“Diverting but pointless,” said the Guardian Guide preview. And after watching two hours of BBC 2‘s The Trouble With Working Women last night and on Monday, I’d have to agree.
The programme, fronted by the always smiley Sophie Raworth and the unwittingly sexist Justin Rowlatt, reached some very soft conclusions which our old friend Basil Fawlty would have dismissed as “the bleedin’ obvious”. Namely, that women’s working lives change radically if and when they become mothers; that the world of work isn’t geared up to dealing with people with strong commitments outside of the world of work; and that women may have “richer” lives than men, even though they earn around £369,000 less than men over the course of a working lifetime.
Key moments were Rowlatt surveying an open plan office full of women at Accenture (I think that’s Arthur Andersen to you and me) and assuming it was a secretarial department. And Rowlatt, father of three, saying as another aside to Raworth: “Yes, I only have girls.” As if he really wants a boy. But I guess that’s for him and his partner to work out, not for us viewers to worry about.
Also key, but not given much airtime, was Spare Rib founder Rosie Boycott admitting that the pioneers in the second (or was it third?) wave of feminism in the 1970s hadn’t had children at the time. Had they done so, she suggested, their thoughts about how women can conquer the world might have been slightly different. More family-friendly, perhaps; more insistent on equality within the home as well as outside it. Another woman celebrated for founding the first women’s refuge in the UK was filmed shockingly recanting everything she presumably held dear as a younger person, suggesting women should stay at home and raise families for the good of society and for their own personal fulfilment. And we thought biology wasn’t destiny.
All in all: it was two hours of television that rehearsed the same old arguments and failed to put the working world to rights. But at least it’s airing the issues again. We women can go away with the promise of emotional riches from our lives of child-bearing and rearing. Those that want material riches instead are advised to remain child-free.