Can child-free women represent mothers’ interests?

Susanna Scott at Number 10

One mother near the seat of power: Susanna Scott at Number 10

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.

Share Button

About Jennifer Howze

Jennifer Howze is the Creative Director and co-founder of BritMums. She blogs about family travel at Jenography.net, tweets at @JHowze and Instagrams at @JHowze. Previously, she wrote the Alpha Mummy blog at The Times and as a journalist has contributed to The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, Budget Travel, CNN.com, Allure, SELF and Premiere, among others. She won The Maggie Award from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America for a health article in Seventeen magazine.

11 Comments

  1. 14 April 2014 / 12:15

    I couldn’t agree more. It doesn’t matter what books you read, the knowledge of what raising a family is really like can only be gained by experience.

  2. 14 April 2014 / 14:20

    A thoughtful piece. As you say, mothers shoulder extra responsibilities, but they also school the next generation. I wonder if the world would be a different place if there were more mothers in politics. Certainly they don’t get the recognition they deserve.

    • 15 April 2014 / 09:30

      Emma, thanks for your comment. I think the world would definitely be different if more mothers were in politics.

    • 15 April 2014 / 09:28

      Liz, thanks for sharing your post. It’s very powerful.

  3. 17 April 2014 / 23:10

    I agree, but them I started thinking. If a mother gets this position, she’s going to have to devote an awful lot of time to it. This isn’t a part time or even a 9 to 5 job. That very fact will make her different from regular mothers, in that her career will probably be more important than her husband’s, or at least her husband (or partner) will have to have a job that allows him/her to take the time off that a working mother (as you say) normally would. Is that typical and representative?

  4. 18 April 2014 / 09:16

    @ExpatMum given the number of single working parents in the UK (I’m including myself here) and the rise in women as breadwinners (this has been going on since the recession, when so many men lost their jobs) I’m not sure there’s anything that’s typical and representative any more. And MPs/ministers do get a lot of holiday during summer recess.

  5. 23 April 2014 / 15:59

    I agree that this post should be a mother. Before I was a mum I would have disagreed but your whole outlook and perspective changes when you have children. You can only fully understand it once you have felt it!!!

  6. 07 May 2014 / 12:47

    I think we are forgetting that there have been very prominent women and mothers in politics, Margaret Thatcher to name just one, who was potentially harder on mothers than most men/women in politics without children. This article goes on to presume that women are the ‘lesser’ earners in a relationship which in many cases in the 21st century is just not true.

    Of my friends I count, doctors, head teachers, lawyers, journalists, all of whom are also ‘working mothers’. In most cases these mothers have to rely heavily on their partners and/or nannies and independent childcare to manage and sustain high powered careers.

    Hiring of staff, particularly in public office should be based upon merit, expertise and experience, not just popping in a ‘token’ mother to balance the books. Many women in politics do not want to work the long hours that parliament dictates, hence Louise Mensch stood down. There are also many fathers who passionately promote ‘child/family friendly’ policies. If we are to truly show equality, then surely we should not be bickering about women/mothers taking top jobs without earning the right to that position.

    For the record, there are currently 147 female MP’s in parliament out of a total of 650 members.

    • 09 May 2014 / 17:09

      @citygirlnomore You’re certainly right that there are many women who earn more than their partners but the earning gap between men and women still endures and women do the lion’s share of work at home, even if they hold fulltime jobs. I don’t think actively recruiting and promoting mothers in public life is a token gesture. Instead it acknowledges how their experience adds an extra dimension to what they bring to the table.

      Thanks for the comment.

  7. 07 May 2014 / 20:49

    Right on. It’s not about getting a token mother in there (as another commenter suggested), it’s about having people who have an inbuilt passion for their post. The same argument can be made for having politicians who have worked in an actual job in the relevant area.