At first I was reluctant to express my view on a segment that appeared on Channel Nine’s Mornings program last Friday about working mums. I watched it online after seeing it pop up in my Twitter feed and it was, as promised, dispiriting viewing.
A commentator from the United Kingdom, Katie Hopkins, who apparently makes her living expressing polarising and provocative statements, made the point that working mums are slack and that bosses and other workers are tired of picking up their slack. Journalist and associate editor of The Australian Women’s Weekly, Caroline Overington, appeared alongside the commentator and was clearly outraged by her assertions.
After briefly scanning Hopkins’ online curriculum vitae I realised there is a disheartening predictability about her modus operandi. By making bold and inevitably controversial statements, usually about mothers, she inevitably generates column inches, prompts hoards of people to jump online to argue vigorously, either for or against, and garners herself television appearances on commercial networks around the globe. It undoubtedly earns her a tidy living, which I’d take less issue with if her comments were meaningful or constructive.
Her assertions about working mums were neither. To the contrary, they were flippant and damaging. Putting all working mothers in the same basket is as useful, and disingenuous, as labelling all gen y’s as lazy or all baby boomers as industrious. Anyone with experience in the workforce can attest that work ethic is not neatly determined by an age or stage or life situation. If it were that simple managing staff and recruitment would be a walk in the park. In that regard Hopkins’ comments are easy to dismiss as naïve and uninformed.
The insult, though, is that her remarks go to the heart of an insidious challenge many working parents are still up against; the perception that because they have caring responsibilities they are somehow less committed or less hardworking than their child-free peers. The notion of equating the need for flexibility with laziness remains a huge impediment to equality in the workplace, an issue which plagues men as much as women.
None of this is to say that every working mother has the work ethic of a Trojan horse. Some mums, like some fathers and like some single men and some single women, undoubtedly lack the commitment of their more industrious peers. The salient point, however, is that where that’s the case it is their work ethic – not their caring responsibilities or lack of caring responsibilities – that dictates it.
The part I found the most disheartening as I watched this conversation unfold is that comments like these were broadcast at all. I think the media does itself, and us, a great disservice by providing a platform to individuals whose purpose to provoke is so blatant. I am all for debate that is constructive and thoughtful but after watching these few minutes of television my patience for unsubstantiated and sweeping insults is exhausted. It might make the next few weeks of the election campaign difficult to watch.