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Carol Craig is the Centre's Chief Executive. She is author of The Scots' Crisis of Confidence, Creating Confidence: A Handbook for Professionals Working with Young People, The Tears that Made the Clyde: Well-being in Glasgow and The Great Takeover: How materialism, the media and markets now dominate our lives. She is Commissioning editor for the Postcards from Scotland series. Carol blogs on confidence, well-being, inequality, every day life and some of the great challenges of our time. The views she expresses are her own unless she specifically states that they reflect the Centre's thinking.

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Posted 11/06/2008

I went to hear Oliver James give a lecture in Glasgow last week. He is author of various books including Britain on the Couch, Affluenza and Selfish Capitalism. Iíve been a fan of Jamesís work for some time and Britain on the Couch, which puts psychology in a cultural context, had an effect on my own thinking.

The most contentious aspect of Jamesís talk was his reference to what he calls Ďmen in suits feminismí. Basically James takes the view that the emancipation of women has not ushered in a new type of society where womenís values and roles have become more influential but has ended up by simply being about women aping men. He argues that women have now followed menís suit, as it were, and become identified with the job and seduced by status and money. To pursue careers women are consigning their children to daycare institutions which OJ argues do not fulfil childrenís emotional needs and quotes research which suggests that they can be harmful.

I often describe myself as an old feminist as I was at university at the time the womenís movement was taking off and like many others of my age participated to some extent in its development. (Though I must say that I was always appalled by radical feminism and an anti-male tendency in some, but not all feminists.) Recently a younger woman kept asking me why women would have been attracted to feminist ideas. She seemed blissfully unaware of the fact that even in the 1970s women were taxed as part of their husbandís estate and that blatant discrimination against women across life was not just permissible but widespread. More insidious perhaps was the marginalisation of women in the culture: they were in Simone de Beauviourís words Ďthe otherí.

Despite this feminist past (or perhaps because of it) I agree wholeheartedly with much of Oliver Jamesís critique. The increasing emancipation of women took place at the time of growing individualism and consumerism, particularly in English speaking countries. I think OJ is right to distinguish the type of selfish capitalism which arose from Reagan/Thatcher style politics and economics and the more liberal forms of capitalism still apparent in some European countries.

If I think of my own experience, and those of other women I have spoken to recently, economics played a big part in childcare decisions. After my first child was born and I went back to work full-time I really wanted to pack it in and not work at all for a few years or at least cut back but I couldnít make this decision because my partner had been made redundant and our income was too precarious. By the time my second son was born I was able to job-share and then when that ended I opted to work for myself rather than take a high pressured job which would have clashed with my role as a mother. I was also fortunate in having parents nearby (latterly across the road) who could also take part with childcare. I know it is pointless to have regrets but if I had my time over again the one thing I would do differently is look after my children myself for the first three years of their lives, even if it meant having to scrimp and save or move to a smaller house. Frankly I donít think people should be overly penalised. Childrearing in this way should be supported by state benefits as it is in some European countries.

What has amazed me recently is the conversations I've had with old feminist friends who were much more gung ho about working full-time than I ever was. They now say they regret not spending enough time with their own children and are now doting, helpful grandmothers, partly I think to assuage their guilt. Another close friend whose husband gave up work to care for their baby son because she earned much more money than him says that she feels so jealous of the time he spent at home with their son. The reason they only had one child, she says, is because she just couldnít have gone through this all again.

I know some women make the choice to go back to work for other reasons: some become depressed, or fear being depressed, if they are isolated at home with a baby. To my mind this is not how things should be. Lone parents shouldnít be looking after lone children. Ideally people should be part of communities, villages, extended families Ė not just part of a nuclear family. For many people, this is far removed from their daily lives. They have moved hundreds of miles from their parents in pursuit of opportunities or more money. But we need to start understanding the personal costs of these decisions on ourselves and on our children. We pay a high price for our materialistic lifestyle. Iím a fan of Oliver James. His critique may be difficult to swallow but it brings much of whatís wrong about our lives and our values where it should be Ė close to home.

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