Belfast Telegraph

Why it is okay for women not to want to be men

By Mary Kenny

There were some proposals - highlighted recently on International Women's Day - that more women should be promoted to the boards of public companies.

Perhaps there are many women who are clamouring to sit on boards and run committees, and, if that is so, they should be given every opportunity.

But let us take choice and temperament into consideration, too. And let us be honest and admit that many other women would rather read a good book, or spend the afternoon at an art gallery, than sit in a boardroom.

The novelist Rachel Cusk has shocked the feminist establishment with her personal disclosure in Aftermath: On Marriage and Separation, in which she rejects the "masculine" life she led dedicated to her career, reclaiming a "feminine" role with her children.

Rachel had what seemed to be the perfect set-up: her husband quit his job to stay at home with the children. But, when the marriage broke up, far from being grateful for her partner's support, she resented it.

She felt a primitive surge of possession for her two daughters and refused to share custody with her husband, their father. She also came to feel that her parents had cheated her by bringing her up with "male values". Her father had been a successful professional man, her mother a housewife, but both parents urged their daughters to strive for "male achievements".

She now likens herself to "cross-dressing transvestites" - pretenders to a male world in which they do not belong.

Small wonder feminists have been uncomfortable with this autobiography: it is no advertisement for the advancement of women in public life if, supported by a co-operative male partner to free them to work, a woman throws it all up, saying she feels "unwomanned" by taking the masculine role in domestic arrangements.

Behind the discussion about having more women on boards, and the greater promotion of women in public life, there always lurks the darker question: are women themselves the greatest enemies of equality?

Are some women indifferent - even hostile - to the advancement of females in work, politics and the public sphere?

Not necessarily, but it's complicated. And the people who often complicate matters are mothers.

Cusk's evidence is devastating: here is a high-achieving, intelligent and successful woman throwing the whole project of equality back in society's face.

Rachel has done us a favour in confessing what she feels - that she just wants to take possession of her children and be a mother to them and a woman to herself. She's not in the best position to be appointed to the board of the Financial Times.

Human beings are not robots. Men and women are genuinely different. They certainly should have equal respect, equal opportunities and equal pay where the work is the same.

But no European directive is going to change what people feel, what people wish to do with their own lives and what priorities they may wish give to work, family, friends and even hobbies.

Humans have human feelings. Fortunately.

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