Shattered : Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality, Paperback

Shattered : Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality Paperback

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


If we live in an age of equality, why are women are still left holding the baby?

Today, women outperform men at school and university.

They make a success of their early careers and enter into relationships on their own terms.

But once they have children, their illusions of equality are swiftly shattered as the time machine of motherhood transports them back to the 1950s.

Entertaining and controversial, Shattered exposes the inequalities that still exist between women and men - at work, at home and within relationships - and sets out a bold manifesto for a more fulfilling family life.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Publishing
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Gender studies: women
  • ISBN: 9780099548843



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Why are women still left holding the baby?Today girls often outperform boys in education and grow up to become women who have successful, absorbing and well-paid careers. They may even earn more than their partners, with whom they typically have equal and rewarding relationships. And then many women have children, and find themselves back in the 1950s, proving that today's so-called equality is nothing more than a myth propagated by a relentlessly sexist society.This, at least, is Rebecca Asher's argument in 'Shattered: Modern Motherhood and the Illusion of Equality'.What's it about?Er, see above. To find the answer, Asher picks apart UK attitudes and policy, from mother-centred maternity care to maternity and paternity leave through to the role played by advertising, the media and the realities of flexible working. Suitably appalled by all the above, she turns her attention to the ways other countries approach these issues and suggests a raft of measures the UK government needs to take if its stated desire to support 'shared parenting' is to ever be more than a meaningless slogan.What's it like?Utterly convincing. Asher uses a mixture of research and anecdotes from a wide range of mothers and fathers to build up a picture of parents as a group systematically guided by the state into particular moulds. Although I was initially unconvinced by her insistence that fathers should have paid time off work to attend antenatal appointments, there is sound logic behind her conviction, (failure to involve fathers-to-be at this stage <em>does</em> reinforce the notion that babies are a woman's business,) and it is concerning that many NHS trusts actually discourage fathers' attendance in case they are domestic abusers.Similarly, although my instinctive response to her insistence that hospitals need to provide space for fathers to stay overnight with new mothers was to raise a dubious eyebrow - and who will fund that, my dear? - a little reflection found me recognising the value of her argument. Fathers leave at curfew, even if mothers have endured days of labour followed by a caesarean and are catheterised and drugged up to their eyeballs. Such mothers can feel helpless, while those who have experienced easier births become experts in nappy changing and feeding, ready to slip into the role of guide when the less-experienced father returns in the morning. ("No, dear, not like that, like this.")Asher discusses typical parenting scenarios to explore the underlying cultural assumptions. For instance, Mothers and fathers typically work out whether or not it is "worth" the mother going back to work by deducting childcare costs from her wages alone. This seems entirely logical, but the assumptions behind it are insidious: the child is the property of the mother; the mother needs to organise the care for the child as she is the one absenting herself from the core parenting role. For fathers, parenting is seen as almost a bolt-on to their other commitments, something to be attended to between Real (paid) Work and precious leisure time.This isn't simply a feminist polemic. Asher is equally concerned about men's experiences, although she recognises that they are not always reluctant to be left-out of caring for their children. She argues that current practices create a "sense of male entitlement, [which] together with the knowledge that women will always be there to carry on parenting when they just don't fancy it, means that men have a license to keep their distance." This chimes perfectly with my own feelings and the experiences of other mothers I know: women are the default parent, even if they have returned to work full-time.This isn't merely a complaint either. Asher offers (costly) solutions and envisages a genuinely equal society in which men and women rear children equally and both work flexibly in order to accommodate this. It isn't quite the pipe dream it sounds, as other countries are already doing some of this, and of course, ultimately, two incomes commensurate with the employees' abilities will bring in more money to government coffers than one.Sounds like a utopia. But does it work?Hmmm. Key sticking points include the sheer cost of Asher's ideas, especially when she suggests that "The most enlightened organisations might even offer all their staff the opportunity of around six months' paid leave at an important point in their life - whether they are parents or not." Her idealism begins to seem more admirable than practical. Her background is in media, not business.But if the funds were available, would we want to embrace her proposed model of genuinely shared parenting and working? Asher briefly asks whether there are any problems created by the policies she advocates, and even more briefly notes that in countries where this is the norm, children enter state childcare at the age of one and no-one stays home. It's simply not done.So what if either parent wanted to stay at home beyond their child's first year? Asher ignores the issue completely and I think this is a fundamental flaw in her arguments. While the focus of this book is on shared parenting between fathers and mothers, the state is a silent third parent throughout. Do we want our pre-school aged children raised (partly) by the state rather than within a family unit? Surely this is a question that requires some consideration.Asher states early on that "the state promotes and facilitates the sexist notion that women should be the main carers for their children - simply because they gave birth to them." There's some truth in this, but there's much being ignored. Pregnancy forces a mother-to-be to begin to develop a relationship with her child; she cannot go for long without thinking of it, whether this is because the foetus wriggles about, or she needs the bathroom again, or she realises she no longer fits through a small space / into her favourite top, etc. A father-to-be, by contrast, can happily go all day without remembering there is a new arrival on the way.Social changes such as those Asher suggests would go some way towards changing the balance, but the mother is still likely to be more invested in her newborn. Her hearing is adjusted to the baby's cry while her partner might genuinely sleep on. Her nervous system responds to the baby's; her partner's doesn't. Babies are designed to latch on to a primary caregiver - they aren't programmed to split their needs equally between two parents. There are several such biological factors which mean that attemps to make men and women's roles equal through making them identical are problematic.Indeed, the whole concept of achieving equality through the adoption of identical roles could be viewed as problematic. Asher seeks to encourage men to embrace their responsibilities in the domestic sphere, but her insistence on the merit of paid work outside the home for supporting psychological health subtly denigrates caregiving and home-making - they are not equally valuable roles. Perhaps, instead of seeking to create a situation in which all parents are 'working' parents, we need to find ways to encourage society to value traditionally female roles more, whichever parent is working to fulfil them.Final thoughtsThis was an impulse purchase which I feel was well-worth the £8.99 RRP. Asher's book is supported by a wealth of qualitative and quantitative data; this - along with her easy-to-read written style - is what makes her arguments convincing. There is a useful further reading section and detailed notes at the back of the book for each chapter elucidate the reseach her ideas are based on. While her introduction is focused on her personal circumstances and the reason for this book, her brief afterword is an impassioned plea for change and will leave most readers feeling motivated.Asher makes an excellent and timely point; motherhood does render equality a myth for many new mothers, making becoming a mother more challenging as women lose their sense of self. Recent government policies, such as extensions to paternity leave and encouraging all mothers to work, seem to support her overall agenda, albeit not in the ways she would prefer. Her suggested solutions are logical but ignore some key biological and social issues which may render them less effective than she anticipates. In an environment which evidently does polarise the positions of Fathers and Mothers, this book is well worth a read.Read this if:- you are, or will soon become, a mother or father and are considering how you will organise your lives to accomodate the new arrival;- you are already a parent and feel that the way you are living your life isn't quite working for you;- you are in a position to hire employees and are fed up with those pesky mothers demanding maternity leave and flexible working arrangements;- you are otherwise in a position to help develop genuinely family-friendly policies in the UK.Avoid this if:- you are already a parent and completely happy with your work/ life /childcare balance;- you live outside the UK and have no plans to return.

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