By Polly Hudson
Meghan and Kim are getting a kicking, mums are squeezing work around the kids, and there’s barely a female government minister in sight. It seems we’ve gone back to the 1950s
Two new tales – same old story.
Harry and Meghan are back in the news, so the ever-popular narrative can be trotted out again: she was in the Megxit driving seat, with mute, opinionless Harry manipulated into coming along for the ride. The state of things now? All her fault.
Meanwhile, stage left, Kanye West is having a very public mental health episode. The view that his wife Kim Kardashian should have stopped it was so widespread she had to release a statement pointing out you can’t force someone to get help against their will. The state of things now? All her fault.
Women have come so far in the fight for equality, but we still have a long way to go – and that was before coronavirus. New research shows we’ve been treated as “sacrificial lambs” during the pandemic, with experts believing it has set the cause back decades. Men are still paid more, often for doing the same job as a woman. So when lockdown hit, for many families the reality was simple – the work being done by he who brings home the most bacon gets priority.
But somehow even in situations where men weren’t the highest earners, women automatically stepped up too, like the whole country was put under a spell and regressed 50 years. Mum Guilt is rife. Dad Guilt remains, of course, not a thing. So, the childcare – relentless, 24/7, of kids who were caged, bored, scared, unsettled and frustrated – fell mostly to women.
And the home-schooling. And the cooking and cleaning, both of which were suddenly extra labour intensive due to everyone being in all the time. Number 78 on the list was mum’s career, because oh yes, don’t forget she has to do that too, in her spare time.
It’s like we’ve gone back in time
The thanks women got for all this hard work was to be ignored.
The public face of coronavirus management, at the lecterns at the daily press conferences, was male. Johnson, Raab, Hancock, Shapps, Sharma, Jenrick, Sunak, Gove, Williamson, Eustice, Dowden. There were three – much derided – guest appearances by Priti Patel, but that was it. All the decisions were being made by men – and man, oh man, did it show.
Pubs seemed more of a priority than schools, private nannies were allowed back but no other childcare was mentioned, men even got the all-clear for beard trims before women could get beauty treatments. At every turn, from the essentials to the fripperies, women were consistently abandoned, disregarded and failed. “The specific needs of women are not on anyone’s agenda right now,” MP Caroline Nokes, who chairs the women and equalities select committee, confirms. She also says government policy, including the lack of a single reference to childcare in the summer mini budget “risked sending women back to the 1970s”. Risked? Past tense? The only way it could be any more obvious this has already happened is if Mind Your Language was on telly tonight.
Even more unfairly, there’s so much evidence of the worth of women – as if that were needed, although apparently it is. For example, a report shows the more female executives a company has, the more profitable it is. Yet as recently as April there were more CEOs named Peter than CEOs who were women. And even when it comes to coronavirus, both the infection rate and death rate were lower in countries with girls in power.
These women – such as Jacinda Ardern, Angela Merkel and Nicola Sturgeon – have also seen surges in approval ratings for the calm, clear way they’ve handled the crisis. As opposed to… you know the rest.
They might not be in charge of the country, but millions of women have kept the UK going over the last five months, and no one at the top has even noticed. Tell you who has though. Other women. Like Beyonce says, Who Runs The World?