The departure of Maria Miller from David Cameron’s Cabinet has left three women as full-time members, none of them mothers. The low number of women as well as the splitting of Miller’s former role as minister of Women and Equalities between Nicky Morgan (Women) and Sajid Javid (Equalities) has prompted a lot of discussion.
Morgan voted against gay marriage (so…difficult to name her minister for Equalities) and Javid is a man (so…awkward to name him Women’s minister). It’s also prompted the charge that in Morgan, Cameron has only appointed a minister for straight women, as she doesn’t believe in lesbians having the same rights as straight women, at least when it comes to marriage.
All valid points that we should address. But I’m particularly interested in this idea that the Cabinet needs mothers. On one hand, isn’t that a bit simplistic? Ministers regularly represent the interests of people who aren’t their demographic duplicates.
Is there something different about being a mother?
Yet is there something different about becoming a mother and a mother’s outlook?
Before I had children, I would have said no. Now that I have them, my answer is undeniably yes. That’s because life after children changes dramatically for women in a way that it doesn’t for men. We all know the statistics around women *still* doing the lion’s share of the household chores. Add to that the child-related chores.
Some of these decisions within households are made for pragmatic reasons. If husband is earning more, in a job that looks askance at time off for daddy duties, it’s just easier and less risky for the woman to take the day off with the sick child, or race out to doctors’ appointments, or meet teacher at 4pm to discuss what’s going on at school.
There’s a knock-on effect for her career. There’s a silent acknowledgment (we might not like it, but it is there) that women with children has responsibilities that take them away from work, even if they work harder and more efficiently and with fewer coffee-and-chat breaks with colleagues to make up for it.
The manner in which millions of mothers work and contribute to the economy matters to us as a nation. It also matters that mothers and fathers have the support to bring up the next generation — to help determine whether they are contributing members of society or a new wave of delinquents.
That’s an issue that’s not just about childcare. It’s not just about parental leave. It’s not just about hiring practices. It reaches deep into the structure of how our society is set up.
It’s about what we think women “ought” to do, if they procreate.
Anyone who’s paying attention can see this.
Any minister can tackle these issues.
Yet it’s mothers in politics who know and understand these issues by heart and also talk to other mothers about them.
We need mothers in government and we need them, seated full-time, at the table with the Prime Minister.