Friday, April 12, 2024
HomeKathy GyngellTo Mrs May, children are just things that hold women back

To Mrs May, children are just things that hold women back


MRS May has not wasted her days left at Number Ten. Yesterday she fired another salvo in her uncalled-for war on motherhood, started in April 2018 to close the so-called ‘gender pay gap’, tweeting out her radical feminist-inspired Good Work Plan consultation for families with its diktat that fathers must be made to be equal ‘child carers’.

I’ve written before about Mrs May’s determination to use the power of the State to push forward this revolutionary cultural change, more reminiscent of a totalitarian regime than of a liberal democracy. 

Soon after the publication of her spurious national gender pay gap review, she went on to deliver her no doubt preconceived solution: making men be mothers.

Fathers who want or plan to be their family’s main breadwinner could forget it. They were to be surrogate mothers instead. As for women who wanted to be full-time mothers, even for just a year, too bad. Fifty-fifty childcare or else, regardless of babies’ real needs. And all this was to iron out a pay gap which exists only insofar as it reflects women’s exercise of choice to be mothers – to take time out to bring up their families, as the majority still want to spend more time doing.

Who was to say that fathers are not sharing care fairly, I asked. How does Mrs May know this? My own experience and observation of the modern generation of father is that they do their bit and far more than in the past to help, from nappy-changing to night-time feeding to general minding. That’s above and beyond his primary protective role which, particularly in the first year or so of the baby’s life, as Jordan Peterson explains here, has always been to support and care for the mother. The division of labour should be the parents’ choice, not the State’s choice.

But for the would-be social revolutionary Mrs May, families are not to be trusted with how they share their responsibilities. How they do must be a foreign country to her. Not once did she mention the word ‘baby’. Nor the words ‘children’ or ‘family’. Not once. These are the great unmentionables. The opening line of her new document is a similar giveaway: ‘People are the heart of our industrial strategy’, a sentence that could have come straight from one of Stalin’s five-year plans.

When did this happen to the Conservative Party, a friend has just asked me – this transition to revolutionary socialism?

Babies’ and children’s needs are summed up in a section called ‘Neonatal Leave and Pay’, and they are to be divided between the amorphous parents, never mind that it’s the mother’s womb from which the baby comes and the mother’s breast at which it feeds. Fathers will do quite well as mother surrogates. As Julia Hartley-Brewer said at the time, they won’t. ‘I definitely remember giving birth to my child, not my husband . . . and he was rubbish at breastfeeding,’ she said on the Andrew Marr show when the embittered Polly Toynbee resentfully asked whether having children falls on women and their careers for ever. 

It is Toynbee’s thinking, not Hartley-Brewer’s, that Mrs May seems to mirror. Children’s needs, if not invisible to her, are just things that hold women back. The private sphere no longer seems to exist for her.

Her consultation is an attempt to commit her party to further State intervention in the name of gender equality. The question is will the rest of them see it for what it is – a declaration of war on the family, women and children, an assault on mothers and babies that will only make it harder for women to be the good mothers they want to be.

If anyone can be a mother, what happens to its status? If it is no longer a unique role and so devalued, why would women want it or value it? The declining birthrate suggests they may be beginning not to.

Making motherhood transferable and replaceable is to deny, as radical feminists do, the baby’s unique need for its mother and the mother’s unique ability to meet that need. A mother is not replaceable to a baby. Babies’ cries on parting from their mothers (until resignation sets in) tell their own story. So too does a mother’s pain and palpable discomfort at being parted from her baby too soon or for too long. These are the biological mechanisms designed to protect offspring which our feminist society perversely urges mothers to ignore. The women who get to know or appreciate this wonder of nature are discredited. Worse, they are made to deny it.

Yet despite 40 years of indoctrination, and the huge pressure on women to repress their instincts, guilt (a biological survival mechanism for the baby) will out. Mothers have not stopped knowing their babies need them, or stopped feeling discomfort when they can’t meet their needs. Meanwhile neuroscience research measuring babies’ cortisol (the stress hormone) levels has given new insight into the original theory of the need for maternal attachment, not that we should need it. It is obvious. The more a mother touches and holds her baby the less stressed he will be, and the reverse. Babies’ cortisol levels have already been shown to be raised in daycare settings where they are separated for hours on end from their mothers, something that can impact on brain and emotional development. 

Now Mrs May wants to deprive babies even of their first weeks of purely maternal care, in those first months when most mothers are neither ready physically or emotionally to go back to work.

Mrs May claims to be much exercised about mental health problems in young people. Her anxieties, I fear, are very shallow. She should watch this video and see where child mental health is rooted, and worry that she may be the cause of more unhappiness.

Being there does matter; what’s more it is what the majority of mothers want for the critical years of their children’s upbringing, as Catherine Hakim’s careful survey research showed. Most women don’t have a dynamic career, or even want one, as Jordan Peterson too keeps spelling out.

Here are his thoughts on ‘having a baby’ and dual careers. It’s another essential view for the deeply unimaginative Mrs May:

Most of all, his message to mums about babyhood is: ‘It’s not that long and if you miss it, it’s gone’ – advice that does not occur to the ‘at expense of your career’ Mrs May. How about the real worry – that work and career today come at the expense of having a baby?

A Conservative Party that is unprepared either to reward or acknowledge motherhood as an intelligent or a caring choice has no right to call itself conservative. Nor does Theresa May. 

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Kathy Gyngell
Kathy Gyngell
Kathy is Editor of The Conservative Woman. She is @kathygyngelltcw on GETTR and is back on Twitter.

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