Archive | January, 2012

Having it both ways?

29 Jan

Wonklifebalance is delighted to see two excellent woman writers take on the issues around having both career and life satisfaction.  With their different approaches to the dilemmas of work-life balance, Mrs Moneypenny and Gaby Hinsliff between them, provide a barometer of the current climate for UK women who want to succeed in more than one sphere at a time. Mrs Moneypenny has published ‘Careers Advice for Ambitious Women’, whilst Gaby Hinsliff’s offering, ‘Half A Wife’ looks at how work and family life can be more equitably distributed between mothers and fathers, with both having some home time to accomplish the domestic tasks of the traditional housewife.  Mrs Moneypenny runs a top recruitment company when not writing for the FT; Ms Hinsliff was Political Editor at the Observer, before creating greater work-life balance by working freelance from the countryside.  Both acknowledge tensions in current mainstream arrangements: there is a problem for women in having both career progression and family time. The two acknowledge that to achieve some kind of balance, most people will need to do some planning, decision-making, or at least ‘tweaking’ to make both work and family life satisfying and sustainable.  But the issues we readers need to address are different, depending on whose book you are holding.

 A little crudely, one might summarise that Mrs Moneypenny requires women to man-up, whilst Ms Hinsliff wants us to work with our men. Wonklifebalance is spiritually with Ms Hinsliff, but can see Mrs Moneypenny’s point of view. Whilst both Mrs Moneypenny and Gaby Hinsliff are married to a kind of Mr Hinsliff (i.e. flexible working, can take up some slack left in wife’s wake) Wonklifebalance goes through life with a Moneypenny: corporate employee with little flexibility and much higher earnings.  And there in hangs the tale:  Mrs Moneypenny sees no reason why we can’t all be corporate successes and delegate much of the family stuff for periods; Ms Hinsliff wants us all to live together with Mr Hinsliff.  Wonklifebalance’s  partner’s response to all this after a hard day’s breadwinning? ‘Meanwhile back on planet Earth…’  – both authors might give us points for having the discussion …

 So, what do we learn from each approach?  Mrs Moneypenny is more directly prescriptive, with 10 points to lead to a successful working you; Ms Hinsliff describes the issues of trying to balance work and family within the couple.  She creates a policy agenda to make her solution work for more of us:  this is government intervention for the greater social good, and greater equality of choice for men and women. We need more and better paid paternity leave, flexible working for all,  so that school pickups and flexible hours are accepted for men as well as women; part-time work that is well-rewarded and rewarding.    Mrs Moneypenny, meanwhile, argues that we cannot have it all; the career has to take priority in the short-term to create a long-term where the overall priority of a fulfilling family life is possible. You cannot be CEO of a major company and expect to attend every Sports Day.   Mrs Moneypenny wants us to have the qualifications, confidence and domestic help to propel our career success; Ms Hinsliff wants us to downshift, at least temporarily, and creatively address how to balance work and family life between ourselves.  Imagine there’s no gender pay gap – it’s easy if you try; and even easier if you are in a relatively equal-earning couple with adaptable professions, free of essential presence and/or presenteeism.  Whilst Wonklifebalance agrees with Hinsliff in principle, her vision is easier to achieve if you’re a middle-class professional who can deliver over the internet, and who has amassed considerable advantage before making babies, as she herself acknowledges.  In a better world, these choices would be more widely available for both sexes and more socio-economic groups.

 Wonklifebalance cannot help noticing that Oxbridge plays a part in what’s on show here.  Ms Hinsliff’s pre-baby career was hardly hindered by a degree from there; Mrs Moneypenny urges that we all get qualifications from leading institutions to give us the confidence and credibility we need to attain our career goals.  Haven’t got a degree from somewhere venerable?  No problem, get one now – that will cost £27,000 in fees alone in Britain shortly, and God knows what for the highly recommended Ivy league MBA – it’s never too late for those with the money (and childcare?) to cover it.  Wonklifebalance also observes that if you devote your career to analysing work-life issues, you are less likely to be able to afford the childcare and time required to make the strategy of writing about it work for you later – what might be termed the ultimate irony. Having two such admirable professionals take up the gauntlet is acknowledgement that these issues matter to everyone.


Gift rapped

18 Jan

In an age when family life and rap music are often seen to go together about as well as the proverbial fish and bicycles, how refreshing  to see a rap star sing the praises of fatherhood and express tender feeling for his partner and new daughter:  Jay Z is not only following on from Stevie Wonder in writing songs about the joys of fatherhood, but is also in the footsteps of the ‘godfather of rap’ himself, the late great Gil Scott Heron.  He was much admired not only for his political lyrics, but also the way his songs expressed his feelings about his upbringing and the women in his life (not a ho’ in sight).

However, skimming the column inches devoted to Jay-Z’s tribute to new fatherhood, there seem to be surprisingly few references to women artists who have sung about parenthood.  This raises some inconvenient truths: not just the perennial issue of female musicians getting places in a male-dominated world, but how the sentiments in songs about parenthood relate to other work in stars’ back catalogues and to wider social culture.  Jay-Z has apparently declared that he will stop using the word ‘bitch’ now that he has a daughter – this leaves a slightly uncomfortable feeling that his precious princess has taught him something that no grown woman could convince him of: women deserve respect and consideration.  What happens when baby grows up?

Thinking about major women artists who have written about having children, two examples came to mind.  The first is Joni Mitchell, whose ‘Little Green’ was a poignant ode to a daughter she gave up for adoption as she had no means to keep her, and Kate Bush’s quirky Bertie, which marvels in the everyday wonder of her son.  Bush took several years to complete an album following the birth of her son who, according to interviews, she looks after without nanny or housekeeper (like most people in other words).  She is viewed as a ‘recluse’ for doing so.  Perhaps for all our advances, we have to conclude that while Dads may rock, motherhood is still not rock and roll. 


Jam-boree tomorrow?

16 Jan

It is perhaps not surprising that the man who gave us ‘free schools’ should today be advocating a ‘gift’ of a yacht from us taxpayers to say thank you to the Queen for ruling over us for 60 years.  A ‘free school’, is of course not ‘free’ at all: rather it is a mechanism whereby taxpayers’ money is used to fragment state education further by allowing any interested group to apply to run a local school, supposedly responsive to the particular needs of a given area.  And the teachers don’t even need to be conventionally qualified – ‘savings all round!’ I hear you cry.  Similarly a ‘gift’ is not a gift when it is chosen by government and paid for by you and me with no input as to what form it takes or how much we would like to spend on it.  I wonder if there are plans to call it the ‘Ship of State’? If it gets through without protest, the ‘Ship of Fools’ might be a better choice.

As if the suggestion of buying a yacht in these straitened times is not bad enough, Gove goes on to argue in his letter to Jeremy Hunt and Nick Clegg that the Queen’s Jubilee should not be overshadowed by the London Olympics in our hearts, minds or pockets.  Perish the thought.  They should change Hunt’s title to Minister for Bread and Circuses and be done with it.

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