Helen Fraser of the Girls School Day Trust said this week that girls should be taught to seek good husbands, as well as good A levels and good careers. Depending on your publication of choice, there are various editorial slants on this (the Telegraph, Mail and Standard all reported on it) but it seems to have included the following:
“Just as I believe we should always encourage our girls to aspire to the best universities, I believe we should encourage our girls to be ambitious in their relationships…
“Is this what we should be making space for our girls to learn?” Fraser asked. “That what too many women face nowadays isn’t a ‘glass ceiling’ because of their sex but a ‘nappy wall’ if they choose to have a child as well as a career? That if you want children and a career, a partner who shares the load at home really, really matters?
“Or a partner who cares as much about you succeeding in your career as they do about their own – and is a cheerleader for you through your triumphs and setbacks. Is it about teaching girls to find partners who will make space for their own careers in a relationship?”
This isn’t really teaching girls husband-hunting techniques so much as telling them that they needn’t be the tireless smiling helpmeet to their husband’s fevered brow, giving up work for the children while he brings back the bacon. Fraser feels that it can and should work the other way round.
At present, it is more usually the woman who sacrifices her career to care for the kids – usually because it is the man who is earning more, because gender pay gap, and because women are meant to have some sort of innate childcare brain and men aren’t, and because men who stay at home are weird lazy hippies, and women who go back to work are cold and weird and probably only do so to stop themselves eating their young like the gorgons they are.
Fraser is only encouraging girls to do what the boys have always done: ambition at work supported by a partner at home. But this doesn’t equalise things, it just reverses the traditional unequal roles. It would be more equal for both parents to get flexitime at work and share the family time too.
I’d far rather see all adults offered flexitime and sensible work-life balances than have an assumption that where someone has a baby, one partner will work all hours they can while the other will be the childrearer and cheerleader. There is an alternative, but it would require a step change in attitudes to work and parenting.