By Tom Utley: Distinguished lawyer though she is, in a profession that sets great store by the accurate use of language, Cherie Blair appears confused about the meaning of the word ‘mythical’.
She used it this week in a rare-for-her Newsnight interview, in which she told a fawning Evan Davis that fathers should play a more hands-on role in bringing up children, while employers should do more to promote the rights of mothers in the workplace.
‘We still organise our work in such a way,’ she said, ‘as though we were still living in this sort of mythical world where all women stayed at home and men went to work.’
To be fair to the former Prime Minister’s wife, she is probably saved by that word ‘all’. It is indeed a myth that there was ever a time when all women stayed at home, while their menfolk brought home the bacon.
But where mothers of young children are concerned (and it is clear from the context that she was talking about them), there is nothing in the least bit mythical about a world in which the great majority of those who had the option devoted their time to raising offspring, leaving it to the fathers to earn the dosh. It actually existed — and not so very long ago, at that.Indeed, it is a world in which Cherie and I grew up in the 1950s, when it was still unusual for mothers to take paid employment if their husbands were able to support them. There were a great many exceptions, of course, but most who took jobs outside the home did so through necessity, not by choice.
What struck me most forcibly about Wednesday night’s interview was Mrs Blair’s assumption, unspoken by her and unchallenged by Mr Davis, that there is no fundamental distinction between men and women that makes one sex better adapted to rearing children and the other happier at work.
Any differences, she seemed to be saying, were the result of social conditioning — centuries of suppression of women’s aspirations by domineering men — rather than anything hard-wired into the DNA of the human species.