Media attention back on working mums – oh please no more!

[this post originally appeared on NineMSN’s Finance blog]

You may have seen Sarah Jessica Parker flitting around our shores recently espousing the joys of her new movie I Don’t Know How She Does It’. I find the media attention and entertainment value put on the subject of working women fascinating. Personally, I think she’s just put the working mother’s agenda back by years. The movie is based on a novel of the same name by Allison Pearson and demonstrates the perfect example of a busy working mum Kate Reddy who tries to juggle her life between business and family. Even Oprah Winfrey has described the movie as ”the national anthem of working mothers”. Oh please!

According to a book review in the UK’s Guardian, the author addresses every single issue confronting working women today from the small (the chaos that is wreaked when a favourite toy gets lost) to the vast (abortion, guilt, sex, marriage, death, illness, friendship, parents).

Why do I think it’s put us back by several years? Because why, when we are trying to champion an equal place in the workforce, do we working women, think it’s so necessary to blow our own trumpet about how clever we are to ‘juggle’? Haven’t we, and our mothers and our grandmothers been doing it for years? Shouldn’t we be spending more time on seeking equal opportunity and encouraging women in senior management, than shouting off how clever we are at juggling work and home?

And what about all the men out there juggling single families, many of whom are my friends with women who have opted out? Can you imagine main stream commentary about them and their juggling?

If my history lessons served me well, the last time I looked into the deep, dark passages of time, women originally worked in the cave, cooking, cleaning, protecting, child rearing while the men hunted, protected, cooked and bought back food and the other trophies of basic survival. Both roles were hard work. Equal. Both served to the biological strengths of gender.

It’s a sweeping generalisation of course, but men tend to be linear and logical in their thinking, women tend to be multi-taskers and approach thinking through issues differently. Thank God for the differences I say — the world would be very tiresome filled with just men, or just women. Hence the push for more women in management positions to balance the running of our corporations. The yin and the yang was just mean to be — it’s all about balance, and the benefits of balance.

Fast track a few thousand years, and I find it tiresome and self serving to hear working women held up as some sort of champion to be admired. Whenever someone, says to me, “I don’t know how you do it”, my retort (with relative grace) is that thousands are and do every day!

Today, almost 50 percent of women are actively in the workforce and about 66 percent of couples with young children are both employed. Because we’re not content with basics anymore and want to live the lifestyles of the ‘modern dream’, we choose not to sit at home but to contribute to the coffers. It’s about pulling our weight. Just as the modern man out there tends to pull his weight these days with child rearing as never before.

Statistics also show women are more likely to go to university and pursue a higher education than men.

Look at Gail Kelly, CEO of Westpac who has four children (three of them triplets) and Belinda Hutchison, chairwoman of QBE who has two. I don’t hear them espousing how clever they are to juggle both a career and a job, although I am sure like me and many others, balancing our various roles, has had its moments.

I’m not downplaying the role of women — women are doing extraordinary things all over the world. If we didn’t, our children wouldn’t prosper and neither would our men and neither would our careers. Women make the world go round — as do our men.

And while there are always sad cases, and there are people who have less choice and who are born of circumstances beyond their control — I just don’t think it’s helpful to hold working women up as some sort of trophy to be applauded. We’ve been doing it since the beginning of time. Get over it!

I’ll wait for the movie that celebrates the benefits of both genders working successfully together as a team in the workplace and at home!

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