A few weeks ago I’d forgotten I was pissed off with Grazia for 1. photoshopping Lupita Nyong’o’s hair and 2. pretending it was the fault of an errant photographer who had no input from anyone at the magazine, and I was enticed into buying a copy by a front cover strap-line that read, How to have the pay gap chat.
The article was pretty standard fair for Grazia – a broadbrush presentation of the issue with a little too much emphasis on individual women “standing up for themselves” for my taste, but I was happy to see the issue being explored in such a mainstream magazine.
Pages later I was less happy after reading a column headlined I’ve dumped my mum friends who treat their husbands like an extra child, accompanied by the strapline, Celine Smith is tired of her female friends letting partners shirk parental responsibility…
For a moment I wondered whether I was the one getting it wrong. Strong opinions tend to have this effect on me – other people’s certainty always makes me wonder if there is some truth in what they are saying.
I wondered whether women are being complicit in “letting” their male partners behave like children while they are late for dinner with their friends, don’t leave the house without the kids for FOUR YEARS (Celine’s capitals), and are generally treating their partners “like the teenager down the road you pay a tenner an hour”.
For a moment I wondered whether the responsibility does lie with women to dig their heels in and take no shit, while men can’t really be blamed for taking advantage of a dynamic that benefits them.
For a moment.
Because of course, the over-riding gargantuan factor that Celine seems to have failed to take into account is this: GUILT.
The truth is that even her “forward-thinking friends” have been born and raised in a patriarchal society that feeds us the narrative that women are nurturers, bound to the domestic, while men are “hunters” doing “stuff’ in public. Even when we’re aware these constructed roles are houses built on sand, the pressure to conform often overrides our core beliefs and leave us riddled with guilt.
What Celine fails to recognise in her angry diatribe against the friends that have let her down, is that whichever way a mother has it there is guilt to be found: if she stays at home with the children she “fails” because she is “economically inactive” and does not contribute to society in the way it values: money. If she goes out to work and pursues a career she “fails” because she betrays her “natural” role as a mother. If she works part-time in a position below her pay-grade she is “failing” to capitalise on her potential. If she attempts to pursue a career part-time while raising a family she “fails” because she will do neither “properly”.
Meanwhile men are lauded for picking up their share of the burden. We can all tell a version of the story, husband takes child to school one morning a year and Mum, who takes child to school every day, is greeted at the school gates at the end of that day with comments like, “oh he’s a good egg…”
Basically any man who takes ownership of his share (any share – I mean we might be talking crumbs here) of the domestic burden is treated like a hero, while the woman who hands it to him is treated like a failure, probably including by herself.
And before anyone messages me anything along the lines of “oh you just hate men”, this isn’t an attack on individual men. It’s more that in our efforts to deconstruct gendered roles and create actual freedom of choice for both women and men, the last thing we need is Celine telling us that gender disparity is our fault for letting it happen…
Given the reason why I even bought the magazine in the first place, it is ironic that an extension of Celine’s attitude is often seen in opposition to the idea of the gender pay gap. It’s validity is thrown into question with Well, we’re not comparing like with like, there are more men in higher paying positions, and women choose to pursue careers that pay less, which brazenly fail to understand that THIS IS THE POINT. What needs to be discussed is WHY? What are the structural and cultural barriers standing in the way of women on their way to, and once they’re in, the workplace?
And what dear, misguided Celine needs is the friends she has dumped to sit her down with a glass of something cold or a cup of something hot, and explain that going after the women who “allow” men to take the piss is a self-defeating distraction. The question she should be asking is, “And why is that?”.
Image credit to Rebecca Strickson