Daily Telegraph (Sydney, Australia)

The mother of all feminist deceits

THIS week someone released the results of a survey which showed – shock! horror! – that most full-time mothers are happy, indeed they are among the happiest members of the community. MICHAEL DUFFY writes.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney)

I was struck by this because I cannot remember ever seeing this reported in the media.

As for academia, Ruth Weston of the Australian Institute of Family Studies says she cannot think of any previous research showing this.

While most of us know plenty of happy full-time mums, many academics, feminist commentators and journalists would rather picture them as an oppressed and miserable form of life.

Not long ago, for instance, we went through a major public debate about paid maternity leave in which the interests of full-time mothers were largely ignored.

The assumption was that working outside the home was the "natural" occupation for women, while having babies was an abnormal activity that would occur only if subsidised by government.

There was also the assumption that women want to get the kids off their hands as soon as possible by handing them over to childcare and returning posthaste to the paid workforce.

But as a number of mothers said to me at the time, most paid work is not as much fun as some feminist commentators seem to think – and looking after a child can be the most rewarding activity in the world.

I know these comments will attract criticism from miserable mums and there is no doubt that motherhood can be a nightmare.

What matters here, though, is what it is like for most mums and how it compares with what they would be doing if they were not looking after their babies.

Would they prefer to be childless? Or – the alternative for many – to be growing old in some boring job while some other women had the pleasure of looking after their beautiful child?

I also know that some women with children are forced to work to help support their families and would much rather not.

These women are, understandably, among the most unhappy in the community.

According to Professor Bob Cummins of Deakin University, one of the authors of the just-released Australian Unity Wellbeing Index, working mothers with young children can often be under "tremendous strain".

However, we have to be careful with our sympathy here.

Many mothers in paid work with their kids in childcare have chosen this way of life in order to buy a big house in an up-market suburb.

Sure, they are under stress, but it is a choice they have made. Plenty of people make a different choice and go for time with their children rather than material goods – and this survey suggests most are happier for it.

So where did the myth of miserable mothers come from? It began with feminists such as Germaine Greer back in the 1960s and 1970s, out to destroy male dominance of society. They had a lot to complain about – there were plenty of frustrated women everywhere – and they did a great job in liberating women so that today a woman can achieve just about anything she wants to.

But why did the myth persist even when this victory had been won?

It was because of the guilt and self-interest of some feminists. Many are well-educated and successful career women who do not want to be full-time mums for more than a few years or, in some cases, a few months.

According to Dr Peter Saunders, sociologist and scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies: "In general, over the past 30 years many academic and other feminists have assumed that work in the home is inferior to outside paid work. Their object has been not to provide women with choices, but to get them out of the home."

This attempt by high-level feminists to bully politicians can be seen elsewhere, most notoriously in the Labor Party's recent decision to preselect a guaranteed minimum number of women.

This assumes that women in general are just as enthusiastic (and competent) as men to participate in politics.

There is absolutely no evidence of this and there are good reasons for arguing otherwise. Yet a small number of ambitious Labor feminists have successfully manipulated male guilt to achieve a very good result for themselves and their friends.

duffy tele@hotmail.com

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