Article by Penny Booth
You might not like this. Opinion in The Times today (page 28, Friday 19 February, 2010) is certainly worth a read - and I'm not even on commission from The Times. Antonia Senior makes criticism of equality laws into, well, not an art-form per se, but certainly worth reading for entertainment value. Trouble is, for those who just want to be entertained, you are about to have a shock, 'cos she just could be right.
There is a parallel universe where pregnancy and motherhood meet up with discrimination law. Another 'love which dare not speak its name' or 'the elephant in the living room' approach to discrimination where the advantages accruing to 'family' cannot be investigated because they protect in a manner which, if criticised, literally throws the baby out with the bathwater. If we criticise the protection given to pregnancy, motherhood etc, and if employers do not take action against those who appear to be discriminating against women (sometimes men, I know) then we leave wide open the possibilities of treating certain groups who need protection less favourably. I am not suggesting I/we want to revisit a land where that kind of discrimination occurs.
However, could it be that by not permitting the questioning of equality laws in appropriate situations we leave open the possibility of hidden discrimination - so that women with families in particular will not get the chances their capabilities and qualifications should give them? Working motherhood is certainly not easy. I have not found it so - maybe those with driers attached to their washers, or with employed nannies or paid help round the house have found it so. I wonder if we have, actually, made it easier for mothers to work at all - or do we fear simply consigning them to less pay than their male counterparts because of what it looks like?
I think that expectations have much to answer for - we expect so much from our employment (money, pleasure AND job-satisfaction?) and can reasonably complain that society expects so much from us as individuals and families. Just because you stay at home does not mean that every meal will be home-cooked, every cake home-made, every game a family-round- the- table Cluedo event. Such platitudinous rose-tinted nonsense is dangerous for real equality. However, by passing legislation that gives the appearance of equality we think we have resolved the problems of income and family - on paper it all looks so easy. In reality, there is a price to pay.
Penny Booth is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.
Article by Penny Booth