The last few day’s papers have not made pleasant reading for working mothers and entrepreneurs. Quoted in The Times, the chief executive of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Nicola Brewer argued that generous maternity benefits (one year paid maternity will be introduced by the end of this Parliament) "have had the unintended consequence of making women a less attractive prospect to employers.” By not extending such rights to men, says Brewer, "the effect has been to reinforce some traditional patterns." A couple of recent pieces of research appear to back up the notion that life is getting tougher for working mothers. The Fawcett Society reckons that 30,000 women lose their jobs each year because of being pregnant. And a Cambridge University report says the gloss is coming off the Supermum image. Here’s Jacqueline Scott, a Cambridge professor of empirical sociology, in The Times again. “While British attitudes are more egalitarian than in the 1980s, there are signs that support for gender equality may have hit a high point some time during the 1990s,” says Scott. “When it comes to the clash between work and family life, doubts about whether a woman should be doing both are starting to creep in.” An outraged India Knight hurtles into the fray: We work too hard, which makes us heartless. We work too little, which makes us chattels. We’re too fat. We’re dangerously thin. We’re exercise addicts. We can’t find time for the gym. We’re too old. We’re too young. We have crepey skin. We have Botox. We can cook, which makes us throw-backs. We can’t cook, which makes us a disgrace. We’re too trendy. We’re too dowdy. We have cellulite. Or have we had lipo? It’s a wonder women don’t commit mass suicide, frankly." There are some enlightened firms out there. The joint winner of our First Woman of Business Services award at the 2008 First Women Awards, Sacha Romanovitch of the accountants Grant Thornton, was actually made a partner at the firm while she was on maternity leave. It all leads the Scotsman to wonder: is feminism dead? We’d be interested to hear your views.
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