ON International Women’s Day, as a woman, a working mother of three, including two girls (not that it makes me better than a non-working mother or the mother of boys, but I just want to highlight that I can play the game and still see through it), I would like to announce what utter patronising nonsense it all is.
My seven-year-old daughter is on the couch curled up with a book as I troll through the internet’s take on this made-up event. LinkedIn, as usual, is brimming with the usual corporate virtue-signalling with pink script and faux girlish texts designed, I suppose, to express solidarity with my daughter and me, human beings born with female reproductive equipment. My heart goes out to her in her innocence. Too young to notice the shrill, paradoxically self-aggrandising and reductive victimhood cult rolling toward her.
Graphics vary between flowers, hearts, ribbons and other commercialised themes usually associated with Valentine’s Day, and images of militancy including clenched fists, dreadlocks and shaved heads, presumably to add spice to a celebration primarily recognised by women who work in corner offices and look at Excel spreadsheets all day. Hijabs and other Islamic headwear appear frequently. Obesity makes an appearance, with rotund, multicoloured dancing female figures. Purples and pinks dominate. How a vaginally inspired pink ribbon forming an 8 for March 8 could empower any woman is hard to imagine, especially when we recall that professional men, like long-distance runners who train wearing weighted backpacks, receive no such artificial propping up.
Today, human resources departments of large multinationals suggest that male employees ‘mentor’ women. The idea that my husband, born of working-class parents who never graduated from high school, who worked his way through college, bucking the family tradition by going for a university degree, should play cheerleader to a petted middle-class daughter of privilege, boosted by company policy to a position she very well may not deserve, is ridiculous and degrading to her, and to women and girls everywhere, including to our daughters. The idea that a woman in a managerial position in a large company needs handholding is pitiful. But here we are.
I have noticed the ramifications of thirty years of beating this ‘You-Go-Girl’ drum in the many successful women I regularly encounter in non-professional spheres. These women may have ascended to their positions through hard work and assertiveness, but have enjoyed years of applause and cosseting. In my experience, they tend to be thin-skinned, controlling, inflexible and humourless, construing any advice or criticism as evil obstacles. Their successful male counterparts, considerably less pampered by the current Marxist zeitgeist, receive no such coddling, and tend to be better fun at parties.
Many women I know run their families like departments full of minions, creating Excel spreadsheets for their long-suffering nannies. Hands-on parenting usually centres around food which, unlike children, can be controlled, painstakingly and compulsively cutting cucumbers into minuscule identical triangles for pizza parties. When things don’t go according to plan, when baby doesn’t consume 150 grams of broccoli alongside 200 ml of milk or when toddler refuses to close his eyes at 8:01 pm, an unfathomable level of bewilderment, disappointment and frustration ensues. One particularly glaring example of this was an HR director with whom we shared a nanny for four (long) days; she had cut her maternity leave short to return to her corner office and my abiding memory is of her is shouting at me, ‘I thought you had severed her!’ as I nursed my firstborn during my lunch break in her enormous apartment in the heart of Paris, underneath some hideous impasto paintings of New York City taxis.
These same mothers tend to have children that I now, after eight years, hesitate to invite to my house because they run wild and wreck things, because motherhood requires a different skill set from running a department at a large corporation. Motherhood requires not control (often not possible or even desirable), but fostering, raising, nourishing, mothering: time-consuming, tedious, accomplished for its own sake and without immediately discernible
results. Hence the selflessness of it. It’s not enough to offer cucumber sliced into uniform triangles while your offspring careen around a public space like apes on speed. ‘Going on vacation with your children is not a vacation,’ I hear again and again.
When the Covid lockdowns forced these power couples to spend all day with said offspring, duct-taped children memes abounded. ‘I’d rather not be locked down with my kids,’ grimaced one acquaintance.
The other problem is that unlike her successful male counterpart who delegates (too easily, say feminists who shriek about equal division of housework), but who is perfectly ready to concede authority to an expert, even a self-declared one, highly competent professional women tend to do everything in the private sphere as well, because, however much third-wave feminists might wish otherwise, the culture of the private sphere comes from the mother: choosing the colour scheme for the living room, buying the children’s clothes, selecting extracurricular activities and wrapping presents. (Some of this is understandable, because, let’s be honest! who would trust their beloved male partner with the selection of the living room couch?) This has resulted in a kind of abbreviated masculinity, easily controlled, but not one with whom an intelligent woman can contend. As Jordan Peterson famously tried to explain to Cathy Newman: ‘Well, what sort of partner do you want? Do you want an overgrown child? Or do you want someone to contend with, who is going to help you?’
Now I am going to put down this computer and sit on the couch with my daughter to read aloud Little Women. My experiences as an adult woman have changed the way I see Marmee’s life advice to her girls:
‘My dear girls, I am ambitious for you, but not to have you make a dash in the world, – marry rich men merely because they are rich, or have splendid houses, which are not homes, because love is wanting. Money is a needful and precious thing, – and, when well used, a noble thing, – but I never want you to think it is the first or only prize to strive for.’
Today’s perils facing girls are not the soulless marriage market and the superficial quest for a rich man, but the equally soulless and superficial conquest of the corner office and the big pay cheque, both conquests egged on by equally idiotic vanities that today’s families must teach their girls to resist, just as Marmee taught her family to resist. Happy International Women’s Day!