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Archive for May, 2010

Women at War

I’ve been doing some digging in the last few days about women working on the frontline and portrayals in the press.

One article a few years ago (2007) by Jill Kirby stood out for me (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article1596699.ece). Now Kirby and I will never be bedfellows (Kirby is Director of the Centre for Policy Studies – Tory heartland), and the headline ‘A mother’s place isn’t in the war zone’ makes my skin crawl. But her article is a good illustration of a couple of recurrent problems in Conservative arguments.

Kirby makes two main points. First, she argues that the idea of sex equality is all well and good, but in the reality of war there are all sorts of practical issues. She manages one example, apparently from a British commander in Bosnia:

‘the presence of women in risky situations was a distraction, because many servicemen were still inclined to protect women and would be more distressed by the death of a woman. Such distress can only be heightened where the woman is a mother.’

I.e. men see women as different, and women who are mothers as even more different, that’s just how it is, so we shouldn’t mess with the situation. This is the ‘don’t rock the boat’ argument. The problem with it is that it’s circular and completely illogical. It reminds me of the arguments I used to hear in the 1990s about why gay couples shouldn’t have kids – they would be bullied at school, it’s not fair on the children. So we should just stick to the completely unjust status quo in case there are teething problems.

Second, Kirby argues that whilst the government preaches the interchangeable nature of mothers and fathers, the fact is ‘the biological and physical connection between mother and baby creates a bond that should not be severed too soon’. And she keeps going:

‘The special nature of this bond is long established and the way in which a society treats its mothers and children has traditionally been a mark of its values. Yet the demands of equality threaten to weaken that bond…’

This is the deathly boring ‘natural’ argument. It’s clutching at straws, saying that ‘nature’ provides the bottom line decreeing how we should act. And it’s easily dispensed with. What on earth is ‘natural’? Whilst I’m sure some mothers feel they have a special bond with their kids and that this is something the father never experiences, I also know that most of my female acquaintances with kids don’t feel this way and most of the fathers would find this argument not only offensive but hugely discriminatory. Should they be neglected for the sake of maintaining some mystical ‘natural’ bond?

What I’d like to venture is that egalitarian theories don’t threaten ‘the family’ or maternal ‘special bonds’. If you want to be a stay-at-home mum you still can be. Rather, what they’re trying to do is enable those who don’t want that for themselves, or whose partners want to be involved in childcare from day one, to have some options in life. That’s the real battle we’re fighting.

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Why Paternity?

Why ‘the Paternity problem’? Well, I’ll get around to that…

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So, I’m 32. I have a great job, a lovely man and am thinking of having babies. But so off-putting do I find the lay of the land and the rhetoric around the role of women as mothers that I’m seriously considering not having children at all. I’m hoping this blog might help me to find a way through and maybe others as well.

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