A recent survey from the Chartered Management Institute shows that female executives earn an average of £400,o00 less than their male colleagues over their working lifetimes. As a feminist, just how bothered about this should I be? After all, it’s a minority issue, focusing on a privileged group. Aren’t there more important things to deal with? The truth is, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about executive pay, male or female, what with two kids, a non-exec beta-female job and being fairly busy.

In this respect I am a bit – but not a lot – like Angela Ahrendts, the female chief executive of Burberry. Ahrendts doesn’t think about the pay gap much, either:

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about this, what with three kids, running the company and being flat out busy.

Speaking as a low-level, non-aspirational version of Ahrendts – fewer kids, lower earnings, less go-getting-ness in general – I can see what she means. Giving a shit about stuff isn’t just time-consuming, it’s also seriously uncool. And besides, does it really matter? Once you’ve earned your million, do you really miss that extra £400,000? (Not having earned my million, I wouldn’t know. But I suspect that women who are openly arsed about the extra £400,000 are less likely to earn the million in the first place.) (more…)

So, what do we get out of maternity leave? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • breastfeeding
  • daytime TV
  • an ongoing yet wholly unsustainable justification for the gender pay gap

But hey, that’s not all. It also provides the ideal conditions in which Mummy can learn to talk about herself in the third person. For now and ever more.

As you might have guessed, I’m not perfect “maternity leave” material . The whole “leave” thing got thrust upon me when it became clear that me taking care of the the children in return for SMP seemed a better option than my partner taking care of them for fuck all. It’s okay, I’m only kidding. It was a biological imperative. A woman’s biological imperative to breastfeed and watch daytime TV. And, of course, to justify the gender pay gap.

I’m very much in favour of Britain adopting a more flexible approach to leave once a baby is born (I’m allowed to say this because I am a woman. My partner tried to say it once on a feminist web forum and was hung, drawn and quartered for being a closet member of Fathers4Justice. Must have been the batman costume he used for his avatar).

I would have returned to work earlier but couldn’t afford it (once SMP ran out, it was either have two children at nursery and earn next to nothing, or stay at home earning nothing. I took the first option, given that my partner didn’t have a permanent job so it was a question of long-term security). Another option might have been my partner taking care of the children. We did consider it. We were scared about him getting his foot back in the door, more scared than we’d have been for me. Back then he was an academic. Academia still loves childless men. Childless men who eventually get a permanent job at 45 then marry someone young and fertile, ideally from the student pool.

I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work. From my perspective, that was fine. It was like having lots of fag breaks but without having to feel guilty (oxytocin-tastic!). Unfortunately, not everyone else was as keen. I ended up having to hide my milk in the back of the fridge, double-wrapped in a mini coolbag for “hygeine reasons”. Me, I suspect someone misread “Avent” for “Cravendale” and complained to HR about their extra-creamy coffee.

Obviously I’m interested in the government’s proposal to make parental leave more flexible following the birth of a child. Of course, I’m suspicious of it too. For starters, it seems to be a ploy to dramatically reduce the leave available (see the six months for mums campaign). Moreover, I would expect most women to take any remaining leave instead of their partners, what with women generally earning less than men. And then everyone will say “look, it’s just natural, the women want to be at home with their kids more than the men! It’s nothing to do with the pay gap; on the contrary, it proves the pay gap right!”. And then there’s another thing that gets to me: why is the focus on leave at all and not on life?

“Leave”, “flexible working”, “keep-in-touch days” – doesn’t it always feel like everyone’s doing you a sodding favour? You are doing something completely normal – having children – yet it’s basically suggested to you that any re-entry into the workplace is down to the government having decided to be nice. To give you a bit of a break. The problem isn’t that we have working patterns and structures which are set up for a privileged minority (men who either don’t have children, or who don’t bear an equal load of the work if they do). The problem, apparently, is you. But hey, aren’t you lucky? They’re not about to throw you onto the streets forthwith. Accept the lower pay, hide your milk at the back of the fridge and they might – just might – allow you to help them in their economic endeavours. Great. Sodding great.

Hand me the TV remote and the Widgey cushion. Mummy’s just had enough.

Two weeks ago I was interviewed for an internal promotion. Today I found out I didn’t get the post. And I was – how shall I put it? – somewhat less than devastated.

I knew my interview didn’t go well. I knew the other internal candidate had more experience than me. I knew, basically, that I was perhaps not up to the job. And so, to be honest, I was just not that arsed.

I like my job and I want to be good at it. I would also like to earn more money, especially with my partner sending off a million and one job applications and still not getting so much as an interview (who’s the idiot reading these CVs? What ARE they thinking?). But I have to be honest: I don’t want a promotion just for the sake of it. I don’t want to get to the top of the tree simply to say I’ve done it. The truth is, I’d rather be good at what I do.

Coming from a man, comments like this might sound like bravado. I say that, yeah, but I’m crying inside. But I am not a man. I am a woman so you probably believe me. Women lack ambition. Women lack resilience. Women just don’t have the drive. I’m a woman, and I’m probably paid less than the average man in my profession, and it’s probably all my own fault. And clearly, there’s a moral in this, which is that ALL WOMEN DESERVE TO BE PAID LESS THAN MEN AND THE PAY GAP IS AN EVIL FEMINIST LIE!

Look, I call myself a feminist but clearly I am letting the side down. I ought to just sell out completely, take myself off to Femail and see if I can get into one of their features on “How, as a wussy mother, I realised I couldn’t hack it in the cold, hard world of work”. I mean, here I am, the only mother of small children in my entire office who hasn’t gone down to working part-time, and I can’t even get a lousy promotion. How’s that for a double fail? I manage to combine hard-nosed career-bitch child neglect with a total lack of career progression. Woo-hoo! What’s even more worrying is I think I’m also the only woman in my office who openly describes herself as a feminist and uses “Ms”. They’re probably all pissing themselves behind my back.

To be fair, women at the top of the so-called tree rarely seem to be feminists. The so-obvious-I’m-cringing-to-mention-it example of this is Margaret Thatcher. The sad thing is, growing up in the eighties, I really, really liked the fact that the UK had a female prime minister and a female head of state. I didn’t give a fuck what the policies were. I lived in a country where it was still legal for a man to rape his wife and I just thought “hey, cool, we’re led by women!” (to be honest, my political ignorance throughout childhood plumbed much greater depths than this would suggest. I think I was in my mid-twenties before I realised Margaret Thatcher was not, and had never been, married to Michael Foot).

Does it matter that I want more women in positions of power and authority even if I don’t want to be there myself? Isn’t it a pretty crappy cop-out, leaving it to the anti-feminists to schmooze up to the dizzy heights and then do fuck all for the rest of us? What pisses me off most is that, while I don’t think for a minute I even have the capability to be prime minister (but then neither has David Cameron blah blah blah), I feel really guilty for not being better, for not doing more. I can’t help feeling that as a feminist, I have to represent female success and progress on an individual level. But I don’t. I just bumble along. And then I think, do men feel this same pressure to represent their sex? And if not, aren’t I letting the side down even more?

It drives me utterly insane each time I see an article on “women of influence” and Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron are there topping the list. I mean, I love my partner, but does this mean I should have thought “stuff romance” and just been a more tactical shagger? Is that the way we do it now? (To be honest, I wouldn’t even be good at that. My partner is a white, public-school educated man with a first from Cambridge, perhaps the only one who, rather than running the country, is buying shoes at Matalan. Not quite sure what happened there). Surely a proper feminist should be topping the “power” lists, elbowing her way to the top on her own merits? Is it feminism’s fault that she’s not there yet?

Perhaps. But perhaps not. As I’m in a thinking-in-foreign-languages mood today, I’ve got a song in my head by a German group called Die Sterne. Called Wir / Ihr, it contains the following lines:

Wir lehnen es ab

weil uns das lieber ist als

nach euren Regeln das Spiel zu verlieren

und dann zum Dank dahin zu vegetieren

(My crap translation: We turn it down because we’d rather not lose the game  playing by your rules and then rot away by way of a thank-you. It works much better in the German). But I think that’s kind of it. We’re losing at the game because the rules and the values are the same, and they’re the wrong ones. And while that’s not feminism’s “fault”, it’s something feminism needs to work to change.

Anyhow, enough German song quoting. That’s my excuse for not getting the job and I’m sticking to it.

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