WOW 2015 | Mumsnet Live – full session

WOW 2015 | Mumsnet Live - full session

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21st century parents: what’s changed since Mumsnet was born?

To celebrate its 15th birthday, Mumsnet asks what progress, if any, has been made over the last 15 years to make parenting a more equal endeavour.

The panellists are Guardian columnist Zoe Williams, blogger Victoria Smith (aka Glosswitch), TV reporter and writer Tazeen Ahmad and Eleanor Mills, editorial director of The Sunday Times.

Hosted by Kate Williams, acting editor of Mumsnet.


hello my name is Kate Williams and the acting editor of mumsnet welcome everybody and thanks very much for coming and this session was slightly misleadingly titled mumsnet live in the program so if you've come expecting a real-life dramatization of am I being unreasonable and I hope you do know by now that you probably are being unreasonable I'm afraid you've you know huge apologies and please feel free to leave now what we're actually going to be discussing in this session is parenting and equality astonishingly mumsnet is 15 this month and the site was launched in march two thousand so we're celebrating 15 years of women supporting one another in a place where everything from politics to parenting is up for discussion and where mothers consult the wisdom of the crowd and hopefully discover that there's no right way to do parenting and that's always been at the heart of mumsnet and that hasn't changed what also doesn't seem to have changed much over the last 15 years since mumsnet was born is the fact that women are still shouldering the vast majority of the parenting burden so today we want to try and unpack some of the really quite complex reasons that gender equality has failed to thrive in the parenting realm and to help us do that we have a quartet of brilliant women zoe williams is a columnist for The Guardian and the New Statesman where she writes political commentary interviews and reviews she's also the restaurant critic for The Sunday Telegraph and a regular guest on current affairs programs she has two children one of which is in the audience today and she's written frankly enough and hilariously about parenting in two books what not to expect when you're expecting and most recently in her polemic the madness of modern parenting Victoria Smith is perhaps better known as Glaus which she works in publishing and moon lights on her own blog gloss watch where her strap line is humorless mummy cuddly feminist she has two children and as well as writing on her own she writes frequently on parenting feminism and politics for the New Statesman she was shortlisted for the editorial an intelligence independent independent blogger of the year award in 2013 on my right an award-winning TV reporter and writer hazine Ahmed has worked across all the major broadcasters including ITN NBC the BBC and most recently channel for an investigative reporter for dispatches a former foreign foreign correspondent and a regular contributor to national newspapers she's also the mother of two children and author of the checkout girl a book about her time undercover in a supermarket during the recession and Eleanor Mills on the far right is editorial director of The Sunday Times and she's also chair of Women in Journalism she writes a weekly column on social affairs in the news review section as well as one in the home section about how we live now and she was the winner of the international alliance of women world of difference awards for her contribution to the economic development it's very empowering of women and she appears regularly on TV and radio and she has two children so let's get started why are women left holding the baby still we've made important strides towards gender equality more young women travel through education and employment managing to sidestep some of the more egregious in justices that face previous generations they outperform boys in school they match their male peers in terms of salary until they have their first child having your first child is a life-changing moment it's wonderful in many ways but it's also a moment when men and women's lives polarized quite dramatically feminism we're kind of forced to admit has not nailed family life and this enduring inequality has far-reaching consequences both for our lives as women and for society as a whole so I'm going to leave time for contributions and questions from the audience at the end but let's start with our panel so we do you recognize this sudden leap this short sharp shock of becoming a mother for the first time and suddenly realizing you're in quite a different realm in terms of equality yeah as a mother sorry I've got this really authoritarian urge that makes me want to go and tell everybody in the Royal Festival Hall to stop enjoying themselves like I you stop chatting we're talking um I'm just fighting that um yeah no it's really interesting isn't it when you're and I've been on panels before with young feminists who say it's discrimination no longer exists you know i'd like to see someone try and discriminate against me and you're and you and you kind of think well i really admire your brio young lady but you're blowing out of your art um there's a real there is absolutely no sense in which we've kind of made the advances we think we've made what we've done is fix it for non mothers to be equal and then it's not just a perception it is true we fixed it for with its kind of pay parity for non mothers we fixed and norm others would say that there are kind of cultural discriminations that they suffer but in terms of the workplace we fixed all that but since so much of the disparity between men and women was coming from maternity in the first place the failure to make any real inroads into that period of your life is a failure of the entire project as far as I'm concerned you know if you can't after having children return kind of return to the job you thought you were going to return to then all the things we think we've done we haven't actually done I mean my pod you want to know my personal thought of it okay because I over the Guardian right you would think they were the most right on people in the history of the world you would think of anybody in the world understood what women needed after they came after they went to have a baby it would be the bloody Guardian and it was at it was you know as it was everything everything I had before I had children what I no longer had one side had them you know every corner of the paper that I thought was mine had been given to someone else and I was like this is just extraordinary um and for probably two or three years after I had children all I wrote about was children and that was not certainly not my choice but that was you know in the kind of ducking and diving world of trying to find your place in a in a cultural machine that was the only role I had left and I think that you know if you can't in it in a kind of liberal organization like that making it make it work then we've got something really problematic going on Victoria does that strike a chord with you d you did you step over a line from your pre motherhood life into a very different world yes very much so and I think it really changed my perception of feminism and what it means what it's for cuz I think when I was younger I always felt her as a feminist that I always believed in feminist aims but I thought one of the aims was to liberators from motherhood to liberate us from the motherhood role and that meant I kind of in my head swept it under the carpet and didn't want to think about you know becoming a mother and the practicalities because that would just suggest some traditional image of motherhood and in traditional image of womanhood to people and I think when I was pregnant I you know I think I found when I was probably lots of people at Swan to patronize you all the time 50 people who already are mothers and their tell me how awful it is in your you get a bit defense than you like no it's gonna be fine for me I'll sauce and I do have a partner who's really into sharing the work and he takes on an awful lot but it's still completely changes and I think now my kids are five and seven and I'm expecting a third baby am I have to choose completely different it's I'm I look at women who have decided not to have children and I I see that they have opportunities that I don't have and that I've chosen but it feels like I've chosen to cut them off in the scenario that we're in because there's no other way around it and that you have to be realistic and run now you have to fight for change but being realistic and motherhood does really exclude you and it's not just in practical terms in terms of you need flexibility with work it changes people's attitudes towards you I found that when I went back to work even like the jokes people thought I'd find funny change because I was a mother and you don't say that in front and it and the you know its expectation you're more conservative and expectation you won't want to do this and you won't want to do that and it's very hard time still the same person I've still got the same interest has still got the same politics but all of that changes so much and you don't seem to have a say in it the scene what about you did you did you feel like you stepped over a line into a different world or well completely and it's both depressing and heartening to hear Zoe's and Victoria's experiences so similar to mine when I was working at the BBC for about 11 years and I just sort of decided my early 30s that I was going to now have children and didn't really think very much about what impact that would have in terms of my professional life and I had my first child ten years ago and then sort of thought I'd just come back to work and actually things changed at the BBC around the same time and I started that when i started to google they're trying to find a childminder who would look after my childhood 2am so that i could pick him up my way back after I'd finished presenting the program i used to work on i realized that i actually had to leave and there was no conversation at the time of the BBC about a sort of back to work you know strategy which I've already strongly that needs to be means needs to be mandatory across all organizations for but women who have children and so I decided to leave and I took by offered to take voluntary redundancy and it wasn't a particularly difficult decision but after that I found that every sort of single career decision I've made I've made because it's my decision and it's been there's been no real support and nothing from organizations that I've worked for to say how do we make this work for you I've had to carve out now I would make it work and it's worked well but it's been a struggle when it's been with the support of my partner that I've managed to make it work and if I hadn't been I would I'm not quite sure would have done any of it but you know I think part of that is because um maybe it's because I'm a Pakistani origin maybe it's because I grew up in the sort of racist Britain in the 70s and 80s maybe it's because my mother was a single mother and my parents divorced and so my mother raised me on her own with my brother's doing our teen years that I'd never expected to have anyone look out for me so I to look out for myself but I think that's utterly unacceptable I think your experience Zoe in your it's utterly unacceptable we should be able to go back to those jobs and we should be able to pick up where we were and we should be able to do more interesting things because we are now mothers and brings so much more to the table and we should have career progression it shouldn't be that we cut ourselves off and then try and find new ways to move forward i think that's unacceptable and is this resonate with you yes kind of yes or no cuz I thumb I had my kids when I was quite young I was that I was 31 which relatively now is is quite young and by that point I was already quite senior within the organization so and make it helping on a right-wing paper but there were not that many women around where I work so they can't really afford to lose the ones that they've got so I actually found that the sunday times were very what I worked very helpful to me I mean I was in it big executive and they let me work at home on a wednesday and i need did a half day on a monday and i found that having that day at home in the middle of the week made all the difference i think otherwise i would definitely resigned but it meant that I could kind of take my daughter's too baby music or kind of bit and take them to school and kind of be part of the community and I felt that I was more present because I at that point I just have to work till two in the morning every Friday so I was and when I looked back now that whole time is a total blur my kids are now 12 and 9 and when people talk to me about when they were little I think I'm so exhausted trying to do both things and I think if I if I had my kids now like a lot of my contemporaries have done in their early forties I don't think I don't think I could possibly have done it I mean I'm someone with a lot of energy anyway and and I really loved what I was doing I was very determined to make it work and I was also the main breadwinner in my family so I think that some of the kind of more systemic things around male and female roles couldn't really apply my husband was working for a dot-com startup so he was much more flexible and he did a lot of of the kind of hands-on and childcare and it was in if there was a choice between who was going to work and he wasn't going to work I had to go to work because I paid the mortgage yes and I think I mean at the time that felt like a bit of a burden but actually I think the reason why I've had the career that I have had was because that my career was prioritized within the family and when I look at friends who were married to very high flying lawyers all that kind of thing I mean in a way the more successful the husband the more likely the mother what the woman to be on the mummy track yeah and so I would actually think that in some ways if you're very serious about your career and you want to be a mom you want to marry a different kind of man I know but you don't always think of that I'm very I mean I didn't really intend to do that but that was kind of that was who I fell in love with you know and actually that was a really good option and there was a much more high-powered man who I could have married you know look I think that that that's quite an important message to send out to our to our kids I mean answer to the younger women that do you do have to choose who you marry carefully is also about a pizza partnership and it's about what you value doing and I think I mean I I feel rage press when I don't speak to lots of very you know young woman it's like like Zoe's feminists who think the whole thing's been sorted out yeah yeah and you just want to say it looked on it's completely fine in your twenties yes young women are out earning of young men now but soon as you have a baby all bets are off and that's still that's still the same so and I think it's very true that we all have to find our own ways through it but one of the things which is interesting I think is that a lot of companies are realizing that all this money that they put into training up young sisters or doc female doctors or whatever it is goes completely to waste if they all fall out of the kind of management tree in their 30 and they have kids so none of the big merchant banks actually in the management consultants and now doing back to after baby kind of maternity mentoring there keep help keep women on track I mean I think there is a kind of move that they've got to need is partly because it's now 50 50 or more in most of the professions of women coming in and they can't afford to lose that much of the workforce so maybe there is some hope before we talk about work but she's obviously a really kind of cool area and you know women's women having babies makes a huge impact on their work life let's let's um let's stick with the home for a little bit and work out how parenting equality works or doesn't work and at home so II towards extent you think parenting equalities bound up with an equal division of the kind of endless domestic drudgery that starts as soon as your baby exits the women and from what I can work out goes on for the next 18 years it's really interesting is it because he kind of completely goes off a cliff one minute you're pregnant and you do equal amounts and that in my case that was like equal amounts of nothing we were both completely slovenly and never did anything so why would we argue you know you know sure there's curry from last week on the table who's arguing and then it completely goes you know you've got a baby and you're doing everything and I remember being so angry with my husband because he just said really casually oh I've got to go to stavanger next week and I was like and I felt I was kind of lurching around the room like a concussed bull cuz i was just so furious that he could just pick up the phone and go yeah all right I'll go to Norway I just couldn't believe that that kind of freedom still existed for him whereas at that point I couldn't imagine ever being able to go to the end of the street ever again um and then so you got to go off the cliff and then you're and then you slowly kind of clue about your independence really inch by inch by inch over a period of a decade really and then then your kids are 10 which might aren't but then your kids are seven and it's all a bit more equal but it's never at is never that equal and you never really i don't think get over that early fury it does kind of change the way you are with each other but you know i remember having a meeting with the EOC as it was and there and I didn't have kids there and the head of it said we really need to work on the chores gap and I thought it was the most pathetic thing I've ever heard you know cuz I didn't even understand what a chore was particularly that's like you seriously are gonna do that dive devote your considerable intelligence and resources to figuring out who goes to being q this is just ridiculous and I didn't even understand how much of your life could be determined by being the person with the quotidian duties that had to be done at a particular time I didn't even understand how that would change who you are and what you are well why women are so bad at negotiating for themselves in the home I do not know because I'm absolutely useless at it and people always look at me and think I'm the most strident in-your-face kind of self grabby self-interested person you've ever met but I negotiate terribly for myself and I and I do everything and I mean I really do i do literally everything my eyes my husband doesn't probably couldn't tell you when like what the teachers names are no that's really bad he could he could tell you what their teacher Center don't my son's in the audience don't tell her and tell her I said that but you know with I don't know why I I think I used to think it was just because you know you spend all all your working life kind of battling for your rights you don't want to have that take that battle home you don't want to do it every single day you want some downtime when you're just a nice person but increasingly I think that you know I am different and I am different professionally and the truth of it is if somebody rang me up and said going into view Barack Obama tomorrow you can go first class I and it clash of the school play I would say no I'm all right you know he looks like an interesting guy but I can read somebody else doing the interview so my priorities have changed and I think it makes me better professionally because it means I'm much more and much more focus on the things I'm interested in and I'm much more organized and I'm better but I'm not the same and I don't and I don't pretend I am the same whereas I think a kind of male professional identity hasn't taken the same here so and that does impact upon how you see yourself and what you're prepared to sacrifice for oh yeah it is really depressing isn't it that that you know as you said that we can be quite sort of forceful and strident and put ourselves in our professional lives but yet you know as far as I'm concerned I don't have anything like an equal division of labor in my own home and in fact this is something that you know mum sent did a survey recently on the jewel gap and it makes such depressing reading are used to say that they do 10 hours of chose a week which is half what men do and I think that's probably a conservative estimate seventy percent of mothers are entirely responsible for cooking for the kids and a similar figure always do the weekly clean there are overwhelmingly responsible for all the kind of grinding family organization that keeps the kind of the whole thing in motion eighty percent eighty percent of working mums are responsible for arranging child care and school applications and that kind of thing and ninety-one percent are responsible for organizing the dreaded playdates um I am I met this really high-powered lawyer once who said that the thing that our husband never did was like the ticker tape Oh remember to get so into a birthday present remember to do this remember to do that and she she gave up her job the day her husband showed her a picture of their daughter at the school disco and she was the only one in school uniform Oh school had their party clothes on except her daughter and the guy didn't even realize he done anything wrong so this is I'm mortified five-year-old and he's like what she went and she I picked her up yeah that's it and two scene I know you have a fairy you've talked about a pretty good domestic split with your your husband tell us how how that works and also how it came about I think it sort of evolved actually it did you know it started off with me being mostly in charge because I'm always right and then it's sort of that change too it might hear me that better yeah it sort of changed once I started to get eyes went back to work and then I had my second child quite soon after and decided to keep working throughout most of that period and you know his career has had quiet moments in his careers had very busy moments and we just what we've done so far we were just been sort of sucking and seeing it there's no strategy there are times where you know i'll i'll say we're going to eat fish fingers tonight and there are many more times or he'll say no we're going to eat a home-cooked meal and him and then he has to do it he wants the home-cooked meal he's responsible and there will be days on end in fact we've had three weeks straight where you've done he's done that and when it's been my turn I've just thrown fish fingers in the oven and that's that's the way it has to be if he wants to do well in his career and I want to do one of mine this is the only way to negotiate it and it isn't you know in any way I don't think it's a template for successful you know here's how we both do it but I think he's got to step up and I think all men have to step up and we should be teaching as I'm teaching my son's as my brothers were taught as you know my the message I keep sending to my male friends and my male colleagues is that you've got to step up so that women can do what they need to do and I'm good at what I do I've been a foreign correspondent I've traveled around the world covering big stories and I've only been able to do that because my husband's been a home looking after the kids and I've sent text messages from Afghanistan saying don't forget this playdate and don't forget to do their pack lunches and yeah you know in the middle of the night would have some me woken up in a panic and Evan times where he asked for those benefits to him of doing that because because it you know we've talked before and you've he clearly feels that there that he that he is getting some kind of benefit from Jamie I mean I think you know for me the emotional health of my children is the most important thing above and beyond whether we both succeed in our professional lives are not above and beyond academic success and that's quite something from someone who's Asian to say that but for me it's the emotional health is the most important thing and i think i have really emotionally healthy boys because their dad is fifty percent of the time sharing you know that there is parental duty so that's why they're doing well and that's why all dads need to step up and whatever dads are on this audience and anybody will watch this afterwards need to really think about the ways in which they can step into that role why are so I mean I you know we were always on these kind of discussions you have to talk instead of quite sweeping generalizations but why aren't men why aren't enough men stepping up to the plate in terms of did you know that kind of domestics let the boring dull stuff that really changes lives you know if it's done well i'm a bit synthetic with the men who actually which is that I think they will if women let them do it in their own way I mean I see so many really over-controlling mothers yeah likely the kind of quite um alphab alpha class kind of you know alpha type women who don't want to be any less l4 about being a mother than they are about anything else that they do and so I think it's also up to two women to go all right I'm gonna let you do it and I'm gonna let you do it your way because as we all know there's nothing worse than being micromanaged in doing it so if we want if we want fathers to be equal parents we also have to let them get on with doing it in a dad way so that maybe kick causing absolute chaos and it may not be how you do it yourself but you'll come back and the kids will be really happy they'll have done some stuff they wouldn't have done with you it's about exploring different kinds of ways of doing things so I think women have to be less control freaky about it and that and get on with it and and I know for myself because often my husband girls have to do that you know maybe the dressing up costume for World Book Day isn't precisely what I would have done but they look cooler and that's and he's done that so you have to let you have to let the chaps do it their way so I think there's a bit about i think there's also a kind of something weird happens to men they become quite selfish i think sometimes around they kind of see that there's a get out clause that other guys are not doing all the stuff that they're doing I mean I've seen really nice menu no peers of mine in the office who I was at university with all that kind of thing who I've always thought what have we had quite um right right on these about these things it kind of 45 2 k's wife at home and suddenly in about 7 30 in the office they're kind of fiddling around on a few emails that don't really need sending and you go hard you're going home okay now I know exactly when to time it so I'll get home the kids will be in bed supper will be on the table you're not just going to give them a kiss they will none of that horrendous witching hour getting them into bed whatever and I think well actually that's the opposite for me as a working mum I will race through my day to get out of there so I can get home and see my kids before they go to bed and make sure that they've done their homework and get in the bath with them and have hugs and that's um he's like the kind of often the nicest part of my day and I just do you think I think men and women of our different in that regard and Zoe to Zoe's point about the you know the Obama I mean I've turned down so many things because I didn't want to remember in it this week I was supposed to attend to Jabbar to a BW to do a big story and actually it's my daughter's parents evening and another one singing here tomorrow in a choir and I don't want I didn't want to miss those things hey I think women do make different choices and when we talk about mothers being on a different career track it's also because we're massively lucky and privileged to be parents and to be mothers and I love being a mom it's the my mum my mum who always work towards used to say to me the world is full of irreplaceable journalists CEOs editors you know the great the graveyards are full of them all these that you know in the indispensable people and the only people that you're really important replaceable to you it's your family and they're the ones who really care so I think it does shift your priorities in a humanizing way and you know I don't regret that I feel very lucky to be able to be both but I also know that between the kind of work thing and a family thing I'll always choose my family I love the kind of unspoken men are grumpy angle they're good they I mean they are that's the other thing is that if you do that coming here this morning I've been this is my third Wow panel in three days I was on the BBC this morning doing the newspapers so when i slunk out at about 8am my husband was serving breakfast to eight members of my fondest my sister staying with her kids and her husband and I was like bye darling you know I have to talk about motherhood who just raises eyebrows like yeah right but seeing a lot of that this weekend you know there are there are there are choices and shorts about a kind of maternal gatekeeping um you know ticketing in the first few months of your baby's life and I really remember myself definitely being guilty of that and really quite dismissing my other halfs parenting and seeing as a kind of land grab in some respects and and I was at a stage when I was really uncertain about how my career was going to go I've been a freelancer suddenly you know just fell off a cliff because like I don't know I couldn't be in the editing suite at three in the morning do you do you recognize this and do you have sympathy for some of the reasons like that women may be because of well obviously because a broader structural problems might feel that even though it's disadvantaging them they have to kind of cling to the to Motherhood pneus yes the thing very much so in my job I'm the main owner in in our relationship and my jobs change recently because I've now worked all was bought by another company and I have to commute several times a week and I don't get to put the children to bed cuz I have to start late and leave late and my partner's taken over quite a lot of that and you know the other weekend and my partner went away and me in my son's yeah we went to the cinema we went out to pizza her they would got there by itself the first time and he came back in as I only delighted about lots of fun it's like a divorce dad's weekend and I was like really offended cuz I'm not like this divorce daddy hardly sees the kids and he thought was little joke but it was oh and and what I found when I had my first kids and it wasn't the option of shared parental leave and we talked about oh I be really great if we could do that but now with this pregnancy there is and he's been talking about that but there is a bit of me that thinks no it's my leave you know I i want that lead to me in the baby m and I do feel quite protective of it because then because I feel it's part of my relationship with the baby and I think it's part of my status as a mother and then I think am I catch waiting the same old traditional values and but it's really difficult to negotiate and I think and that's even me my heart heart I think we have quite an equal relationship but I think it could be even more problematic in relationships where things answer equal and perhaps we're warm partners more controlling and how do you negotiate and that balance and it's really difficult I think you grit your teeth and you suck it up you know we are women we hold our region our teeth we just have to we have to give respond a responsibility over yeah the men and just not think about what's happening at home and eventually they'll figure it out there I've ever been many days why I've called ins in fact often he forgets to pick the kids up from school no yeah often because he's a big meeting and I'll get a cool filming or working in the middle something else saying from the school saying there's nobody here the kids there no that's their dad coming to pick them up into the after-school club and you know if we just I go home and I've scolded them so many times that now I just sort of this mountain with tomatoes sorry does he get there eventually I mean then they rachie be left at school most equipped in his late and i think that's that's you know that's another thing but I you know in order for me to be able to do what i do i just have to just set that up I'm gonna weeks and I only recognized that point about the control free cuz I don't even think of myself as a control freak I don't control anything else I'm always late myself but my husband and I sometimes work from home at the same time and one time he was due to create the kids up and I could see the time click like and into the school is like six minutes away from the house and it here 330 and I've been not saying anything for 15 minutes and I won't get an event oh yeah I'm like tore out the house and then he came back going I wasn't even last I was going Oh histidine Hosemann good learn just a bit of perspective on that my mum always worked and she never picked me up from school and I really minded about that I really wanted her to be there for one else's mums were there and he wasn't so as a working by myself I've made massive efforts to make sure that I I can pick them up sometimes I picked always picked them up on a Monday and I try and put them up on another day and usually because I've kind of done 25 million things before getting there I'm late you know and so I get there and I'm thinking you have no idea the sacrifices I've made to be here and 345 ok I'm 10 minutes late but you know you should know like one all day and they're like oh mah mule oh and you don't have a snack oh yeah all the other man's have got a snack and they're they're sitting in their car and they're taking them off and I'm you know and I'm useless and I'm thinking well it's either you never get it right that's me making a massive effort for something that I felt was a lack myself yeah and I do sometimes feel kind of bit resentful of what i call the slave mothers who were the kind of mothers who don't work he was sitting here in my phone hates with their o cakes in a perfect plastic bag never had nothing to do all day but it's ready so and then the CH and the children again you know you can see them slightly thank god i wish i had a slave mother i don't know i found off to their children a bit annoying moving on let's talk about the work they say that the burden for caring for children means that women as we've discussed already massively disadvantage in the workplace in a way that fathers just aren't so another mumsnet survey found that eighty-four percent of mothers feel that having children made it harder to progress in their career and to seeing you you've talked already but have you felt pressure to plow forward in your career whilst frantically juggling mothering you put it you've got a slightly terrifying story about the immediately after birth of your second child yeah um i think that you know I they've been often Ivanoff offered really exciting opportunities and most times have tried to make it work and live in time so I've just had to turn down full-time jobs that require working in a high-profile news position because I know that i'll be home at eleven o'clock at night which means i won't see my kids i have a small window just in the morning where i probably won't be paying attention because i'll be reading the newspapers and listening to the news I've had to turn a lot of that kind of thing down and instead making why would my professional life work in a different way but when my second child was born just before he was born two months before channel 4 i've been working on the series every year and they said we're now going to take the series to Jerusalem and we need to do it exactly around six weeks after the birth of your second child yeah and I thought how do I make this work and I really wanted to do it they would have found somebody else of course I'm not you know easily replaceable and they could have found somebody else to do it but they said we'd like to give you you know the opportunity to see how you can make it work and you know I just sort of pulling my hair out thinking how can I make this pregnancy go away and then and then I sort of thought well actually and they didn't really offer this option but they made it work I said well like if I can bring somebody with me to look after the baby while I'm filming and things would that work for you and they said yes we can make that work so I initially asked my mother-in-law we said no and then I asked my yeah that's someone who raised the son who forgets to pick up his kids and then I my fan a nanny for a friend recommended who would look after the baby while I was well I was filming and so I would spend with we were in Jerusalem and you know what every day was filming with all these men and in the middle of it baby 6 weeks old needed a breast feed so he'd come into the room and I'd cover myself up in my shawl and feed him and he would slurp and burp and fart and everybody knew I was breastfeeding under the shore and for me is the Pakistani Muslim female that was really quite a leap but um but I made it work and and during the night the nanny said I'll have him and I said no I need to have him selves I was like you know cooked completely Natalie sleepless but I made a whirling motion so we what dis abroad a landscape of work for women look like I mean we you know not everyone works as a freelancer know something I mean the thing is I think the problem is because we concentrate a lot on kind of high-powered women because those are the really obvious metrics of like where they're missing so it's really obvious that they were kind of missing women in the in the executive roles and it's really obvious that there are a million women missing from the workforce which was the resolution foundation finding it's really obvious that you know when you go into a meeting you're often the only woman there and and all of those things are kind of very noticeable and they also seem quite kind of you they seem like quite obvious pressure points because you know everybody you know they're in these are intelligent people they should be able to discuss what's going on what's going on in the kind of in the in the kind of missing corners I mean my worry with all that is that we don't really tell a true story about the normal life of women who aren't high profile and who aren't very high achieving but they still are they still have to work you know there's an awful lot of work that goes on in in non achieving areas and there i think is really start because basically there are some figures in the lowest in the lowest them quintile i think seventy-eight percent of mothers go back go back to work after four months just because they can't afford to live on the statutory minimum so they're not taking anything like their full entitlements they're not taking anything they're not using all this legislation because they can't afford to and so in tandem with that you have this really growing kind of fetishization of the of the bonded parent which is really focused on having the year with your baby and head taking as much time as you possibly can and not ceding too much to the dad and all the rest of it and we're kind of Valor izing in a way a lifestyle a kind of parenting ideal which a lot of people actually can't afford and then the danger of that is that we end up seeing middle-class parenting is like inherently more loving than working class parenting which you know everybody knows is yeah and that's what I'm and that's what I really worry about but you know obviously the executive experience is really problematic as well and i think is eighty-five percent of moms that readers say that they their workplace is no good for what women after they've had children it is not making the effort that they think it needs to make so you know obviously that is a story but i think it's a story that we need to see in the round absolutely there's obviously been you know a raft of family-friendly initiatives over the last 15 years which clearly haven't made the kind of differences that they were intended to make and the latest is the right to shared parental leave i don't know if you all know about that that came into force a couple of weeks ago and it means that after the first two weeks the two first two weeks after birth parents can decide to split what would have been maternity paid maternity leave between the two of them so in theory a mother could go back to work after the first few weeks her partner could take on child kept the remaining 37 weeks so how how important is it Zoe that fathers get that chance to be with it is it crucial do you think important that fathers are involved in actual child care and you know right from the very beginning I think it's much more important than is not the actual that Michael Lewis the what the guy who writes about banking but also wrote one thing about fatherhood which was really interesting said how did I go from that person in the hospital who knew theoretically that they were meant to care they were meant to love this baby to the person six months in who actually did love the baby how did I go from that person to that person who you know who would have liked thrown himself under a ice cream truck for the for the child and he kind of concludes that it's the act of caring for the baby that teaches you how to care for the baby you know it's not something it's actually not a hormonal pathway or for some people it is but it isn't for everybody and it's not a cultural it's not a learned behavior it's actually it's the act of it that makes it happen and that I think is really critical because obviously dads do have a relationship with their children however hands-on they are you know and children have a relationship with their dads even if they're never around and you know the idea that the idea that kids don't have a relationship with their dads because they never see them is wrong they have a relationship it's just a really bad relationship did all we've we've got questions anyway but but there is still the end there is um I nevertheless think that you know date you don't get you don't get the kind of intimacy that you that parenting is that makes it worth it even if you don't have the time you can't make it up in later year you can't kind of it's not like a pension you can't throw a load of it in later on when you're earning more you have to do it piece by piece by piece victory do you agree with that yes and very much so I think it's very important that fathers are around and that they're doing things on that there with the Bagan and that it's understood that fatherhood is a relationship it's not just stage so I think so often we talk about motherhood in terms of self-sacrifice in terms of work and we talked a fatherhood in terms of being a role model or being someone to look up to and that's quite a distancing image and I know is these images of may be kicking a ball around in the park but not sort of washing dirty nappies and not actually getting your hands back in and and I think it's really important to get them doing that in order to really understand what it's about and and also to stop having this sort of romanticized image of the mother role and so that they don't they understand that we don't magically have this kind of understanding of how to change nappies and how to do this and how to do that and oh you're just better at it because you're feel that they understand that for us it's work as well and for us it doesn't always come naturally either we go through the same learning to care that you know he says caring comes from caring you develop that you know you have I remember I was in love but I didn't automatically understand I get something grew from doing it probably even the hospital and thinking I can't believe they've let me just walk out here like they haven't done any checks just cuz I happen to give birth yeah just let me walk out with a baby in it can I just see something shared parental leave I think the problem with that means it's obviously a fantastic thing and it's a you know sends the right message and it's moving the right direction but the problem is that if the message and society is that looking after your kids as a man is emasculating if the widespread message in society ad through the government in terms of government policy as well as what we see on the ground in boardrooms you know those men aren't taking that time off how likely are they to take that time off how likely are they to be the ones to go okay I'll take half of that time off and you know take the risk that comes with one of the impact it has on my career and sleeping well what I actually think is one of the main and fault lines at the moment I see in my office is between the older men the kind of baby boomer generation who absolutely did not take any parental leave who kind of see being a real kind of macho man in the office and kind of leaving all of that to their wives who are at home and a new generation of much younger men who are saying my wife is also working I want to be there for my baby I want to take this time off and I think sometimes women now do get some kind of special treatment around this most in most workplaces now there are you can do ask for flexible work there will be some kind of boons given and I actually think that it's really hard for the younger men to ask these older men for something that they haven't done because they're basically saying to them I don't want to be the kind of man that you've been and then I saw that really clearly a really lovely colleague of mine having to really stand up to a big boss and say you haven't seen your children you know you've been at editing at the Sunday Times till midnight every Saturday night you know I don't want to be that kind of dad you know I'm on a different kind of job and I want to be home so that I can see them in the evening and I think that is a real battle going on within kind of within men and a lot of the men who are ambitious think there's only one way to do it which is to be like these you know dinosaur baby boomer chats have been and that's not necessarily the way so I think as women we have to really support those younger men who are asking for the things that we've now got I think it's fascinating as well because just as you say those men are kind of saying something negative to they're older they're kind of mentors is it that that problem exists in feminism as well that we're saying something to older feminists about not wanting to be the kind of feminist they were because you not wanting to be the kind of Mother's Day remember some of my my bosses when I was a young woman I remember I had a boss at the telegraph and she used to tell she's to read her children a bedtime story down the telephone line and they would they would wave goodnight to the winking eye to the canary wharf tower and I can remember hanging at her and thinking I do not want to be that kind of mother I mean I don't care what effect it has on my career that is not where I'm going it has a boss and as a older woman I've tried to model for the younger women around me a different way of doing it and that's one I think that's also a responsibility that we have it's a very interesting piece on the Internet moment in the Atlantic by him and a woman who's now older talking about what a cow she was two women who were mothers in her 20s and how she would kind of look at them and think oh you know they uses their lazy they've got to leave at five o'clock they're not committed and now of course she's in that situation herself and she understands I think also I mean in all these things we have to be a lot more understanding to people who are in different kinds of situations and I think younger women need to wise up that they're not going to be immune to this that we haven't week it's not Richards kind of reverie trip every woman who becomes a mother kind of has to reinvent the wheel for herself because it has not been sorted the many of these these sort of parenting family-friendly policies it's obviously something that governments putting a huge amount of effort into and resources into is getting women back into economic productivity but Victoria do you think we're missing something possibly in when we talk about gender equality and parenting this there is this relentless focus on economic productivity are we in danger of losing some other things is that the right question that we're asking you that we're trying to solve I think there are times that it feels like focus on focus is not on equality and not in improving things for families but on making sure that women are good little cogs in the Felicity nuri and just sort of get back to work get on with it will make it eat and I think it's very difficult but at the moment on the one hand there are all these proposals with shared bren to leave and talking about asking for flexible working but on the other hand I think for many people the actual conditions of the work I've got a lot more difficult with things like zero hours contracts and inflexible hours and shift work and some people earning so little they have to work two jobs and these things are quite incompatible we have to look at how we see work overall not just look at mothers as a subset of work and kind of think about how we can make it so that everyone feel is in a situation to it I think it links into what you were saying about not everyone being freelance and not everyone having these nine-to-five jobs and well I did it I did a piece on it's about um barnet council i think it was offering 24-hour cup childcare and it was meant to be like this brought this kind of brave new world where you could really could get childcare at two in the morning but actually what it was linked to was maked getting people available for shifts that they didn't know when they were coming shifts that were into social hours it was basically getting mothers available for work that actually wasn't appropriate if you're a parent that you caught that you couldn't do and if you could you have to think at some point what is the point of getting everybody economically active what is a society that can't allow some people to be inactive for a period of time but the only people weirdly politically the only people who can conceive a parents as anything other than economic units that are either maximized or unutilized unutilized are like really hard right bizarre group bizarro kind of mothers at home matter type things or they're kind of really hard left greens and there's nobody in between making any acknowledgement of the fact that you might want to be with your children sometimes I think that's what we're saying about our mums and working as I said that actually is a mother you do sometimes make a choice about family before work however much you love your word yeah and that end that maybe a we're all kind of good Oh robots are gonna take away all these jobs and all this work maybe we should be using that extra time to spend some time with our children and you know love them and value put value on things which are not just economic well that's what Marx would say Helena but I don't know if sunday ties all like that well unsurprisingly we haven't managed to solve what is obviously a kind of fairly intractable problem with with roots that go very deep and tendrils that sort of spread out into all aspects of of women's lows and but you know we've come up with some areas of interest before we go to questions from the audience what to reach we will just say what where would you start Eleanor where would you start if in what's the most important thing that we need to solve that mean to start with in order to kind of get things moving forward again well I think and I think society needs to make it a kind of shameful thing to be a man who isn't a hands-on dad and I think you know you talk about kind of shaming I mean yeah the shaming of men who don't start with a lady on the on the domestic front in terms of I mean only what you were saying about the but we used to say the heave you know the heaving the buggy leaving the baby episodes for heave is the love you know and if you don't do that then yeah the heat is for love and that men have two men have to understand that too that it's not it's not good enough to be it you can't be a dad yeah there's no such thing as been hands off dad that is not being a dad it would be great with know if if father's judge themselves on their fathering in the way that mothers relentlessly judge themselves on their mothers do maybe we start need to stop judging them if they're not judging each on with you two seem government public with it I think that comes from government policy and I think that comes from messages in society and that comes from us all doing the work we do and writing those pieces about men and getting meant to write pieces about themselves and also you know stuff around child care child care that's creative and finds a way of working around our lives in the way that we I think all four of us work and that's affordable and high quality I mean that this is no this is nothing new but why hasn't why we saw having these conversations about childcare so many years on it's depressing and it's stopping women from contributing to the economy in the way that we can just because of this moment in time government doesn't see the point in spending that kind of money in terms in terms of ensuring that we can get to work and our children are well taken care of that needs to change Victoria um I think that's why we need to kind of understand that caring work is work it's not just some kind of natural experience that women have and I think it gets put on women so much and that because they just assumed to have this natural do with national I think to do with stereotypes that we impose on children for a really early age and it doesn't just happen with child care it also happens with elder care and hair care of sick people it's always falling on women and it's always invisible eyes because we kind of assume that's just part of being a woman and not that it's really his hard work and that it has a real social value and it has an economic value and everyone benefits from it so it's not becoming less useful before because you've had killed if anything it's becoming more yeah Zoe I like all of that and I would I i would i would he i would really go with the shame and the child care and the kind of conceiving of kept care as work but i do think we need to really watch what's happening to wages and workplace rights because it's that it's not just at the bottom there stagnating there stagnating everywhere i right up until the top tenth indeed even at the top apart from at the very very top wages aren't really going anywhere and workplace rights are going very very fast down here with zero hours contracts and with with paid for employee tribunals all of this stuff is going to turn into a very dangerous picture for women because you are necessarily more vulnerable and less reliable if you're trying to give birth and we've really really got to watch it and not think that the status quo is stuck because i think the status quo is actually getting work that's great and so there's so much that we haven't talked about we haven't looked at things from a non-heterosexual perspective we talked a little bit about Klaus and we haven't talked about stay-at-home mothers we haven't talked about different cultural and ethnic backgrounds it's a huge subject but I hope that was a useful and stimulating discussion even though we didn't manage to you know get to everything and justice to depend on it on a you know on a slightly more positive note although I don't you know I don't feel this as an entire negative discussion and we mumsnet did another yet another survey about feminism and a huge number of mumsnet users feel that they are much more likely to end up sort of self-identifying as a feminist having come across the site and used it and also and to look at how things are done at the hurt in the home from a feminist perspective after using the site so if you don't know mumsnet please do come along and check us out because it's a it's it's a useful it so it's a very kind of useful site thank you very much to you thank you very creating a feminist yes thank you very much to our PI over there which is very to Victoria to intervene and to Eleanor and thank you all for coming along and participating you

1 thought on “WOW 2015 | Mumsnet Live – full session

  1. I saw WOW 2014 on youtube because I don't live in the UK. It just gets better every year. Thank you Jude Kelly, and the amazing women and men of the Southbank Centre, for organising this event every year. Thank you for uploading it on youtube for the world to watch.

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