Prof Alison Wolf, instead, argues on Prospect that women leaving the home and getting ahead in the world have brought about the ‘end of sisterhood’. It is actually a very interesting and well-researched article, however her conclusions are superficial. Wolf argues that an elite of well-educated women is getting ahead and is increasingly entering jobs and careers so far occupied by men. This has three main consequences:
The first is the death of sisterhood: an end to the millennia during which women of all classes shared the same major life experiences to a far greater degree than did their men. The second is the erosion of "female altruism," the service ethos which has been profoundly important to modern industrial societies—particularly in the education of their young, and the care of their old and sick. The third is the impact of employment change on childbearing.
Wolf is not in a hurry to go back to the kitchen but does not put forward any argument on how to inject traditional ‘female altruism’ into society without going back to a traditional society. Her argument is not convincing enough. Yes, society relies and exploits a section of the female population (the majority, by the way) to carry out the child-rearing and caring of the elderly and so on. The demise of religion, according to Wolf, has led to the loss of the family ethos/female altruism.
However, this ‘female altruism’ was self-sacrifice and women were, and still are, made to feel guilty if they don’t want children, if they want a career and so on. The same does not apply to men, why? And Wolf herself is the proof of this. She glosses over the exploitation women suffered throughout the centuries leading one to think that she might find the price worth paying to retain these so-called values. The ethos to which Wolf refers is not a value, but ideology. I have liberal values. I want a society where people are free to choose, where people cooperate with one another and contribute to society without being designated to do so because of their gender.
Women’s advancement is not a threat to men’s position in society, nor to other women. The point is to align society to this new reality. Research shows that men would like to spend more time with their families, look after the children and care for the elderly. Our society does not allow this. We are still plagued by Fordism, where long hours, full time jobs are prized (well, if you don’t take into consideration that you are not paid for the extra hours!), and flexibility sanctioned. Women’s job segregation and discrimination penalises men who would like a more diverse life. A free society wants its citizens to be free to be individuals. It’s not just about having children or looking after your elders (which is going to touch over half of the population), but also about developing oneself beyond work. At a time when a job is no longer for life, re-training and learning new skills becomes essential. To rely on a section of the population to do the rearing and caring while posing disincentives to take career breaks or flexible arrangements is illiberal, and economically and socially flawed. So far, it has led to the exploitation of women and a short-lived fight back in the 1970’s. The sooner men campaign for better part-time or flexible working, the better for women and the whole of society. This century should be the century when men and women cooperate and create a free society.