Sunday, October 03, 2004

A question of influence

The Tiger in Winter is tackling The Globe and Mail's Heather Mallick again and it reminds me that I almost chocked on my coffee when reading The National Post's Elizabeth Nickson on Saturday morning. Nickson is a columnist that I usually like - despite her petulant, whinny rich girl voice, she's often on the right side of an argument. Not this week. Her topic is the perennial hit, "why aren't there more women in Canadian politics?" The one's we have are minor yes men. Ok, that's probably got some truth to it. Then she bemoans the fact that Christy Clark, of the BC Liberal party, is stepping down from her job as the vice premier of this province. I knew Christy way back when. We both attended Simon Fraser University at the same time and she was a prominent person on student council even then. I like Christy Clark. She bravely attempted to whittle away some of the power teacher's unions have in this province and was ultimately undercut by her own party when the screeching got too loud. So Clark has a baby and tries to keep her promising career on track. She does this for a few years but finally decides to stay at home with her son. Now, I think this is Clark simply exercising her rights to organize her life as she sees fit. After all, she could simply hire help; it's not a money issue. Nickson sees signs of sexism. I simply see Nickson unable to recognize her own slavery to ideology. Nickson writes:
When women are young, they club together in informal ways for support. But when they retreat into their houses to take care of children, that support network begins to crumble. It is then the attrition begins.... The retreat into the home represents a huge economic loss to society.
To this I can simply say: wow. It seems that in the oh so hoity toity world Nickson lives in, women who look after children are simply abandoned to slave away at diapers and vomit. If that's true, that's sad, and utterly unnecessary. In the modest suburban world that I live in, women who are looking after children are very likely to get together with other moms and share everything you can think of: advice, babysitting, toys, clothes, laughter, and so on. I think that Nickson probably knows this and that what she means is that women at home are abandoned by other professional women. I suspect this is true. To me this is both unsurprising and unimportant. It would happen to a man too. Both lifestyles have support networks. The real issue here is that non professional support is seen by Nickson as having no value. Motherhood is of no value. Sound social regeneration is of no value. Value is money. Value is public fame. And it is political power. I don't know how it is that generations of women have swallowed the idea that motherhood is of questionable worth because it represents a net loss to the mother and to society at large. Not all women think this, but the professional class very often does, and they have much greater access to the media than a stay at home mom does. So it only seems like the majority of women find this thinking sound. It's only when you stop and talk to young moms that you realize that many of them think Nickson and her ilk are too stupid to be trusted with children. In both career choices, women can affect the society around them. A professional politician has the ability to reach many people, but in a superficial way. A mother will reach fewer people, but she will touch them in deep and profound ways. Wiping a running nose is more than a utilitarian act - it says much about what one believes. It is an act that values family, service, and sacrifice. And as the children age you have the opportunity to explain it to them such that they carry it on. A politician, on the other hand, is forgotten almost as soon as they are defeated in the arena. If they manage to pass a law it will be most likely changed within a generation. I'm not denying that women are capable of being professionals or that Dad's can play a role in evening the load. I'm only saying that motherhood needs to be re-examined by people like Nickson. You can't have a free and generous society if you don't have kids that will grow into the adults that will provide those services and live those kinds of lives. You can't assume that kids will simply assume that role as a matter of course, or that it is somebody else's problem. Nickson, I suspect, is a hard case. She's admitted having an abortion. What I don't think she has done is admit to regretting it such that she would not do it again. That tells me she's inhaled this ideology pretty deeply. Pity. I think the world could use more of her, not less. Let the fireworks begin.

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