I have long described myself as a feminist but honestly, lately it’s been a bit of a stretch. Firstly we feminists must apparently view our dirty and dishevelled homes a a ‘badge of feminist pride’ and now Cherie Blair, well-known alpha feminist of this parish has thrown the gauntlet down to the yummy mummies in an attack that, among other things, excoriates women for putting their children first! I’m speechless….almost.
Ms Blair’s speech, which she presumably put some thought into, is so simplistic and wrong headed on so many levels that it is hard to know where to start. Leave aside the fact that the sort of women she is attacking are a miniscule minority and the fact that the whole point about feminism has always been that women should be able to choose their lifestyle, what really annoys the author of BeHome is her relegation of the home to a desert of economic inactivity.
In reality, good homes, like good businesses, can be wealth generators – it is simply a case of finding the right metrics.
A good home incubates good citizens. And it does so at a modest cost to the Exchequer. The home which cares for an elderly relative, lifts a burden from the state. Children brought up in a happy home are more likely to avoid everything from prison to anti-depressive treatments, neither of which come cheap. Youngsters raised in a high-functioning home stand a good chance of becoming reliable workers. And hence wealth creators. A societal net gain – rather than a drain.
Social policy wonks spend a lot of time discussing how to pass on social capital. They are like modern-day alchemists; forever looking for the magic incredient which can transform chaotic households.
And yet the home, well-run, taken seriously as a school for life, and invested with nurturing routines (routines may be boring – but children thrive on them) – provides untold social capital which can be transmitted from one generation to the next.
Cherie Blair, a successful lawyer and mother of four, has sparked a vigorous debate with her comments that some women – wrongly in her view – regard motherhood as an acceptable alternative to a career. This is fraught territory indeed and one fought over by feminists for decades. Most women, myself included, shy away from emphatic statements.
Most of us know most women find it well nigh impossible to square the circle; that we cannot ‘have it all’. I had a successful career, then had babies. Other women do it the other way around.
Madeleine Albright, the former US Secretary of State, had three daughters before embarking on a hugely successful political career. She argued that parenting ought to be added to her CV. When asked which part of parenting had helped with her subsequent life in diplomacy, she answered: “Getting people to play together”.
Nancy Pelosi, America’s first female Speaker, had five children before getting stuck into her career.
Cherie Blair, married to her generation’s most successful politician, did it another way. Working hard, while having offspring. She was able to afford the best childcare money could afford. She spent a lot of time at work and money so that someone else could rear her kids.
Her career has sparkled. Will her example lead her children to greater heights? Her circumstances, as the spouse of a statesman, offer few usable lessons. But we do know that often working mothers, stellar perfomers at the career coal-face, produce children who face hurdles. Attachment theory has taught us that a child needs a parent to be around in the early years. It can also be argued that children moving through the tortured teens require a home-life stablised by the permanent presence of a parent.
Of course, it is horses for courses to some degree. All familes are different. All women are different. But there are surely some universal verities too. We must never arrive in the position, which Cherie Blair seems to be advocating, that there is something discreditable about full-time motherhood. That takes us right back to the bad old days when women who wanted to stay at home were viewed as something retrograde and of betraying the sisterhood. Raising children can be and should a vocation unto itself. I’m sure we all agree that Cherie Blair does a great job as a top judge. It is unlikely she will ever reflect, as millions of wage slaves are wont, that nobody ever went to their death-bed wishing they had spent more time at work. Ms Blair deserves much admiration I am sure, mind you I am also sure that many people will know what I mean when I say that I am sort of glad that she wasn’t my mother.