“You are bringing down the whole of womankind”, 57-year-old Eleanor Laing, the Conservative Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, berated the heavily pregnant Tulip Siddiq, aged 33, Labour MP for Hampstead & Kilburn, for defying convention and taking a comfort break too soon after she had spoken in the House.
“Don’t play the pregnancy card with me,” she is reported to have said to the Labour MP for good measure.
A ‘war of words’ and ‘Tulip’s catfight’, was how the Mail on Sunday’s Anne McElvoy gleefully portrayed this spat; and her paper clearly hopes it will ‘bloom into a full-on feud’.
This episode revealed more than that to me. Wasn’t this an outbreak of feminism blindly at war with itself?
Here we had two different generations of feminists, with very different interpretations of their entitlements as women in the workplace, at each other throats.
Young Tulip’s relaxed ‘family friendly’ work assumptions and, I suspect, her general womanliness plus her unashamed desporting of her pregnant tum, appear to have triggered Ms Laing’s pent up rage.
For no shrinking violet is our voluptuous and telegenic Tulip.
You can feel sorry for both these women – for Tulip for having her baby pressing inconveniently on her bladder seated on the hard Commons’ benches; for Eleanor, for suffering the chagrin of seeing this young MP, her career apparently unimpeded by her pregnancy, blithely demanding evermore family friendly concessions.
I have no doubt to many modern young feminists Tulip’s apparent ability to ‘have it all’ must seem like real progress; Eleanor’s response to her situation, by contrast, looks nothing but churlish and ungenerous.
But look at it from the older Eleanor’s point of view. So much for the feminist spurs she earned the much harder way when she was pregnant. Back in the chamber a few days after birth, she must have wanted to prove to her male colleagues that motherhood was no barrier to her work or career, given the strength to either deny or contain the pressures.
How galling then to find that all that aping being a man, forgoing domestic and possibly maternal bliss, today now seems to count for nothing. How infuriating to find, after all that sacrifice, that today’s positive discrimination means women can do just what they want, as little as they want, and still get on, because the workplace now is legally obliged to bend over backwards to accommodate their demands.
Furthermore it will be Ms Siddiq who will win out in this battle, not Ms Laing. Who among today’s politically correct will argue with her riposte to the Evening Standard that the incident had showed her that:
“The conventions of the House are outdated for anyone, let alone for pregnant women or people with health issues?”
Who will contest her demand that: “In certain cases people should be given leeway to leave without having to go through an administrative process. (As) elsewhere in society that would just be common sense?”
Common sense at quite a price, she forgot to mention – the price of inefficiency, lesser commitment and low productivity – but never mind that.
Tulip and her new female colleagues are riding the crest of the wave and they don’t have to think about any of that. Life is designed for them, for their ‘have it all’ feminist demands that they delude themselves are for the good of society.
They are not.
Neither Laing’s denial of motherhood nor Tulip’s assertion of motherhood rights in the workplace are the answer. Their different feminist approaches are both wrong.
Babies and children lost out as a result of the first – stay at home mothers too – as the 1970s’ ‘second wave’ of feminism heralded a staunch denial of motherhood and of babies’ need for it. Then men joined infants on society’s losing team when gender parity madness took off in the 1990s. Now we all suffer from the destructive process of social feminisation as it works its invidious way through the public sector, institutions and industry.
The problems created by this new gender parity feminism are what Eleanor and Tulip should argue about, not their personal feminist vanity politics.
And if there is one thing they could both learn from this encounter is that returning to the House of Commons in midlife, when children have grown up, is not such a bad idea after all – for their children and their country. Then they will have met their family responsibilities, have more life experience to offer and be able to give their job their uninterrupted attention.
And there’s no reason why, in their late 40s or early 50s , they would not still be young and attractive with a career ahead of them.
(Image Courtesy Herry Lawford, Flickr)