JEN­NIFER O’CON­NELL

We don’t call men with paid jobs ‘ ca­reer men’ so don’t call me a ‘ work­ing mum’

The Irish Times Magazine - - INSIDE -

If there’s a phrase guar­an­teed to give me ire, it’s “work­ing mum”. Yes, ‘ I am a mother who works, but hon­estly, is there any other kind? Placed in con­junc­tion with each other, those two lit­tle words be­come heavy with judg­ment and ex­pec­ta­tion. They con­jure up im­ages of a ha­rassed woman tak­ing con­fer­ence calls with a lap­top bal­anced on one child’s head, as she in­vei­gles stewed squash into the re­luc­tant mouth of an­other – while they si­mul­ta­ne­ously in­fer that moth­ers who don’t work for a salary must spend their days lying on leatherette mas­sage chairs with their feet im­mersed in laven­der wa­ter, as shoals of tiny fish nib­ble at their cal­louses.

Moth­er­hood is a mas­sive job it­self: not many other po­si­tions re­quire you to be able to shunt a hu­man cra­nium out your pelvis, de­velop the abil­ity to sleep with small feet thrust in your face, lo­cate ev­ery roll of Sel­lotape and lost bunny rab­bit in a two- mile ra­dius, and lis­ten with a rapt ex­pres­sion on your face while your

10- year- old ex­plains the rules of Fort­nite. If that’s not “work”, I don’t know what is.

Plenty of women who do not have chil­dren work hero­ically hard too, hold­ing down de­mand­ing jobs, con­tribut­ing to the com­mu­nity, car­ing for rel­a­tives, pick­ing up the rub­bish shifts at work as ev­ery­one else de­cides she can stay late or go with­out Christ­mas din­ner, be­cause she is – brace your­self for an­other rage- in­duc­ing term – a “ca­reer woman”, rather than the pro­tected species, the “work­ing mum”.

We don’t need a spe­cial moniker for work­ing for money while be­ing fe­male. We don’t call men with paid jobs “ca­reer men” or give them pats on the head for be­ing “work­ing dads” or “male CEOs” or – the hor­ror – “dad­preneurs”. Men are only ever men, yet women are de­fined ac­cord­ing to whether or not they’ve ges­tated a hu­man, and en­cour­aged to pit our­selves against one an­other in some phony no­tion of the “mummy wars”.

Terms like “work­ing mother” re­in­force no­tions about how the bur­den of do­mes­tic work should be sub­di­vided, di­min­ish­ing the in­creas­ingly vi­tal role played by men. In most house­holds I know, both par­ents work for money ( some­times through ne­ces­sity, some­times choice), and both par­ents par­tic­i­pate in child­care.

I do more clean­ing than my hus­band; he does more – and, mer­ci­fully, bet­ter – cook­ing. I re­mem­ber swim­ming days and ar­range play dates and par­ties; he makes the packed lunches. Ev­ery­thing else gets divvied up ac­cord­ing to who­ever is slower to grab the car keys and run out the door first. It’s not a per­fect ar­range­ment – on any given week, there are dropped balls and ter­ri­to­rial wars over par­tic­u­lar dates on our shared cal­en­dar and sim­mer­ing re­sent­ments over why one of us ( I’m look­ing at you, Marathon Man) seems to hog all the hob­bies. CSO statis­tics show that this isn’t the case for ev­ery fam­ily – more do­mes­tic work is still done by women, even when they have paid em­ploy­ment – but we’ve come a long way from the days when Ir­ish men were em­bar­rassed to be seen push­ing a pram.

And yet, de­spite all the very ob­vi­ous ar­gu­ments why it should be binned right now, and then maybe doused in petrol and set on fire for good mea­sure, it was a re­lief to hear that the ref­er­en­dum on delet­ing Ar­ti­cle 41.2 of the Con­sti­tu­tion – the ar­ti­cle that gives spe­cial men­tion to women’s place in the home – is not now go­ing ahead next month.

Don’t get me wrong. It is re­duc­tive, sex­ist, anachro­nis­tic. It was orig­i­nally con­ceived pre­cisely to box women in, to stop us get­ting ideas above our sta­tions. It is in­creas­ingly ir­rel­e­vant, as it ig­nores the role fa­thers play in the home, the ad­di­tional pres­sures on lone par­ents and it over­looks all the other kinds of car­ing. There is no rea­son­able ar­gu­ment for al­low­ing it to stand a mo­ment longer. Ex­cept this: just rush­ing to delete it would be a huge missed op­por­tu­nity.

In­stead, we now have the chance to fi­nally give recog­ni­tion to the idea that car­ing in all its forms – whether it is done by women or by men; part- time or full- time; by lone par­ents; cou­ples to­gether or only

‘‘

Not many other po­si­tions re­quire you to be able to shunt a hu­man cra­nium out your pelvis

one of the par­ents in a two- par­ent re­la­tion­ship; by the grown- up chil­dren of el­derly par­ents; or by rel­a­tives of the dis­abled – is real work, prob­a­bly the tough­est and most im­por­tant any of us will ever do.

For all these years, as the Con­sti­tu­tion paid lip ser­vice to the sani­tised ideal of the all- sac­ri­fic­ing “woman in the home”, gov­ern­ments have blithely shirked the no­tion that this con­fers on them any par­tic­u­lar obli­ga­tions. Now, we have a chance to tell them what we think those obli­ga­tions should in­volve: paid leave for ev­ery par­ent; af­ford­able child­care; a uni­ver­sal pen­sion sys­tem for car­ers; recog­ni­tion of the par­tic­u­lar needs of lone par­ents and the dis­abled. Per­son­ally, I’d also be happy with a free night’s babysit­ting four times a year and a De­liv­eroo voucher on the birth of ev­ery child.

So no, we don’t need spe­cial la­bels to de­note the state of work­ing for money while be­ing fe­male. We don’t even need a con­sti­tu­tional pro­vi­sion to tell us we’re great. Mostly, we just need a break.

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