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Brave, mad world of an old feminist causes a stir

The Daily Telegraph, 28 June 2012

Former British first lady Cherie Blair has been widely described as "brave" in recent days. And not in a good way.

Just as "healthy" is really code for "fat" when coming from an unfriendly neighbour as they slowly eye fellow guests up and down at a barbecue, in Blair's case "brave" is a polite way of saying "You must be mad".

The source of her foolishness/courage depending on your point of view was to criticise women who shun paid employment to become stay-at-home mums.

"You hear these yummy mummies talk about being the best possible mother and they put all their effort into their children," she told the audience at an event in London last week.

"I also want to be the best possible mother, but I know that my job as a mother includes bringing my children up so they can live without me."

A wealthy QC lecturing lesser mortals on how they should raise their families? Predictably, it took only hours for the outrage to spread with Blair, 57, soon labelled as everything from an envious shrew to an out-of-touch ingrate.

Then came the indignant accusations that all the one-time Downing St dweller had achieved was to incite further bloodshed in the so-called "Mummy Wars" -- one of the most patronising, overused phrases in the current lexicon, that is a catchcry now used to shut down even the slightest hint of any serious discussion concerning mothers.

Advocates of the term have been known to bandy it about when attempting to deflect uncomfortable questions regarding the real dangers of home birth or the right of a parent to deny their child an education.

True, much of the earnest commentary surrounding modern mothering is hot air. C-section v natural, dummy v no dummy, pre-packaged baby food v organic are but a few of the nonsensical battlegrounds of the unbearably pious. But some things warrant a little attention.

And, despite defensively shrill depictions of her as a crazed mummy warlord, Blair was in fact touching upon an extremely valid issue.

"One of the things that worries me now is you see young women who say, 'I look at the sacrifices that women have made and I think why do I need to bother, why can't I just marry a rich husband and retire'? and you think, how can they even imagine that is the way to fulfil yourself, how dangerous it is," Blair observed.

To her detractors such comments are the irrelevant rallying cry of a tired old feminist who fails to appreciate the all-consuming nature of being a mother. Yet with four children of her own, it is unlikely Blair is unfamiliar with either the joys or the challenges of parenthood.

Contrary to the inevitable sniping, her remarks do not seek to downplay the importance of raising a family but merely serve as a warning that surrendering all professional aspirations poses risks of its own.

Divorce and widowhood are among the circumstances often unforeseen by glowing mums-to-be determined to leave all financial matters in the hands of their husbands while they busy themselves in the nursery.

It is often noted that feminism's greatest triumph for modern women is choice.

The choice to work, stay at home or, as is the case for millions of Australians, juggle both.

Condemning one another's choices is unhelpful and unnecessary. But that does not mean there are not legitimate discussions to be had in seeking a balance between career and family. And with a woefully low workforce participation rate among women of childbearing age when compared to other OECD nations, Australia is in particular need of a robust debate regarding the factors holding mothers back from maintaining a semblance of their former professional identity.

Raising divisive issues should not be avoided for fear of reigniting the Mummy Wars.

Let us have it out and save the passive-aggressive niceties for the peace talks.

Daily Telegraph article 'Brave, mad world of an old feminist causes a stir'