I think it is important to reflect on the inequality that many women face when it comes to motherhood, childcare, domestic responsibility and employment work. Whilst more men may have started to help domestically, research shows that women’s responsibility in terms of childcare has actually increased.
Inefficient childcare policy is one of the many reasons that women are the ones who are more likely to stay at home, give up a chance to get onto a paid career ladder, and instead raise the kids. Moreover, in a true nuclear family ideal, men are more likely to be the ones who go out to work and take on a ‘breadwinner’ role. It is important to also remember discrimination that exists in the employment market prima facie involves women being paid less money than men for the same jobs (the gender pay gap, is something I have wrote extensively about in the past). This inequality must play in the minds of women and men when deciding who will stay at home with the children, whilst the other party goes out to work – hence, why overwhelmingly women are the ones who stay at home.
I do recognise that changes are happening, however, these changes themselves are bringing new inequalities. Women are now expected to work AND look after the children, creating profound extra pressure on women and possibly even their marriage or relationship, if they have one (as we have seen a big increase in the number of lone mothers). One only has to look at recent changes to maternity/paternity leave to see how there is a natural expectation for women to stay at home and look after the baby/babies in its/their early stages. These cultural pressures make women feel they have to stay at home at least for the first part of the child’s life in order to fulfil their ‘natural’ duty. However, it is important to recognise that these cultural pressures extend over most of the child’s life, as the woman is seen as the most obvious candidate to stay at home and look after the children, often in isolation (hence valium being called the housewife’s drug). Many feminists have highlighted how this can lead to problems such as depression, which thus, can break the family down – the opposite to the intended effect.
This leads me to the conclusion that whilst there are changes, women are ‘forgotten workers’. Whilst women’s contribution to society in looking after children cannot be undervalued, it has to be taken into account that this is precisely what happens. The role women often take as the primal care giver is undermined by the poor childcare policies and the little financial recognition women receive for doing what is technically a full time job. So, where is the woman’s pension at the end of it all? Where is her true recognition? When the kids are old enough to branch out on their own, if their partner has left them, where are their life & emergency savings – especially when financial help from the man often only goes as far as ‘full time education’ (aka until they finish secondary school/college). However, doing a university course, I can reassure you that to me this still is very much ‘full time education’, if not more so. I believe, there is a genuine debt to be paid to women who give up a career to be stay at home mothers. There really is no thought of the consequences of this. As I have said, no pension. These mothers also give up their chance to get onto the career ladder at a desirable age and hence give up a huge earning potential consequently. Time out of work makes it harder to get back into it; they can hardly be expected to pick-up where they left-off? With the given economic crisis, and the level of discrimination towards women and age in the workplace it is hardly easy for them to get a job after a break of necessity in raising kids, just like that! Importantly, also, neither would they have started upon any pension plan to continue in paid employment.
The situation is simple. Society creates the problems and society has to deal with them. Ideally, I would like there to be a universal childcare policy provided for women and men to balance childcare and work; as despite right-wing press there are some men today who would like to try to balance things more, although traditionally many man are still happy with the ‘status-quo’. There also needs to be the reduction of stigmatisation for women who do go to work, this will involve long-term cultural change – which I recognise will not be easy. Also, it may be silly to some but, there should be a definite pension provision for women who do not work but stay at home and look after children. I recognise that this would involve much research into the best way to provide it, but where there is a will there is surely a way!
Overall, I have highlighted the engrained inequality that women face from the mundane and undervalued but rewarding task of bringing up children, in place of a ‘paid’ career in the workplace. Women are conveniently seen as simply ‘designed’ to do this. The situation is so wrong, unfairly biased and needs to change to give proper credit to women. Yes, things are changing, but nothing like they need to be doing. There needs to be more thought into better childcare polices, arrangements after separation/divorce (if applicable) so that both parties have equal levels of commitment towards their children, albeit in different ways. Lastly, but not least, there needs to be serious, credible thought into real pension provision and sound financial support that women deserve and indeed may need after sacrificing a career by doing what I have called, the forgotten work…!