March 8th was International Women’s Day. In the words of the organisers, the day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women, advance and appreciate them. On Google’s special banner (above) woman are celebrated for being astronauts, firewomen, judges, scientists, doctors, basketball players and musicians – all great achievements for some women. With our uniquely feminine gifts, we can contribute much to these spheres. Yet, it is a sign of the times that nowhere on Google’s banner is motherhood and family life celebrated. Is this work, so fundamental to womanhood and the lives of so many women, to remain invisible and unappreciated? No wonder our fertility rates are getting so low.
I was a full-time part of the workforce not so long ago, but these days wiping tiny fingers and enjoying chubby smiles and appreciative coos takes up a lot of my day. I must admit that I felt quite validated by society when, in answer to that favourite conversation starter, ‘What do you do?’, I could say that I was a lawyer. I could state my occupation at polite dinner parties, feeling confident that my contribution to society was well-received and I was presumed an intelligent, hard-working individual. It is not quite the same pronouncing that I am a wiper of tiny fingers. I’m not at all confident that it is appreciated that this involves developing the souls and personal identities of little people, creating and finessing complex systems of multi-tasking, and professional reading on character, virtue and brain development.
Perhaps we have it the wrong way round – the astronauts, judges and rock star musicians are already getting enough credit at dinner parties the world over. It is the women who, upon having children, couldn’t find a flexitime astronaut position that also allowed them enough time to puree baby vegetables, test spelling words and check homework that need encouragement and validation these days. How do they feel looking at this banner? Why do I feel that I am being more productive when I manage outside part-time work, than when I perform all the many tasks of family life? Probably precisely because of the many media images, such as this banner, which exclude motherhood.
Women at home are in fact being very economically productive. They are producing an increasingly scarce and valuable resource – human capital. If they do their job well, it is more likely to be virtuous and effective human capital no less, that drains nothing from our criminal justice system. They help to develop honesty, optimism, orderliness, respect for others, perseverance, resilience and patience in the face of the society of the future, in corporate, artistic and social realms. American Economics Professor, Dr Maria Sophia Aggare has commented that:
“The ageing population, I think, has forced us to face reality and decide what is important. Which brings us back to the work of the home. Where do you learn to not respect the law? In the home. Think about pollution – where do we learn to be polluters? Where do we learn the culture of waste? Not in school – by then it is too late. You learn it at home. All these things, whether it is nutrition, the environment, social stability – and we saw what happened in Paris – whether organized crime, armaments trafficking, child trafficking, prostitution, drugs – it all goes back to the characteristics of the family. This is what the data shows.”
All this, yet the British feminist and author of the 1970’s text Housewife, Ann Oakley, espoused the view that “Housework is work directly opposed to the possibility of human self-actualisation.” Perhaps because of the disdain associated with merely looking after a home and raising children that has crept in over the last couple of decades, the number of stay at home mothers has hit record lows. Only 2.04 million women in Britain are now “looking after family or home”, a fall of almost a million women since records began two decades ago. This despite findings that what women themselves most value is time spent at home looking after their children.
While it might contribute to the economy, the home is also the one place we, and our children, can all feel appreciated for simply being, rather than doing. I might, rightly or wrongly, feel validated be defining myself by my job at dinner parties. Yet, it is laughable that I should do this to feel validated by my brothers. They are my family and they just like me for ‘me’. The home is our first community and source of personal identity.
Yes, we should have equal pay for equal work – we should keep campaigning for that on International Women’s Day. Women should also have equal opportunities to participate in every sphere of the workforce should they wish. Yet, somehow, I am not that concerned about hitting record numbers of women CEO’s and corporate partners. Each woman should feel empowered to choose how she performs her hugely important leadership role in the home, and how that may or may not balance with other work outside the home. She may share tasks with her husband or otherwise, but she is irreplaceable in her role as ‘mother’ and the uniquely feminine qualities she contributes to home-life. For many, performing this role will be their longest held position and most worthy life contribution. I want to be liberated to confidently put ‘motherhood’ and ‘running a home’ on my CV.
Moreover, in order for every woman to feel validated, we should value the uniquely feminine qualities each and every women offers to the world no matter who is she, what she does or wherever she may be. Even more than what we do, we should be validated for who we are.