18 NOVEMBER 2000, Page 26


Feminists don't please James Hughes-Onslow

one bit, especially when they sack him and write self-help manuals

OBSERVING the progress of black-suit- ed women executives in the workplace, one sometimes wonders whether femi- nism is a masculine invention. It could have been devised by Andy Capp as a way of tormenting his long-suffering and overworked wife, Flo. Or is it Spike Mil- ligan in Hitler, My Part in his Downfall, describing his mother digging the air-raid shelter while his father is reading the newspaper?

Why do women take such pride in assuming extra responsibilities as family breadwinners when they already have enough on their plates bringing up their children, an infinitely more satisfying and in the long term more useful role than any man can hope for? It is the frustra- tion of not being able to perform this bio- logical function that forces men to do silly things such as being stockbrokers, accountants, politicians, soldiers slaugh- tered in the trenches and miserable hen- pecked commuters, isn't it, boys? Why do women keep talking of having it all when no man would dare to espouse such a greedy, selfish ambition? Yes, women can have it all any time.

These thoughts sprang to mind while I was perusing a new book called Working `What's in the house special?' Mum: The Survival Guide, by Lindsay Cook, sponsored by the Daily Express. This is not the sort of book I would normally read, but it caught my eye because Ms Cook is the £120,000-a-year managing editor of the Express, who in the last few years has been responsible for sacking working dads. I know this because two years ago she fired me and it occurred to me at the time that employment law is now so stacked in favour of women that, had I been a working moth- er, and preferably a pregnant black one, she would not have found it so easy to dispense with my services.

I have tried to put this woman from my mind and free myself from obsessive and self-destructive thoughts, but she keeps coming back, like the smell of a rotting fish-finger. No matter how hard I try, I can't refrain from dipping my pen into the inkpot marked 'vitriol'. At times one just can't help oneself. Or fool oneself. I try to persuade myself that there is no harm in a little mockery. I mean I know one must not be vindictive, but there's no harm in laugh- ing at Ms Cook's portrayal of working motherhood, is there?

She dedicates her book to 'Tony, without whom motherhood and this book would not have been possible, and also for Rory and Gray for being great sons and case studies'. Well, at least her boys know their place. What a life of Riley these fellows must lead while mum is at the coalface. If only other mothers could bring in the dough like that, we could all relax a little. But there is a downside for Ms Cook's fam- ily, of course, and it's not just that mother's not at home catering for their every whim.

Take Tony. We are told by the Cook book that it's essential for an executive mum to time her pregnancy like a Swiss clock so that she doesn't miss out on any opportunities for promotion. Imagine the responsibility this places on her husband, languishing at home all day stuffing his face with oysters.

But that is not all. She also advises working mothers that, if they stay with their babies too long after the birth, they will find it a terrible wrench going back to work. It's sometimes better, she advises, to make the break from home life early to avoid distress. What baby thinks of this we are not told. We'll have to ask Rory and Gray one day. Here's another, related thought from Ms Cook: it's a mistake to stay away from work for an extended maternity leave because no one is indis- pensable (at least in newspapers) and the knives will be out to get you. She paints a pretty depressing picture of working mothers.

When she sacked me two years ago from my £40,000 job as Beachcomber columnist and letters editor, Ms Cook said it wasn't her fault, it was her boss Lord Hollick who was determined to make sweeping economies. Well, I can understand that, up to a point, but what is worrying is that she says she enjoys her work and finds it a chal- lenge. Surely it would be more pleasant to work in an abattoir?

During my brief encounter with Ms Cook she expressed a glimmer of femi- nine concern about my financial predica- ment, asking whether my wife had a full-time job. How could she, I protested, when she had four children to look after? One of them had just started at Eton the previous day, I moaned pathetically and hysterically during our ill-fated meeting. What was her response to that? Cheekily she said I couldn't possibly afford to send my children to private schools on my salary. Well, we all know that. True though it may be, no one needs this sort of advice. The point is that it's none of her business. She is a bossy, judgmental, humourless, interfering and ultimately deeply confused woman — like so many female executives.

It is clearer to me now than it was then: Ms Cook has all along been writing a book about how women cope when their men are no longer the breadwinners, and I, like her children, became a case study. Express staff ought to be aghast that she has the effrontery to advise struggling mothers when she has a fat salary and time on her hands to write such a book. It seems to be an assumption among high-flying profes- sional women, as opposed to those who go to work to make ends meet, that home life is boring, work life is exciting and children are best looked after by childminders. When is someone going to challenge these ludicrous corporate highfliers in their belief that you have to go back to work to lead a fulfilled life?

Under the appearance of steely self-con- trol, these women conceal a deep insecuri- ty, a longing for adulation on all sides. Don't they have washing machines? What have they got against spending time with their children? No childminder, however conscientious, is ever in a position to make decisions about schools, sports opportuni- ties or musical tuition without the careful monitoring a mother can give. You can't trust anyone these days, I say, and there is no substitute for a mother.

Is it part of the ambitious woman's creed that men should be put out of work so that their female partners have to take up the cudgels and abandon their family responsibilities whether they like it or not? And will Rory and Gray be attracted by women like their mother, or will they go for a softer, more sympathetic type? In September I read in The Spectator that life is so rich and rewarding for modern women that they don't have to bother with men or babies at all. They get all the kicks they could ask for in their places of work, with plenty of spare cash to spend on enjoying themselves in whatever way they choose. How marvellous it must be to be an unencumbered modern woman. Family men can only dream of such unre- stricted hedonism. It's a wonder that career women bother with families at all.