I have matching puncture wounds on my inner elbows, a pinprick on my thumb and a few more lines on my forehead. That’s right; today I gave blood with a toddler in tow. Actually, it went very well. Certainly much better than last time, when I was left racing away to make school pick up as though Dracula himself were after me. Most of the credit goes to the Blood Service, who had streamlined operations considerably, but part must also go to Twitter, which helped me by raising my blood pressure to such a degree that my donation was collected in record time.
I’d come across an article in from the Jersey Evening Post in which Anne McIntosh, MP for Thirsk and Malton (placing her, funnily enough, just a few miles and a hundred years away from me) made these comments in a parliamentary debate:
“It’s a controversial thing to say, but perhaps I as a woman can say this — 70 per cent of medical students currently are women and they are very well educated and very well qualified,” she said.
“When they go into practice and then in the normal course of events will marry and have children, they often want to go part-time and it is obviously a tremendous burden training what effectively might be two GPs working part-time where they are ladies. And I think that is something that is going to put a huge burden on the health service.”
I hate to break it to Miss McIntosh, but perhaps I, as a woman, can. The “huge burden” facing the NHS may have rather more to do with the drop in real-term spend than those pesky “lady” doctors, training for years at enormous expense, then having babies for the hell of it and demanding that their skills be kept up to date even when swanning off for part of the week to
look after them spend taxpayer’s cash on lattes. I have to admit that I don’t actually understand the argument either (perhaps its a woman thing again). Is it just the additional training needs of two part time doctors which is the burden? I’d be curious to know quite how much that accounts for in the budget of the NHS as a whole. How, for example, does is compare to the discredited claims that immigrants are overwhelming it?
The Health Minister, Anna Soubry, has been forced to issue a clarification (she “fully supports” women doctors apparently, so that’s ok) after initially appearing to concur with the comments in the debate:
”Could I just say very quickly you make a very important point when you talk about, rightly, the good number of women who are training to be doctors but the unintended consequences.”
As I write this, I see small, piscine versions of Messrs (I don’t think there is a plural of Ms, so I’ll cheat) McIntosh & Soubry swimming in a barrel at my feet, and a metaphorical (honestly, Constable, the closest we come to weapons in this house is National Trust replica swords) rifle in my hand. It would be too easy, though to train my sights on two individuals and gun (still a metaphor, Constable) for them. It seems unsporting, even if I can bring myself to ignore the fact that they are two out of only 369 women who have been Members of Parliament since 1918 (there are 503 men currently in Parliament, by the way).
The appalling thing is that they are, of course, right in what they say and they issues they raise. People have an annoying habit of reproducing, and as yet I don’t think there is any exception to the general rule that it is the woman who tends to hog the whole self-centred pregnancy/birth/newborn thing. In facing up fearlessly to the (rather uncontroversial) fact that Women Have Babies, they’re asking the inevitable question: So What Does That Mean? The question, of course, is like pulling at a loose thread on a jumper; why educate girls if they are going to throw it all away by starting families? (You could, of course, go further and ask; why educate anyone, since they will ultimately die and waste it all, which is equally true, but I’ve yet to hear that one aired). Where do you stop, once you start to unravel the idea that people should have equal access to training and careers, regardless of sex?
I’d like to think that in 2013 the answer would not involve querying whether women should be there in the first place, but rather thinking seriously about how to address issues of parenting and work, so that we can make it as easy as possible for families of whatever shape to combine both to their best advantage. To not see childbearing and raising as a woman’s choices, or women’s issues, or women’s problems. While there are antediluvian rumblings from UKIP about women in the workplace, I’d like to think it would be inconceivable for relatively senior members of any governing party, whether female or not (as if that makes any difference whatsoever) to see something as fundamental as reproducing as a kind of “unintended consequence”, a technical error disrupting an otherwise blameless life of work and paying tax; burdening employers with all sorts of trouble and expense.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the looking glass, the government is making noises about addressing the issue of inequality in the workplace, with Maria Miller’s department bankrolling information packs to parents of daughters so that we can “broaden their aspirations and job choices before the start of their working lives” – as if, ironically enough, poverty of aspiration, rather than attitudes and circumstances, is solely to blame for women’s lagging status in boardrooms. David Cameron himself recently called on mothers to work outside of the home in order to boost the economy (conveniently, omitting to identify where this patriotic Mums’ Army would find jobs in a climate where most applications outstrip vacancies several-fold). There’s an increasingly frenzied hokey-cokey around plans to “help” working parents which seem more about a mating dance of being seen to be doing something than actually improving anything.
It’s anything but a coherent message. What, exactly,are we supposed to hear? Aspiration = good. Entrepreneurship = good. Earning = good. Inconveniencing anyone else with facts of life = bad. Women, and children, and families deserve so much more than this half hearted patchwork which reveals far more of the deep inequality which still exists than it manages to cover.