Matt and I headed to the lovely local pub for a couple of drinks on Friday evening at the beginning of February. We were lucky to find a small table, but unlucky to be positioned next to an extremely loud conversation regarding hiring women of childbearing age. It was a conversation between three male friends and one guy was very vocal with his views in the matter much to one of his friends bemusement. He loudly stated that as an owner of a company you would have to be insane to hire a woman of childbearing age; the woman would have to be amazing at her job or infertile; if a woman come for an interview and had given birth to three children in a row, there is no way you would hire her; feminism is women wanting to beat men around the head; the law has gone mad and is unfairly on the side of women now; fathers for justice are just fighting to see their kids; and the stats say now that men are hiring more women than men just so they look like they are an equal opportunities employer. Stats were mentioned a lot. I found the conversation offensive but unfortunately could not move to somewhere else and within the small room, would still be able to hear anyway.
As he and his friends were leaving, I gave him my card and told him I would like to speak to him when he was sober. He told me he would speak to me now but I suggested that would not be a good idea. To be fair with him, he emailed the next day and we have exchanged in conversation. I asked him about his views as even if I do not agree with them, it is interesting to find out why he believes what he does and where he gets his background information from. I challenged him on what exactly is childbearing age. He mentioned again how if you were a small business owner and you interviewed a woman and a man who both expressed an interest in having a family, it would make sense to hire the man. He drew on his own family experience where an immediate family member is taking their second period of maternity leave in a short space of time and proposed that I would find that a lot of men would actually like to have the time to take off with the baby. I suggested that maybe the problem lay with the employment law rather than with the woman having the baby. Would it not be more beneficial to argue that the law be changed for men to be entitled to take half of the maternity leave or have it flexible between both parents rather than the year to be given just to the mother? This could lessen the expectation that women are a weak link when hiring. This also highlights how people expect women to want children and for all families to be made up of heterosexual parents. I argued that ‘childbearing age’ is so vast and therefore is an unfair bias. I have friends who had children at 17/18 and are now settled in careers, not wanting any more children. Because they are in their 30’s, are they still viewed as a liability by employers? One of those friends is self-employed and could only afford to take 10 days off before and after she give birth. I also have relatives who are having their first child at 40. What is childbearing age within employment exactly? Or are women just being viewed differently purely because of their ability to give birth?
It was put to me that although his friends claim joint responsibility of their families, the biological reality is that women are statistically better at nurturing children and I should read “The blank slate: the modern denial of human nature” by Harvard professor, Steven Pinker. I am very suspicious of this opinion, the statistics, and the book, for many reasons. Why is child rearing the one prominent thing that men will hold their hands up and say they are not as good at. Is it because the responsibility holds you back? I know when Matt and I have spoken about having children he was worried how it will affect me and my career. Why just mine when the both of us would be having a baby? I know of women who should never have been mothers and I know men who have the manner, patience, empathy, and capacity to adapt to parenthood more easily than their partners. I find it quite patronising to men and fathers. I will, however, look into this book as I am interested in the point of view. At this point though, I do believe if you can get out of looking after the children for most of the time you will, just as if you can get away with taking the bins out, you will.
I asked about stereotypes with children and what we can do to move the responsibility of family life from the girl and make it an equal endeavour. The response was that let children be, allow them to play with whatever they want. Which is great, but I feel this equality is contradictory to the later expectation of women in the workplace and the family role. This is also not the reality I have encountered on many occasions when talking to mums about their sons wanting to play with dolls, prams or kitchens and the anger from the father and the compromises of allowing toys in the house but not outside where the some could be seen with them. If boys are forcibly disassociated from toys associated with the family or the household, why are they going to believe it is a completely equal responsibility later in life? Especially when even if they would like it to be, the law gives full maternity leave to the mother and only 2 weeks to them.
The link to this video was attached for me to watch and I have mixed views about it. I agree that in order to see a more complete story we need to seek a third variable, but I don’t believe it stops there. Just as some of the research spoken about in Cordelia Fine’s The Delusions of Gender, it is not enough for neuroscientists to look at the brain and hormones effect on the brain without taking into account societal environment, family life, social class. All this will help to mold a person, their interests, job aspirations. Is it really enough to say that women are not taking more tech jobs than men because it is simply not an area of interest to them. Would it not be beneficial to question why? Drawing on a previous post I wrote, during the Tech For Good workshop I took part in, the majority of the conversation surrounding the wicked problem of why there are hardly women in tech was embed in gender stereotypes and societies expectations. I would agree with the unfairness of suspending people unfairly in schools just because of the need to level out the suspension rates to 50/50, but why do boys suffer with more behaviour and anger issues? I will suggest to watch the documentary The Mask You live In for an interesting insight.
I do believe it is not always realistic to expect a 50/50 ratio to apply to everything, however, I do not believe this video proves much to alter my views despite it illustrating some interesting points.