Working women of the world unite

Women who put their children before their careers are selfish and are setting a bad example, the wife of former prime minister Tony Blair told Fortune magazine’s “Most Powerful Women” luncheon held at Claridge’s Hotel in London this week.

Cherie Blair, a “QC and mother of four”, the Daily Telegraph reported had:

criticised women who “put all their effort into their children” instead of working. Mothers who go out to work are setting a better example for their children, she said.

Addressing a gathering of “powerful” women at one of London’s most expensive hotels, Mrs Blair said she was worried that today’s young women are turning their backs on the feminism of their mothers’ generation.

Some women now regard motherhood as an acceptable alternative to a career, Mrs Blair said. Instead, women should strive for both.

“Every woman needs to be self-sufficient and in that way you really don’t have a choice – for your own satisfaction; you hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children. I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so actually they can live without me.”

Tell us what you really think — don’t hold back!

The coverage of this speech has been favorable so far to Mrs. Blair. In structuring its article the Telegraph moved from the quotes from the conference to statistical data showing the number of mothers with children in the work force has risen in recent years. Comments about the struggles Mrs. Blair had as a child after her father abandoned her mother and the family are followed by an appreciation of her charitable work. Nothing is offered in response from those women who do not think as Mrs. Blair does.

The Guardian‘s account is a bit more robust, but follows the same story arc as the Telegraph. True to form, the Daily Mail gave Mrs. Blair a knock and covered the event in a column.

Cherie Blair sympathises with the children of ‘yummy mummies,’ saying those with ‘working mothers’ are more independent. Into which category falls working lawyer Cherie? Eldest son Euan, 28, lives in a £1.3m central London property. So do his brother Nicky, 27, and sister Kathryn, 24. All thanks to Cherie. Perhaps she should be thankful for her family’s good fortune and resist lecturing others.

The second day news analyses and commentaries took a different turn. In an extraordinary press hand-out news article Fortune magazine (host of the powerful women luncheon) attacked the first day stories. It began with an apologetic:

Taken out of context, just about any quote can spark outrage. Queen’s Counsel Cherie Blair learned that lesson the hard way this week, in the aftermath of comments she made about stay-at-home moms.

And after summarizing her remarks, Fortune attacked the other reports of the event, denouncing the Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Mail for sensationalist scandal-mongering — and for not understanding the subtly of the message.

Blair’s “yummy mummies” comment has gained quite a bit of traction in the British press. “Cherie Blair attacks ‘yummy mummies’ who choose children over careers,” “Cherie Blair criticises career-shunning ‘yummy mummies’” and “Cherie Blair takes a swipe at stay-at-home yummy mummies” read headlines from the Telegraph, Guardian, and Daily Mail, respectively.

More than anything, the harsh words simply reveal a media culture that craves a catfight. Yet a Mommy War is not what the panelists — particularly Blair — were hoping to provoke. Instead, they were searching for a solution to a pervasive, complex social challenge: How can women pursue their careers and embrace motherhood in an economic world (for many) that all but mandates dual-income households but a culture that still retains skepticism about its effects?

There is an air of unreality in this. I find it extraordinary that there is no sense that the great mass of working mothers are not on a career ladder, but are working to make ends meet. Nor is the question asked  whether the great mass of working women desire what Mrs. Blair believes to be good for them. It also begs the question, is/was Cherie Blair a good mother? How did her choices impact those around her? What criteria is she using to say that her personal achievement is the greatest good?

One of the best  stories I have seen so far is a commentary in the Telegraph written by Cristina Odone entitled “Cherie Blair should leave yummy mummies alone”. Ms. Odone makes the point that the hallmark of a liberal progressive society is the freedom to choose — even if the choice is not to Mrs. Blair’s liking.

… the highly educated stay-at-home is an international phenomenon. A recent survey of Harvard Business School graduates found that 31 per cent of the women from the classes of 1981, 1985 and 1991 who answered the survey worked only part time or on contract and another 31 per cent did not work at all. These findings were comparable to a survey of Yale women graduates.

That makes no sense to Cherie. Alpha feminists like her are vocal, high-profile women whose excellent education has been followed by a dazzling career. They value their families and even in some instances their husbands, but they strive for autonomy: their mantra is “I can live without them/him.”

Life, if you belong to this elite, is one long succession of networking opportunities at Claridge’s. The problems begin when you don’t fit into this tiny privileged minority. Alpha feminists want to be free to do as they please – shine professionally, stick two fingers up at marriage, whatever; but they quash other women’s freedom of choice – there is one way, and it’s their way.

Do read Cristina Odone’s piece. The time will be well rewarded.

Yet, I do feel there is another hole in this story that I have yet to see covered (it is early days though) and that is the religion angle. Women and men make decisions about how they live their lives that are influenced by more than their immediate appetites. The world view espoused by Mrs. Blair and the ladies who lunch at Claridge’s is a worldly one — with no time, nor need for the transcendent. There appears to be no religious or ethical core to Cherie Blair’s world.

How then should a journalist cover events such as these? Space and the need to go to print immediately often prevent a story from receiving a full hearing on the first day. But should a story that is not seeking to be first out of the box devote time to the voices of contrary world views — including the voices of religious women as well as non-religious women who reject the materialism espoused by Cherie Blair?

What say you Get Religion readers? How would you craft such a story?

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  • Thinkling

    By a considerable coincidence, I was just parsing through this Atlantic article courtesy of GetReligionista Sarah’s Twitter feed. Only about a third of the way through it, but many of the same issues. Perhaps tellingly, I am yet to see any mention of religion or faith in that article either, but I may chime in with an update when done with the article.

  • Susan
  • http://jaydinitto.com Jay DiNitto

    “Every woman needs to be self-sufficient” – Why is she deciding what an entire gender should desire?

  • sari

    …should a story that is not seeking to be first out of the box devote time to the voices of contrary world views — including the voices of religious women as well as non-religious women who reject the materialism espoused by Cherie Blair?

    Is it really necessary to inject religion into the mix? Most religious women of my acquaintance work inside or outside the home, just as they have throughout most of history, just like their less religious and non-religious peers. In my experience as a SAHM (an American Y.M.), women’s decisions to stay home or reduce their workload upon having children are varied and quite personal. Even among the religious, religion doesn’t seem to be a big factor.

    Do you have data that suggests otherwise?

    What’s missing is the economics–the reasons why most women work and why others don’t. Members of groups denigrated by Ms. Blair should have been interviewed, along with once affluent “yummie mummies” whose standard of living took a nosedive when they divorced and lacked the necessary skills to earn a living. One coin, two sides.

  • Jerry

    I agree that there does not seem to be necessarily religious element to this story. Religious parents may make a choice about working based on their beliefs and that’s a valid story. But this particular story does not have a religious element as far as I can see.

    And there’s an element of sexism, even reverse sexism here as well. To the later point: I’ve read and heard more and more about single dads balancing child rearing and careers. So to assume it’s necessarily a women’s issue any longer is false although in the great majority of cases it still is.

    Susan, I absolutely agree with you and the Atlantic article. She was also on NPR today http://www.npr.org/2012/06/21/155498926/the-impossible-juggling-act-motherhood-and-work

    Looping back to the religion question: I’d love to read a story that actually spoke to religion and parenthood and how religion informs one’s choices. Of course, there’s the issue of necessity where parents have to work more than they want to in order to earn enough money for the basics, but there’s also a further question. For example, I would really love reading a story from the perspective of Genesis 33:5

    And he lifted up his eyes, and saw the women and the children; and said, Who are those with thee? And he said, The children which God hath graciously given thy servant.


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