(This article was first published in the current autumn edition of Crossbow, the magazine of the Bow Group)
What are the most concerning issues for socially conservative women? I’d hazard a guess at care, first and foremost, both childcare and care of the elderly.
The socially conservative woman is most likely to have opted to be a stay-at-home-mum, since she’s of the opinion that a child’s primary educators and care-givers are its parents and that no-one else is going to put the needs of her child first quite like she will. She’d rather take a hit on the career front than have to dump her kids at nursery every day. And yet the only message the socially conservative woman is likely to hear from the Conservative government is that she should be back in work pronto for the good of the economy. More and more childcare, that’s what Mr Cameron tells her must be good for women and children. Never mind that what women are actually saying is, “More support for stay-at-home-mums please.”
I’ve been hanging out on an internet mothers’ forum (no, not Mumsnet – give me some credit!). For the uninitiated, expectant women join a ‘Birth Board’ to chat with other mums who are expecting a baby at the same time. The idea is that as your babies develop at the same time you can swap notes. It’s a place to discuss boring things like nappies and weaning – the kind of subject no self-respecting husband wants to listen to at the end of a long day at work. The main topic of conversation at the moment is the dreaded end of maternity leave.
Bar none, all the women on my birth board are concerned about having to go back to work and the effect it will have on their baby. They cite financial pressure as the main reason why they’re forced back to work earlier than they’d like. Every day brings some new tale of woe about how distressed the baby was when separated from its mum at daycare, and how the poor mum then spent her first weeks back at work sobbing in the toilets. None of them are skipping back to work sounding a rallying cry for feminism.
A government that truly cared about women and children should be incentivising stable family life through marriage and financial support for stay-at-home mums. Instead what have we got? In its last term in office the Government focused on same-sex marriage (which will necessarily institutionalise surrogacy and donor conception – hardly the most emotionally stable environment for a child, to be deprived of one of its natural parents at birth), extending paternity leave, and more provision of nursery places. The message for women is that maternity has no intrinsic value. Heavens, pregnancy and childbirth can even be delegated through surrogacy so career-minded women can spend longer at work being good little economic units of society!
What women do is often invisible in economic terms, but adds up in the numerous little acts of charity a woman can perform if given the support to be at home. Things like cooking a meal for an elderly relative struggling to maintain their independence at home, for example, or going in to check on an elderly neighbour who might be prone to falls. All of these things take the strain off social services yet aren’t recognised as valuable contributions, despite Mr Cameron’s rhetoric about ‘Big Society’. No one trying to juggle work and a young family can contribute much to this fabled Big Society. It’s too exhausting.
Where is there for socially conservative women to go, politically speaking, if the current Conservative administration no longer represents them? Some might feel uncomfortable about voting Ukip, but given the socially progressive policies of the other main parties, there’s very little choice. Perhaps the Conservative party considers socially conservative women to be such a minority that their votes are hardly worth canvassing. However, if my ‘Birth Board’ site is anything to go by, women are waking up to what’s been lost by decades of socially progressive policies. The ranks of socially conservative women are only going to grow.