The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Monday, May 07, 2007

Politics and progeny and general irrelevance

So it seems that the judgement heaped on political women on this side of the Tasman over their parental status is being paralleled in Oz. When I heard that there was the possiblity of a female Deputy PM after the next Australian elections I did wonder what kind of extra crapola she'd have to put up with on the way there (and beyond). Julia Gillard is now getting what Helen Clark has had to put up with for years, and our PM sadly still has to ignore it on a depressingly regular basis.

I've written before about what a barren argument I think this is, and have ended up referring to the shallowness of this concept frequently during the s59 debate posts here and elsewhere. I also firmly reject the idea that women exist only to bear babies, and that not doing so somehow makes a woman worth less.

One of the reasons it makes me so mad is the gender bias. Fatherhood is hardly ever considered relevant for male politicians; it simply isn't often commented on.* Children usually only enter the picture when required for photo-opportunities or to highlight the male MP's superiority over someone on the other side who is sans kiddies.**

It seems to me that parenthood is only used in a negative sense in politics, and usually only attached to women. Women in general are viewed by some as selfish if they don't have kids, and still selfish if they do procreate but then want to have a life outside the home.*** Those who go into politics and don't have children are "unnatural" or incapable of governing a nation which includes parents and kids. And you can't win, because those women with offspring are then criticised for neglecting them, and allegedly putting their political careers before their families.

Yet for their male counterparts parental concerns are usually far from the media focus, or the public's minds. And that's how it should be for all MPs, imho. There are many reasons a person, or a couple, may be without children. And if someone is childless by choice, what is actually wrong with that?

*And while they might get congratulated on looking particularly sharp, they're unlikely to get utterly savaged if their shirt and tie don't match, or their suit is a cut straight out of the pre-War era, or their hair is starting to grey.
** Which is not to say they don't care about their children and love them, and do everything they can for them.

*** Not just paid work either. There are some who consider a woman selfish if she is not working yet puts her children into an ECE centre a day or more a week. Personally I don't see what the problem is - both parent and child could probably benefit from some time interacting with others.

(Pic Via)


ex-expat said...

Yes that's always bothered me. I hate the thought that I'm judged on my ability to squeeze out a sprog. But it's always funny watching other's reactions when I say I'd do it if I could stuff it back in and ask for a refund if I didn't like it.

David S. said...

Every time I here one of those stock-standard bigoted comments about HC it reminds me why I always seem to end up siding with the left, dispite my somewhat centrist economic views.

Insolent Prick said...

You seem to ignore the fact that women are the only gender that CAN bear babies, and yet you advocate the kind of screwed-up society where middle-class women become careerists at the expense of raising healthy, productive children, while lower-class women are encouraged to have children on welfare and breed children with no future.

You wouldn't be around unless your mother had chosen to have you. We need many more affluent and middle-class breeders, and far fewer scum-loaders in society.

Deborah said...

Good post, Span.

I think the easiest way to understand this sort of attack on powerful women who choose not to have children, is as an avenue for attacking powerful women. You can bet your bottom dollar that if Helen Clark had children, she would be criticised for being a working mother. The real criticism is that she is daring to be powerful in a male world.

To bear or not to bear is a deeply personal question - it's about some of our most fundamental conceptions of ourselves. If you conceive of yourself as being a mother or a father, then not being able to have children is incredibly painful (I speak from personal experience here, 'tho I am lucky enough to have three beautiful children now). If you think that you don't want to have children, and then someone criticises you for it, they are not criticising a mere taste, like whether you prefer chocolate to wine, or Boston Legal to Battlestar Galactica (personally I prefer the latter - it's stuffed full of great women, who are definitely women rather than people in skirts doing just the same things as men), but they are criticising something fundamental to your understanding of yourself. No wonder it hurts so much.

If you decide you don't want children, then you go for it, girl. Not the choice I made, but a damn fine choice just the same. Think of me when you are on the top of Mt Everest! And I will think of you when my children come in with half-cold coffee, and soggy toast, on Mother's Day. There are blessings to be had, whichever way you go. And both of us need to spare a thought for the people who have chosen to have children, but can't.

Ex-expat - there's just one flaw in your theory. Mothers have a distressing tendency to fall in love with their babies, and by the time they get to the terrible twos, they are far too big to stuff back.

Insolent Prick said...

What a load of jabber, Deborah.

The right doesn't criticise Jenny Shipley, Ruth Richardson, or Margaret Thatcher: three marvelous, strong-willed women who beat the bejeezus out of men on their way to the top, totally dominated the political spectrum, and still managed to have children.

What many do object to is this nonsensical idea that it is somehow noble for sophisticated women to forgo the opportunity to have children for the sake of a career.

Psycho Milt said...

Would be nonsensical if it wasn't a straw man. It's no more noble for a woman to forgo the opportunity to have children for the sake of a career than it is for you, IP. It's not noble or ignoble at all, it's just what some people do. They're not bad just because you wish they'd do something else.

Moz said...

A couple of thoughts: What would happen if we paid women to have kids when they're at their biological peak at whatever rate they're worth on the market? Obvious problems with entrenching socioeconomic status, but it's a way around the equally obvious problem of pricing high-earning women out of being able to have kids. It seems nutty to me that when people (men and women) are best able to cope with all-night crying binges and extreme stress we're encouraging them to use those abilities to... party all night. Would society as a whole benefit if women could get a degree then claim (say) $40k/pa for a parent to not work for 5 years to raise her first child?

Plus, in Oz Peter Costello (the treasurer) has been pushing the "one for him, one for her, one for the country" line, and somewhere I heard of the idea of giving him the "one for the country". I'm not sure if it was comedy or a letter to the editor, but I think it's an excellent idea. Drown the treasurer in babies :)

And since I'm being random, at a polyamoury workshop the other day I came up with the child analogy: poly people often get asked a lot "but which one is your primary partner". Analogy: it's like children - you don't ask parents which is their primary child (and whether the others are secondary). Same with many people in poly relationships - they're all different, but all valuable.

Span said...

So many wonderful comments and yet of course I end up focusing on IP's negativity...

Where did I advocate that women shouldn't have babies, whatever their income level or education or career prospects?

Still looking?

You won't find any statement of the sort, because I've never said it, and I don't believe it.

You are doing pretty well at actually arguing the points here, albeit in a more vigourous style than most commenters, how about I encourage your good behaviour in an affirming way? Let's imagine I did that by giving you a pat on the head for your restraint in most of your two comments.

But calling those on lower incomes "scum-loaders" is a) ridiculous and b) needlessly offensive. You might find "people" or "human beings" more appropriate words to use.

Getting back to your points - I would be very interested to see if the three Tory examples you give feel they were never criticised for having political careers and having children. While you personally may not have cricitised them, and none of them are likely to get much flack now that they have done so much for the Right, I doubt it was always that way for any of them.

Besides which where are your examples of women politicians on the Right who don't have kids and haven't been criticised for it?

Span said...

Deborah - does that mean if I don't have kidlets I have to climb Everest? Cos I'm scared of heights and I don't like the cold...


Span said...

Moz, would it have to be women that your scheme applied to? Couldn't we encourage similar provisions for anyone who takes time out for child caring stuff?

One of the things that I think we have to do, when it comes to having genuinely family friendly work policies, is to make some of them available to fathers as much as mothers. Otherwise we are just going to entrench the societal expectations that raising children is women's work. Sure, pregnancy is something only women can do, no getting round that currently, but the caring and raising should not be restricted to the XXers imho. Flexi hours that are only for mothers, or parental leave that is actually maternal leave is counter-productive to making the necessary change imho.

Thanks for the info about Costello's baby-making plans. Have they come up with any snazzy posters yet?

Craig Ranapia said...

The right doesn't criticise Jenny Shipley, Ruth Richardson, or Margaret Thatcher

Excuse me while I choke on the Earl Grey-moistened lammington at that newsflash. I've got the excellent two volume biography of Thatcher by John Campbell (not that one) on the bedside table for a re-read, and Mrs. T. wasn't so much 'criticised' as treated with barely disguised contempt by much of the Conservative Party. Not only was she a woman, but the daughter of a grocer. And I also suspect Shipley and Richardson would also have some bones to pick with your analysis.

OTOH, I also have to wonder if Span has also somewhat missed the point when she wrote Fatherhood is hardly ever considered relevant for male politicians; it simply isn't often commented on.

So, just as a matter of interest, when was the last time a single, childless man became head of government in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States?

I don't know if it's as much a gender issue, as some bizarre idea that your "ability to squeeze out a sprog" (as ex-expat so eloquently put it) is proof that you're a paragon of emotional and social stability, sexual continence, ooze empathy from every pore, and just 'get' the concerns of 'real people' (as opposed to surreal people, I guess). A view so often held by the same people who gobble up like candy tabloids stuffed with politician's sex-capades, busted marriages and dysfunctional family life.

I guess this is going to get me expelled from the VRWC (yet again), but I must admit a candidate's reproductive organs aren't really utmost in my mind when I'm voting. I certainly feel slightly repulsed at the sight of 'the family' being dragged along the campaign trail like the political equivalent of this season's it handbag. Pretty degrading to all concerned, IMO.

Apathy Jack said...

Here you go - thematically related:

woppo said...

"So, just as a matter of interest, when was the last time a single, childless man became head of government in New Zealand, Australia, the United Kingdom or the United States?"

Off the top of my head, James Buchanan, Edward Heath, Michael Joseph Savage.

Craig Ranapia said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Craig Ranapia said...

Damn fine head it is too - Buchanan was the name I couldn't quite dredge out of the swamp that passes for my memory. I guess his marital status wasn't the political liability it would have been if he wasn't quite so busy paving the way for the formation of the Confederacy and the Civil War.

You do have to wonder what kind of policical career Buchanan would have had nowadays, considering this:
For fifteen years in Washington, D.C., prior to his presidency, Buchanan lived with his close friend, Alabama Senator William Rufus King. King later became Vice President under Franklin Pierce; taking ill and dying shortly after Pierce's inauguration, and four years before Buchanan became President. Buchanan and King's close relation prompted Andrew Jackson to refer to King as "Miss Nancy" and "Aunt Fancy," while Aaron V. Brown spoke of the two as "Buchanan and his wife." Further, some of the contemporary press also speculated about Buchanan and King's relationship. Buchanan and King's nieces destroyed their uncles' correspondence, leaving some questions as to what relationship the two men had, but surviving letters illustrate "the affection of a special friendship," and Buchanan wrote of his "communion" with his housemate. Such expression, however, was not unusual amongst men at the time. Though the circumstances surrounding Buchanan and King have led authors such as Paul Boller to speculate that he was "America's first homosexual president," there is no evidence that King and Buchanan had a sexual relationship.


Hey, look at the crap Rudy Giuliani is catching from the religious right because he *gasp* lived in the guest bedroom of an apartment owned by gay friends after his separation from his wife. The tabloids and nutroots on all sides would rip Buchanan to shreds today - and who needs evidence?

Insolent Prick said...

The solution, Span, which I'm sure you'll eventually agree, is to get rid of our bloated welfare state so that low-income people don't simply breed for the lifestyle; while substantially lowering the tax burden so that middle-income New Zealanders aren't shafted by the State to the point that they can't afford to have children.

The issue isn't actually about the selfish choices of some barren left-wing women. It's their utter hypocrisy in creating a system where low-income people are encouraged to breed children they can't afford to have, while middle-income women are forced to work well into their thirties to create a stable environment for children, by which time they've past their peak-breeding age.

woppo said...

Not to detract from Span's point, but the Sydney Morning Herald's Alan Ramsey provides a convincing case that the whole Gillard/Heffernan business is something of a contrived election-year media beat-up in which both sides of politics are complicit:

che tibby said...

insolent... the subject of the thread is political leaders who are disparaged because they don't have children.

"peak breeding age" has nothing to do with it.

your diatribe on social assistance has nothing to do with the subject. and in fact, just makes you seem like a bit of an elitist.

Insolent Prick said...

I disagree, CT.

It is entirely the point: pretty much the only childless women in power are socialists, who invariably advocate a welfare system that encourages incompetent women to breed, while holding themselves up as virtuous in a system where middle-class women, who have to face the economic consequences of their breeding, cannot do so.

ex-expat said...

Just out of interest IP, how many babies have you fathered and take an active role in parenting? Seems kind of hypocritical to fault middle class women for not breeding when you haven't contributed anything to improving the gene pool yourself.

Your argument that women are the only ones capable of having babies is only half the story. They can go back to work after the birth and have the other half of the parental equation look after the kids. Which is what my parents did with me.

Span said...

IP said:
"pretty much the only childless women in power are socialists..."

Yes I'm sure Condolezza Rice would agree with you.

Craig Ranapia said...


I suspect the US Secretary of State really has much better things to do with her time. :)

Make Tea Not War said...

Let's think about the generation of middle class New Zealand women now currently in their mid to late 30s, shall we?

What would have happened when women in this cohort left school and decided to go to University or even perhaps when they were midway through a qualification? That's right! The Mother of All Budgets read by Ruth Richardson (does she have children?) which introduced the Student Loans Scheme (pay 7% and higher interest from the moment you draw down) and the removal of universal student allowances. No warning given, no time to save or plan.

What happened next? These lucky young women got to join the labour market under the Employment Contracts Act at a time when there was 9-10% unemployment. Jobs were in short supply and employers didn't have to pay much to new graduates and entrants to the workforce if they didn't feel like it! Especially not with many young graduates offerring to work for free. Lots of young graduates weren't even able to find work at all for awhile.

And then as the 90s progressed, interest on those student loans kept accumulating as house prices and interest rates rose and rose and rose.

It doesn't really seem all that suprising if it took awhile for these nice middle class women & their partners to get to their mid to late 30s before they felt in any kind of financial position to have children. And how very tragic it is for those who may have left it too late.

Who is to blame for this? Who created this situation? Is it evil feminist socialists? You might think so but I seem to recall the National Party were in power at the time.

Span said...

* APPLAUSE * for Tea!

Richardson does have kids - iirc she was instrumental in having a creche set up at Parliament during her time as an MP and I believe it is still there.

Many Ministry staff however are not so fortunate.

jo said...

I would reply to all the slagging off of women (mothers..yes we are women too ya know.) on this thread but I'm not entering into the debate here, if you would like to enlighten your views with some rad fem analysis read my latest post. 'better things to do' Craig, isn't that just another judgment?, damned if you do, damned if you don't! How about "I'll do what I like thank you very much!"

Span said...

I assumed Craig meant better things to do than agree with IP, but I can see why you might have come to a different conclusion jo. Craig will have to enlighten us!

Here's a link to jo's post:

Craig Ranapia said...

'better things to do' Craig, isn't that just another judgment?, damned if you do, damned if you don't! How about "I'll do what I like thank you very much!"


Yes, it's a judgement: Why any woman does or doesn't have children is a deeply intimate matter that's none of my business.

And I most certainly do think Helen Clark and Condi Rice have much better things to do than dignify insolent prickery with any kind of response.

Hope that clears things up.

che tibby said...

if they do reply to insolent, perhaps it shoudl be to remark, "you're using toe word 'class' like a dyed in the wool socialist".

Span said...

Thanks for the clarity Craig.

My word that's a fearsome typo problem you have this morning Che ;-)

Thinking about this thread a bit overnight, I think one of the things that distresses me most about the whole situation is the assumptions people make. Assumptions about other people's fertility, their motivations, their dreams and hopes, not to mention the expectations that shaped them. Helen Clark, Ruth Richardson, Condi Rice; all are actually people, and as much as I may disagree with all of them, most of the time, they don't actually deserve to be judged for their gender or whether they have pro-created, when it comes to their political achievements and agendas. Just as David Caygill, Edward Heath, and John Key don't either.

jo said...

thats alright craig, i'll forgive you for your rather misleading statement, try not to do it again though! ;-) , and I'll remember not to say his (IS) name again next time.

jo said...

argghhh I meant IP! there I go being all misleading meself.

Insolent Prick said...

Most of you pinkos have simply missed the frigging point. I don't care whether pinko women in power have children. What I do care about is socialists encouraging the wrong people to breed, in conditions that will only create misery for society and the children that emerge from it.

che tibby said...

"My word that's a fearsome typo problem you have this morning Che"

bah... blimmin being up late discussing the 48 film contest.

as for IP.

I====D <---this is a shovel.

to dig yourself out of that elitist hole. "encouraging the wrong people to breed"... jesus.

Span said...

Yeah sounding a bit eugenic there IP - dare I ask who the "right people" are?

Would you rather I breed, as a middle class woman, despite the fact I am likely to infect my children with my loony leftwing politics? Shall we perhaps come up with a list of criteria that people can check off before they are entitled to come off their state enforced contraceptives?

That's a pretty shovel Che.

che tibby said...

hmmm... i think maybe he's talking about my mum, who brought up three boys on a widows benefit.

but i could be reading too much into it.

Span said...

I think we could all think of many mums who wouldn't be able to reproduce under IP's proposed Government - thanks for sharing an example close to your home.

I'm wondering about John Key's parents - he's from Struggle Street isn't he?

Gosh, bagging Mums - just in time for Mothers' Day.

che tibby said...

"thanks for sharing an example close to your home"

well... technically... it was in my home... and more technically in her home. i was an interloper she fed and clothed.


sound like your current living situation there, ip?

Deborah said...

What Craig said.

Span said...

Che - I thought that after I'd posted it and then thought, urgh I cannot be bothered deleting that comment and rewriting it and then having to explain why I deleted it. I know it's only 10pm but it really is a bit too late for much more coherence from me tonight so I think I'll take my hot water bottle and get some zzzzzzs.

Deborah - it's not very often I would agree with that sentiment, but tonight I do! :-)

Insolent Prick said...


People don't generally *choose* to bring up their children on a widow's benefit. Many people *choose* to have children when they are incapable of providing the necessaries of life without the intervention of the state. The welfare system encourages women to remain in a permanent state of welfare.

No, Span, you shouldn't have children unless you are prepared to take the economic consequences of having them. If you do have children, make sure the father is a good, solid, well-paid right-wing chap, to balance out your filthy pinko ideas that would otherwise corrupt your children. And don't hen-peck him too much.

Span said...

"Many" IP? I'd be interested to see some stats on that. Besides which what you are advocating is the beginning of a very slippery slope in terms of basic civil liberties. You are effectively saying that there should be state controls on women having children if they are on a benefit. That way lies all sorts of nastiness. And it continues the characterisation of "deserving" and "undeserving" poor which is such utter codswallop. Everyone who needs it deserves support from the government that we all pay taxes to.

If the welfare state encourages women to remain on a benefit as you claim why is the DPB one of the most effective benefits in the world, in regard to people moving off it quickly and finding employment?

Some people do put off having children precisely because of the economic consequences. But as MTNW has pointed out above (8.05pm on Tues), many of the current barriers for those women you consider desirable middle class mothers were created or exacerbated by National in the 1990s. I'd be interested in your response to the points Tea raises, seeing as National is, I think, your party of choice?

che tibby said...

Wiggum: "How're we gonna get out of this hole!?"
Homer: "I know, let's dig our way out!"
Wiggum: "No, no, dig up, stupid."

Insolent Prick said...

Bullshit, Span. DPB benefits have remained largely static over the past eight years. The number of people on long-term welfare has not moved markedly. The economic underclass has been largely constant over the last eight years. Entrenched welfare beneficiaries remain a constant issue.

I am not advocating that the State should intervene to stop women already on benefits from getting pregnant. What I do advocate is that the State should not give further support to those who do. The State can also encourage women with, say, more than two dependent children on benefits to get their tubes tied. Pay them a bonus for doing so.

Likewise, the State should put time limits on welfare. Six months of unemployment over a five year period is more than enough for anybody who is willing to work in this economic climate. I admit that those on entrenched welfare do work pretty hard to ensure they don't get a job, but the State should not reward them for that.

I fundamentally disagree that there's no such thing as the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor. There bloody well is. The State should not molly-coddle people who refuse to take responsibilities for their own actions.

If you think ordinary people don't distinguish between the deserving and undeserving poor, look at the difference in the way buskers and bums are treated in the street. Buskers are paid for their industry; bums are turned aside because they're basically just lazy outcasts who need nothing more than an honest day's work, and a little less of the glue-sniffing.

Span said...

Well Ippsie, now that you've got all that off your chest I hope you feel better. You won't be surprised to read that the policies you advocate above are ones I find abhorrent. They quite simply forget that those who are on low incomes are people too, actual real human beings, who laugh and cry, and can often be miserable as a direct result of government policies. How many of those on middle or upper incomes who are hankering for a bit of tax cut action can genuinely say they are demonstrably miserable, ill, unable to pay their bills or buy food as a result of the current tax system? Not many, if any.

As regards the DPB's effectiveness. My point is that the DPB has one of the highest levels of effectiveness in regard to short stays on the benefit as a last resort and then they can go back to relying on other sources of income. While I suspect if you don't believe me you're not going to believe the Ministry of Social Development either, here's a link to some research on this anyway:

And the money quote (I'll admit I haven't read the whole 69 pages) is:
"The research found that the DPB and WB [widow's benefit] recipient population had a high level of previous work history
and was generally highly work motivated. Between 20% and 30% declared earnings whilst in receipt of the benefit over the period of evaluation. The evaluation and monitoring strategy research also found that DPB and WB recipients were likely to move into work if they found suitable employment. The qualitative outcomes study indicated that sole parents tended to become DPB recipients only as a last resort."