“Let’s hear it for ordinary, unremarkable women,” ran a headline in the Sunday Telegraph on International Women’s Day. Below it, Lauren Libbert, a single mother and freelance journalist lamented the fact that IWD celebrates “outstanding” women instead of the “normal” ones who keep the show on the road without any fanfare of publicity. That is, women looking after homes and children but also engaging in paid work to help out with the family budget, while looking after their own parents and engaging in the voluntary work that keeps communities alive.
A self-confessed “ordinary woman” Ms Libbert admits: “I haven’t broken through any glass ceilings, fought for women’s injustice or survived a traumatic life event. I don’t earn a six-figure salary, sit in a boardroom and I’m not perceived as ‘successful’, necessarily, in terms of work or financial achievements.”
Feminists used to object to the “denigration” of women as “just a housewife/mother.” Now it seems that no advertisement may depict a woman looking after a home or family – deemed sexist – but we are allowed to see countless images of men doing the housework, men looking after children, men cooking and cleaning and doing the washing while “the woman” goes out to work clad in a business suit. This is not a compliment to women but a sinister, Orwellian reversal of reality.
Elsewhere, Helena Morrissey, herself a successful businesswoman, has criticised the obsession with getting girls to study STEM subjects. While it is “great that more girls are studying maths and science if it’s what they enjoy,” she says, “narrowing choices because Stem subjects are more ‘valuable’ is not the way to further women’s careers. Nor will it help us achieve better, more diverse thinking that just might keep us from repeating past mistakes. Women have so much to offer as themselves, rather than by emulating men.” (‘Yes, we need women in data but let’s not overdo STEM’, Telegraph Business, December 4, 2019).
There are more mothers in paid employment than ever before, but most are not in high-powered jobs, often because they choose to spend more time with their families. This itself can produce the “gender pay gap” that haunts feminists, spearheading the campaign to separate even more mothers from their children.
There will be no blue plaques to ordinary women in history. Although shortlists for Blue Plaque honours are now 80 per cent female after the public were encouraged to nominate more women, none are celebrated as “ordinary”.
And as Telegraph columnist Jemima Lewis points out, this new approach to history is just wishful thinking – “you can’t ‘correct’ history with retrospective gender quotas.” Indeed, more blue plaques commemorating obscure women simply serve to disguise the perceived injustice to women.
From a feminist perspective, Ms Lewis argues that the “absence” of women from recorded history is mostly on account of their confinement to the private sphere, but this hole in the records where great women ought to be is “the most vivid illustration possible of the suffocating power of patriarchy. It’s not an oversight: it is a monument.” (‘You can’t correct history with restrospective gender quotas’, Telegraph, March 6, 2020).
In the same way, however, the disappearance of ordinary women of from adverts will be a monument to the suffocating power of feminism in our day.
As Lauren Libbert points out, the impact of ordinary women is “never reflected on the stock market or in a publisher’s annual figures. Their worth lies in the homes they create, the children they raise and the outward ripples of the individual connections they make.” She asks why, on International Women’s Day, “we only publicly celebrate the women who have broken through in areas traditionally dominated by men?”
The answer is that a society only marks the things it values, and for a variety of reasons, it is no longer acceptable to be an ordinary woman – at least for employers who seek flexible workers and capitalists who covet the spending power of working women, as well as leftists who see paid work as a sign of equality, and feminists who see having children as an obstacle to it; not forgetting population controllers who know that women in paid employment have fewer children.
International Women’s Day comes just before Mother’s Day in the UK, which has been celebrated around the world for much longer, and one cannot help fearing that the former will come to eclipse the latter as Mother’s Day is increasingly criticised for being “too commercial” and for “stigmatising” women who are not mothers.
Modern feminism has elbowed religion out of the picture, seeing it only as guilty of oppressing women throughout history, but a swift glance at the (recorded) history of female saints and religious women shows their remarkable achievements in establishing hospitals and also schools, even in “sexist” and “racist” societies. Apparently, they do not qualify as women, and as for the Mother of God – well, what else did she do?
Unlike International Women’s Day, Mother’s Day does celebrate the ordinary, unremarkable woman, but she is fast becoming an endangered species who is in danger of going missing from our culture as well as being lost to history; but society would be lost without her.