Letter: What women really want from work

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The Independent Online
Sir: Polly Toynbee ("Women, the forgotten voters", 24 March) writes that "it seems that once women have children, their attitudes veer sharply towards conservative values, while fatherhood does not much change men's views."

Well, yes and no. What happens isn't some abstract political conversion, from optimistic expectation of "a better tomorrow" for women, to defeatist "conservatism", but rather the solid experience that the kind of career- oriented "equality" we had been promoting before we had children simply wasn't right. In many ways men and women are rightly to be deemed "equal", but experience teaches that motherhood and fatherhood are very different.

What many women with small children want is to be able to look after these extraordinary creatures as we think right. Bright graduates, we didn't expect to want to put them first, but we find we do, just like "ordinary" unambitious women, especially when they are little, and nothing our career-minded egalitarian sisters tell us will change that.

Most of those who combine a full-time job with small children have to because of poverty, not ambition, and they are torn; they want to love their children and tatty "child care" is no kind of answer. (Even good child care may not be.) As their children grow up, of course they will want jobs - jobs as rewarding as possible - but not when they are small.

What confuses the political parties on the left is that so often it is women who do put their job first who speak up most audibly for "women's equality", and that, mostly, it is equality with men that they seem to want for women. Which is not what most women want.

Music to the ears of women with small children - and of those who remember the terrible juggling - would be politicians promising to make it possible for women conveniently to lead "women-shaped lives": equal education and training with the boys; job equality with men when working; real choice while one's children are small, to have or not have a job; and then retraining etc., to rejoin the work force, part - or full-tme, and be properly paid for it, and rise to the top if you want to and can, as your children grow up.

And always, thank you, to recognise that looking after one's children, after one's old people, is work. That "economically inactive" is no way for the national statistics to describe the life of a mother of young children.

Perhaps the answer is big enough child benefit up till school-age, so mothers don't have to go out to work? Expensive then, but a few more jobs for unemployed and depressed fathers, and less to be spent on disruptive children later.


London W2