truth universally acknowledged that in any heterosexual couple, there is “The Man” and then there is “Her Indoors”. A controlling, bossy, matriarch who is only out to make her menfolk’s life a misery.

This female stereotype is not synonymous with a successful, professional woman. Or a successful, well-balanced mother. It is a ludicrous image of an object of ridicule.

It is offensive and unnecessary, like many perfectly “acceptable” behaviours in society.

These may seem like small things, but without stamping out this constant chipping away at women’s confidence, we have no hope of ever reaching true equality.