The Young Women’s Trust, formerly YWCA, has run a survey in which young women stated their views and preferences only to have them ignored or twisted to suit the ideology and interests of those who run this charity: women whose adherence to feminism will have helped them attain a position of power for themselves.
These young women, it appears, have escaped the identikit straitjacket of feminism and taken the view that men and women are different and are therefore not equally suited to the roles of construction worker, ICT technician, plumber, carer or nurse. But rather than acknowledge that these women can think for themselves, they treat them as hapless muppets whose views are “associated with the stubbornly gendered nature of training and work, limiting and restricting the opportunities for young women”. These young women are actually shaping the world around them and it is their views and preferences that keep firmly in place the gendered nature of training and work.
These traditional views about employment are not the only way in which young women are letting the sisterhood down. A third of both younger and older women thought that young women were “better suited to caring for children than having a paid job” and to the horror of the YWT matrons “a staggering 29 per cent of young women thought it was irresponsible for young women to want to work if they have children”.
Put to one side the extensive evidence that mothers of young children prioritise home and family (Netmums: Great Work Debate, You Gov, Centre for Social Justice, U-Switch, Department of Education Survey of Parents). Evidence emerged on the traditional attitudes specifically of younger women as early as 2012. Analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) showed that where previously the youngest generation had been the most progressive, they had now become more traditional in their views. The number thinking that “A job is all right, but what most women really want is a home and children” doubled to 30 per cent in ten years. Nearly 50 per cent of women between the ages of 18-39 agreed that “Being a housewife is just as fulfilling as working for pay”. Nearly 50 per cent of younger women agreed that “Most mothers with young children would prefer having a male partner who is the main family earner rather than working full-time themselves”.
However, rather than acknowledge the real change which was happening, The National Centre for Social Research buried this evidence under a very selective presentation of the figures to support the idea that the revolution towards equality was “incomplete”. In fact, as Geoff Dench tried to show, young women were rejecting the views of their mothers, the baby boomer generation, and arriving at a position far more akin to their grandmothers. The baby boomer’s precious revolution was, and is, never going to be completed. For as BSA data showed, and as the survey from the Young Women’s Trust also reveals, there is a counter-revolution going on.
Now it is one thing for NatCen, the purveyors of BSA, to fudge the issue. It is another thing for the Young Women’s Trust, which claims to “Give young women a voice”, and to “Gather the views and voices of young women and support them in being heard where it matters”, to refuse to hear what these young women are trying to say. So, for example, they focus on young women who are economically inactive, largely it would appear, because they are parents, and try to convince us (although it is apparent that they have never actually asked them) that these women would really much rather be at work. To this end the focus is on free childcare and workplace flexibility so that these young women too can help to increase our “economic growth by 0.5 percentage points per year”.
However these young women are having children in a climate where contraception and abortion are aggressively encouraged. They are having children, according to the report, when they know that “Having children…not only makes it harder to find work, it makes it harder to be in work and [they] are aware of this whether or not they are already mothers”. In these circumstances isn’t it just possible that these young women have consciously chosen to be parents rather than prioritise work?
If Dr Carole Easton and the other matrons at the YWT would only take on board this reality they might come up with more holistic solutions than the tired and tested double burden of work and childcare. They could explore the potential interdependencies between young women and men, and the possibility that young men might support the mothers of their children in their temporary chosen vocation of childcare, while they go out to work.
In practical terms, this would mean that the extension to the National Minimum Wage and the National Living Wage, for which they are rightly campaigning, is fought for not just on behalf of young women, who it would appear, are not as dedicated to the workplace as the sisterhood would like them to be. It would be fought for by and on behalf of all young people and would help them on their path not only to independence, but also those who were choosing interdependence, young fathers and mothers working together to bring up the next generation of women and men.