Equality between men and women: Is that too much to ask for?

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez is asking for something that really should be a given

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The Independent Online

Miriam Gonzalez Durantez. What a wonderful woman. What a thigh-slappingly, hand-clappingly, stand-on-top-of-a-roof-and-scream it, brilliant specimen of a female. The high-flying human rights lawyer, and wife of the deputy prime minister, is my new feminist icon; and quite possibly the only person who can save the limping Liberal Democrats from complete annihilation as they slide, helter-skelter, towards next year’s general election. Gonzalez has the charisma, and the good sense, that so many of our politicians are lacking. In fact, given the choice, I’d quite like to vote her into Number 10 when I get my ballot paper next May.

One of the reasons I find Gonzalez so admirable is her unapologetic stance on women’s rights. At the launch of “Inspiring Women in Scotland” this week, she announced, unashamedly, that she doesn’t want to “have it all”, she just wants to have what men have, namely a career as well as a family. She spoke openly about how the burden of childcare is shared equally in the Clegg-Gonzalez household.

The “have it all” myth has left a generation of women convinced they must choose between enjoying a successful career and bringing up a family. A man doesn’t have to choose. Traditionally, he is able to hoist himself happily up the career ladder, safe in the knowledge his nuclear family will be waiting for him at home at the end of the day. With tea on the table.

I don’t blame men. They are, after all, only abiding by the rules history has put in place for them. As Junior Equalities minister Jo Swinson said on Monday, society has an unhealthy obsession with women’s role as mothers.

I want a family. I also adore my career; a career I’ve planned since I was 10. I’m now 23, so at the moment my only dreams of procreation are viewed through the wrong end of a telescope. They are tiny, impossible dots on the horizon, invisible to the naked eye, but present all the same. They exist and I can’t ignore them, loom small as they do.

Unfortunately, biology is not on my side. From the moment of conception, a mother’s role is more pronounced. She’s the one who has to lug the baby around in her uterus for nine months, sacrificing her own body to incubate a new life.

It’s a given, therefore, that any woman who wants to birth a family of her own must be prepared to free up just enough time in her busy schedule to push the blasted thing out. But that, in my opinion, is where the balance should shift.

It is statutory for men to get a maximum of two weeks paid paternity leave when they have a baby, while a woman is entitled to 52 weeks. Almost immediately, gender roles are set and women are forced to make do and mend; either staying at home to bring up the kids, or forking out a small fortune for childcare in a desperate attempt to regain some semblance of the person they were before they squeezed out a sprog.

Giving men more paternity leave, or offering parents the option of dividing their “parental leave”, would go some way to restoring the balance. Speaking openly about male involvement in childcare, as Miriam Gonzalez did, would go even further; making it entirely ordinary for a man to take on half the childcare responsibilities, allowing his partner to resume her career should she wish to do so.

In theory, as soon as this becomes the norm, the rest should fall into place. If childcare was shared, employers wouldn’t put women on baby watch, or illegally discriminate female job candidates based on their age or their marital status. Women could progress up the food chain, succeeding in high-profile, senior management roles, before going home to dinner on the table and the kids in bed. Job done.   

Because, ladies, I never want to have to choose between a career that defines me and the family at the end of my telescope.