I have always had an affinity for vintage etiquette books, particularly the ones from places like Seventeen that tell girls how to lose at tennis and ensure a second date without, you know, actually asking for one. But while I treasure those 1950s time capsules as precious slut-shaming artifacts, I don’t expect to find equally archaic sentiments in contemporary advice columns — for contemporary mothers. But this didactic 1950s housewife advice from The Independent is straight out of 2013.
Columnist and author, Virginia Ironside, who is described in her bio as “an agony aunt,” writes the weekly Dilemmas column for The Independent. This week, she received the following question from a soon-to-be first-time mother:
I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make a decision.
This question is a parental doozy not just because of the standard and buzzy “work life balance” angle, but also because Jill has never done parenthood before. While the UK definitely has better maternity leave than we do, there’s no telling how Jill will feel or what she will choose once her baby gets here. Virginia accounts for this, but only up to a certain point. Buried deep within a long, condescending, and sexist tirade, Virginia acknowledges, “You simply can’t predict how you’ll feel.” But only after espousing this gender essentialist nonsense:
It would be madness to accept this job. At birth, your baby will have been living inside you for nine months and will be incredibly upset and disturbed to leave the comfort of your cosy womb to be delivered into a bewildering outside world. The least you can do is be around for six months, with all your familiar smell, sound, body temperature and everything, gradually to ease him or her into a brand new life. The father? Though it might have heard his voice, your baby’s never even met him, let alone lived inside his body. Remember that research has shown that at birth, a mother usually says: “Hello!” to the baby, while a father introduces himself with the words: “Hello! I’m your dad!”
Anyway, having a baby is a job. You’ve already been headhunted – by your child.
Despite the admirable metaphor usage there, describing motherhood as “a job” is charged with all kinds of patronizing sentiments, particularly when discussing the lack of flexible work policy /maternity leave/paternity leave/childcare available to some families. Virginia tells Jill, “You clearly have no idea about what a huge responsibility it is to bring a baby into the world” given that she even considered leaving the home. But first, she takes even more sexist slams at dads for their INNATE inability to adequately care for children. Just check out this one kid’s speech:
A househusband recently spoke of his experiences with his baby daughter. What he found, to his distress, was that the child was incredibly backward in her speech as she grew older. That was because fathers don’t automatically spout the kind of maternal drivel that is so important in a child’s learning development. “Oh, how are you, what lovely little toes you have, look at this picture there’s a cow, moo moo, you can say moo too, moo moo, yes, aren’t you a clever one, yes aren’t you a clever one, you are, you are” – on an on ad infinitum. Men are a lot more reticent.
And speaking of “maternal drivel,” Virginia rounds out her finger wagging, guilt-inducing, “You clearly have no idea” how to parent with some classic, well you know, whatever suits you and your family. Hive-five, girlfriend!
But whatever you feel, you’re clearly an incredibly talented person and would find no problem in getting a good – or at least goodish – job, even if you opted out of the market for a few years.
That’s right, ladies. Aspire to those “goodish” jobs after you give birth. Sheryl Sandberg would be proud.
(photo: Mark 2400)