Christina Patterson: Another catfight, while men get all the plaudits

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The Independent Online

Another week, another survey, another chance to castigate the ruthless bitches so crazed with ambition that they rip out their wombs and replace them with jagged steel jaws designed to ensnare, trap and castrate their male colleagues.

And not content with perverting the course of nature, and of the natural (patriarchal) order of things, these vicious creatures are now ganging up on their less selfish female colleagues, those keepers of the flame of the hard-working family who serve government and country with the laudable double production of both babies and taxes.

Yes, it's another catfight, this time commissioned by a company called The Family Care Company, which aims to "provide a flexible, tailor-made childcare package for your employees". And, presumably, to set cats among pigeons in a way which might possibly get them a tiny bit of publicity for their product.

According to the report, more than half of the working mothers surveyed believed that they faced considerably more hostility from childless female colleagues than male ones. Who were not, funnily enough, classified as either "working fathers" or childless, but we'll let that pass.

"Many of the women that mothers work alongside will go on to have children," said Ben Black, founder of the company, "and you would have expected them to be more understanding.

"However," he adds, "there can be a lot of competition and jealousy in the workplace, and some women might see it as an advantage in their career that they do not have children and a demanding home life."

Well, thank you, Mr Black, for your insight. It's always helpful – in the hysteria of the snakepit – to have a calm, male perspective on these things. And obviously any woman worth her salt is going to put her post as Team Leader, Customer Services, over the distracting, career-wrecking business of love, sex, procreation and all the other messy offshoots of a human life. And, having done so, is going to make damn sure that she punishes her Stakhanovite sisters for their hubris in daring to Have it All. While filing her nails or, perhaps we should say, her claws.

One in seven women, according to the survey, delayed having children for career purposes. But had them, presumably, in the end. About 20 per cent of British women are predicted to remain childless, and of these we are told nothing. Perhaps they, or their partners, are infertile. Perhaps they read The Independent and are terrified of adding to the problems of global warming. Or perhaps they just didn't meet Mr Right in time to have children – and believed, in a quaintly old-fashioned way, that they weren't something you just acquired like a Mulberry handbag.

And perhaps, since women tend to be stuck together in the lower and middle echelons of organisations, these freakish females have carried a bit more of the burden of their sisters' reproductive processes than their male masters. Having covered several maternity leaves, without the support of an excellent deputy (me!), and on a fraction of the salary of the person whose job I was doing, I can kind of understand why the response to a colleague's announcement of impending motherhood is not always unmitigated joy.

We live in a culture where children are regarded as a nuisance, a nuisance which mothers have to manage like a guilty secret, and which other women have, in their absence, to share. It's a culture in which inadequate management and childcare provision are mere symptoms of a belief that the responsibility for what's still regarded as a "juggling act" lies not with the employer, but with employees.

And it's a culture in which men actually do continue to have it all. They get the plaudits for staying late at the office. They get the promotions. They get home in time to kiss the kids good night. And they get to smile sympathetically when Chloe has a cold. All this, in fact, and Mr Nice Guy, too.

Brilliant, but deeply troubling

For those of us who do daily battle with London's traffic, dirt and council tax, there are compensations. Not least the fact that for the price of a couple of drinks you can nip down to the National Theatre and sup at a smorgasbord of spectacular richness. Current offerings in the £10 Travelex season include The Emperor Jones, Eugene O'Neill's hallucinatory play set on a Caribbean island.

Paterson Joseph gives a mesmerising performance as the escaped convict turned despot, whose swagger gives way to a paranoia punctuated by ghostly encounters with slave dealers and witch doctors. It's brilliant, troubling stuff. Troubling, too, that when you see black men on a theatre stage, they're still likely to be slaves, or criminals.

* It wasn't, in the end, Chairman Ken's ubiquitous propaganda telling me that I would be Better Off By Bike that persuaded me. No, it was the near-fanatical enthusiasm of a colleague whose eyes shine at the mere glimpse of fluorescent Lycra, and whose passionate accounts of cycling-as-flying bordered on poetry, which had me agreeing to let Human Resources deduct big chunks of my salary so that I could Ride to Work.

And so it was that, kitted out in helmet, light-reflecting belt and cycle clips that made me look like a cross between Darth Vader and a country vicar, I made my maiden voyage home from the bike shop on Friday. It was tiring. It was scary. It was baffling. Little green cycle lanes that appear from nowhere and vanish after a few yards. Giant pictures of bikes on roads dominated by juggernauts. And, of course, everywhere, traffic. London, according to the posters, is Made for Cycling. But then they also told us months ago that Summer is Here.

c.patterson@independent.co.uk

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