And so, Louise Mensch has resigned. She was a high profile Conservative MP, known best for her past as a chick-lit author, her strong appearances on Question Time and during the phone hacking hearings, and for being a bit of a cutie (if you like your women power dressed, Tory and much more intelligent than you). Apparently, it’s all got a bit too much for her, and she’s off to New York to spend more time with her family and husband.
And there’s been such a terrible, bitchy backlash on the back of the resignation, mainly from women who seem to think she’s letting the side down and that feminism is taking some giant jump backwards. It’s all rather pathetic – Liz Jones, writing in the Daily Mail, attacks her ‘sculpted brows’ and calls her an ‘over-privileged princess’ having, ‘done the dirty’. Kathy Lette bemoans the marriage altar upon which women sacrifice themselves to become ‘human handbags’, draped decoratively over their husband (which is an odd image). Yasmin Alibhai-Brown seems to think that the children are being used as an alibi for Mensch’s globe trotting lifestyle.
The truth is, only Louise Mensch knows why she’s quitting politics. And for me, she can do as she likes. She’s obviously bright, creative, talented and ambitious. However, she also has a husband and a family. I don’t see why she shouldn’t chose to spend more time with them, if she so desires, and I don’t see why that lets women down.
Whilst journos write these hurtful – and speculative – things about someone they don’t even know, back in the real world the overriding impression I have from my contemporaries is that the maternal urge in women is very strong. Women who have had careers, and have excelled in them, often want families, and when they raise their families they want to re-order their working lives to ensure that they spend time with them. I think this is partly a subconscious, biological urge. However, my guess is that the same need to re-order their priorities is true of many men.
However, we still live in a ridiculous society which is set up to favour women as the main child-rearer and men as the main bread-winner. This is fundamentally wrong. It’s consolidated by the stark division in the media and publications we’re fed, the benefits available to us and the way that childcare is structured, amongst other things. And there will always remain the fact that women have to bear the child in the first place, and have a connection with their child that a man can never experience or understand. Women still seem to be under immense pressure to achieve it all (often in the name of feminism), and most find that it just isn’t possible to do everything.
So, for me, Louise Mensch can do just what she likes. She’s not setting feminism back, or letting women down. She’s demonstrating that, even with her talent and energy, she is ultimately trapped by her biology, dictated to by an unbalanced society which both assumes women are responsible for bringing up children and that they can ‘have it all’, and held to the maternal urges she no doubt feels towards her family and children.