“If you want to have it all, it’s your job to work out how to do it. If you can’t, give something up.” That’s David Cox’s advice to Kate, the high-flying fictitious character in the film I don’t know how she does it.
I suspect we’ll read many a harsh critique of the super-woman film, but I wasn’t quite prepared to read this in the Guardian. I’m not saying that this Hollywood plot doesn’t need some ripping apart – the have-it-all approach to life indeed deserves questioning – but your way of criticising something says a lot about your outlook on life. And I guess, somehow, I keep forgetting that even the most liberal publications in the UK look at parenting as a one-woman job.
Many would agree – and I’m sure I will too if I ever see the film – that the plot is nothing but a boring cliché. My idea of the real world, however, differs quite a bit from Cox’s. He answers the question of how she does it with the accusation that Kate uses her poor husband, a man who wishes to focus on furthering his own career but is forced to bring their injured son to the hospital when selfish mammy is at work. He explains her success by pointing the finger at the way she expects of her employer to be flexible, thereby, he suggests, somehow undermining the efforts of women who don’t need flexibility at work because they don’t have a family: they’ve had to make a sacrifice, means Cox, so why should we let selfish Kate get away with not making one?
“Motherhood is voluntary,” Cox reminds us. But “fulfilling all other aspirations at the same time may or may not be practicable.”
This is where I lose him completely. We’re supposed to look at Kate as a “scumbag” for wanting it all (but, he insinuates, not doing it well enough), yet her husband is described as a victim. Isn’t fatherhood voluntary as well? What does he mean?
Here’s what I think he means. Fatherhood isn’t that demanding, after all. Most fathers manage very well to combine fatherhood with successful careers, thank you very much. And so no one ever says, ‘I don’t know how he does it’. Why? Because parenting is a mother’s job. It’s a mother’s fault when a child is malnourished; the mother is the one who’s neglected a child who doesn’t learn to talk when other kids do. Laundry, school runs, hospital visits – it’s all done while the father’s at work. That’s how he does it: he’s got a wife.
About mothers, Cox writes that “if they can’t work as hard as their childless colleagues to get a seat on the board, they could manage without one.” But of course, a majority of the board members aren’t childless. They’re fathers. And fathers don’t have to make sacrifices, we all know that. Right, Cox?
[All of the above is of course based on yet another of the patriarchy's great myths: the idea that not getting to spend a lot of time with your kids isn't in itself a sacrifice for fathers. But that's another discussion for another post.]