As I reflected over my achievements of 2017, I was pretty pleased with my lot in life. Until I went home. Writing this column, finishing a book, plus a national stand-up tour, all seemed to pale into insignificance as my mother wailed: “But STILL no husband Beti… what went WRONG…?” And a very Merry Christmas to you too, Mommie Dearest!
My mother has long lamented my love life, blaming my career choices (spin doctor instead of actual doctor) and, indeed, my choice of chap. This text exchange regarding my last beau sums it up. “Ayesha … you must stop being so picky … beggars can’t be choosers. What matter is not material things. It is whether he’s good man with a kind heart.” Then another text arrives. “How many properties does he own?”
This is the problem. I’ve been raised to expect to have a full-throttle career and at the same time go for a traditional man who will provide and bring home the (halal) bacon. But I think that’s the wrong formula for us Alpha women. And I’m not the only one. Gwen Byrom, the new President of the Girls’ Schools Association, has said that if girls want a thrusting career and a family, they should think about a house husband and that couples should not be straightjacketed by gender stereotypes.
She’s spot on. Byrom has five children and her husband has looked after them for the past 12 years. Dame Helena Morrissey, head of personal investing at Legal and General, has nine children and her husband is the lead parent.
Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg advised women that the most significant career choice they make may be the man they marry. Of course, that makes sense from a practical point of view and that’s exactly the model for successful men — proud of their virility and brood, and ever so grateful to their wives for anchoring the home and looking after the children. Until they trade them in for a younger model.
But things are changing. More women want a successful career and to be leaders in their field. We rightly spend a lot of time trying to change the narrative on women’s roles but we need to do the same about men’s. We still have old-fashioned views about men. More of them want to play a full and active role in childcare yet the take-up of shared parental leave is tiny.
Yes, some of this is down to who earns the bigger salary but many men feel they would be taken less seriously at work if they asked for time off, and become a bit of a joke. And that’s still the problem.
As a culture, we still see the “ideal” man as being macho, earning the big bucks, providing for the family, paying for stuff and buying us things. It’s not sexy to be a stay-at-home dad or not be the breadwinner.
In the recent comedy Motherland, Kevin (Paul Ready) was a figure of ridicule. His wife stopped fancying him because he quit his job and he was cast out by the other mums as a bit of a loser. Which he was, to be fair.
I’ve heard this a lot from fathers who raise children. One said he was even viewed with a degree of suspicion. A lot of men are desperate to break away from a toxic masculine cliché that limits their emotions and harms them, their partners and children.
So let’s make 2018 the year we challenge all gender stereotypes. Starting right here. Alpha girl seeks Beta boy who can unstack the dishwasher.
Bette and Joan needed #Timesup
Lots of famous young actresses have lent support to an important new campaign, #Timesup, to stop sexual harassment in the post-Weinstein era. But if you really want to understand the conditions which bred that culture, look no further than Feud, the excellent series charting the legendary fallout between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford when they worked together on What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?
Both were middle-aged actress who feared that their days were numbered in Hollywood. They were manipulated by studio bosses, who pitched them against each other and even dedicated a genre of horror film to ridicule them as older women known as “Hagsploitation.”
Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange are magnificent in the lead roles but Feud explores many other strong female stories. One of the best characters is Crawford’s devoted maid Mamacita, who once snaps at her gardeners: “It is an honour to trim Miss Crawford’s bush.”
Virgin are on the wrong track
So Virgin Trains had to apologise for making a customer complaint about sexism even worse — Emily Cole complained about being called “honey” and in response Virgin staff tweeted back, asking whether she would prefer “pet” or “love”. Not good on a day when passengers saw the biggest rise in fares in five years and shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald’s Virgin train broke down as he was on his way to campaign against the price increase. Hope he got a seat.
* As Rachel Johnson entered the Celebrity Big Brother House, should Ofcom comes clean about new broadcasting rules where every reality show MUST contain a Johnson? Are they the new Kardashians?