When we were kids, my brother and I would spend hours engaged in deep philosophical debates about why we were here. Or rather, why I was here (he was the eldest and for some reason or other, we never got on to discussing him). His line: ‘you were only born so I could have someone to play with’. My line: ‘I was only born because you were such a disappointment’. All very touching, I’m sure you will agree. Of course, we never got on to the real reason for my existence, which I will reveal to you now: I was born, as was my brother, so that our mother could get out of going to work, thereby screwing her employer and wasting an education that could have been given to a man. Forty years later, I imagine she’s still feeling smug about it.
These days things are even worse. Not only are women still being educated AND having kids, but they’re going BACK to work. Gah! And that just makes things even more complicated! Ever since employers were obliged to not sack women for taking time off to give birth and breastfeed and generally doss about, the world has gone to the dogs (yes, it’s got sod all to do with bankers; it’s all those bloody babies). After all, what is the point of paying someone to do work if they’re not going to be doing the work immediately after giving birth? Why employ someone for years on end if they’re going to take nine months off? No wonder some employers are, according to the Daily Mail, reluctant to employ women, seeing them as mere “wombs in waiting”. This might sound harsh but let’s face it, it’s no more than we deserve.
According to an obviously pro-women piece by Julia LLewellyn-Smith, written with the sole aim of warning young women not to mess up (albeit without actually telling them how not to do so), women these days are just taking the piss, playing the maternity leave “system” for all it’s worth:
Rather than treating maternity benefits as a hard-won safety net, the first generation of women to enjoy them can behave as if they have a legal right to take advantage of their employers and colleagues.
Take one member of a baby group I attended in West London, with my second child. Miranda (not her real name) was financial director of a small business and openly stated her aim, during her nine months’ leave, was to return to work pregnant. She succeeded, worked for just six months and this time took a year ‘on the company’.
She then returned to work for 13 weeks, the statutory time necessary so as not to have to repay her benefits, before resigning to achieve her real goal of being a full-time mother.
What a total cow! Doing work – then looking after a baby – then doing more work – then looking after another baby, this time for good! And yes, if men were able to do this, it’d be fucking heroic, but we’re not talking about men here. Christ, if I was ‘Miranda’, I’d have resigned the minute I missed a period. And I bet the work she did was shit and of no value to the company whatsoever. Still, let’s look on the bright side: ‘Miranda’ might not be feeling so “liberated” now she finds herself with no wages and two small children to look after. It’s all very well playing the maternity leave “game”, but the trouble is, you’re landed with real, live people at the end of it.
Of course, all of this strikes a chord with me because I’ve played the “game” myself. I was eight weeks pregnant when I was interviewed by the company I currently work for. My notice period was three months, which would have made me five months pregnant by the time I even started. So yeah, I did wonder about whether I should nobly drop out of the whole recruitment process. I decided to wait and see, miscarried at nine weeks and was offered the job two days later. Three months later I started work, promptly got pregnant again – so soon that I didn’t even quality for SMP – and took leave eight months later. I’ve taken maternity leave once more since then.
Are my company being totally screwed? I would point out that, in terms of continuous employment, I’ve been with them longer than with any other, and have worked there for uninterrupted periods longer than with any other. That’s the thing with having kids; they make you less likely to take risks and look around. If you’re back off leave (and can’t afford not to be), you’re going to be less likely to up sticks. With men, we view this as “having a family to support”. With women, we view this as “benevolently having been given her job back, even though she doesn’t deserve it, the maternity-leave taking slacker”.
Shortly before I switched jobs, I remember overhearing fellow employees discussing a female employee who was “playing the system” by having gone back on maternity leave (you have to pity all these poor children born solely to give mummy a bit of a break). Still desperately upset about my miscarriage, I wondered what planet these people lived on, where successful pregnancies were so easy to plan for, and you got every promotion you went for, and life was just a matter of shuffling cards around to your own advantage, rather than just trying to work and care for those around you. Most of us, most of the time, don’t get what we want. For employers to treat employees as though this isn’t the case – as though we aren’t people but programmable tools – seems to me unfair. But then, what would I know? I’m just a “womb in waiting”. Bring on the menopause, is what I say – at least they don’t sack women then…