Never underestimate a woman because she’s a mum

September 30, 2012

I don’t usually get angry watching XFactor because let’s face it, most of the time it’s pretty fluffy TV. But last night Cheryl Cole and Gary Barlow made me very cross indeed. One of the contestants, Melanie Masson, is also a mum. Before she’d started singing Cheryl asked her how old her kids were, even though she hadn’t asked any of the others about their personal circumstances. ‘Cute,’ she said on hearing the ages, in a voice that said she didn’t think it was cute at all. And after Melanie had finished singing and Gary and Cheryl were on their own, they both started worrying about ‘how she’d cope’ if she got through ‘because of the kids.’

This is hogwash. Not just because some of the world’s most successful entertainers are also mums – Madonna, Beyoncé, the Spice girls etc – and Rebecca Ferguson. But because it’s just an excuse. It’s discrimination.

It is the same reason contestants gave on Celebrity Big Brother for nominating Coleen Nolan and Jasmine Lennard. Not that they were annoying, or irritating. ‘They’re missing their kids.’ ‘They need to be with their kids.’ ‘I think you’re missing your kids.’ No wonder Coleen became incensed and declared that this was ‘just an excuse.’

Of course working mums miss their kids when they’re at work, whether they’re on the XFactor, in Big Brother, in an office, factory, wherever. But they get on with it.

Most of my working life I have encountered antiquated attitudes towards mums, ranging from talk of ‘baby brain’ to concerns about potential employees who were then discounted in favour of childless women. And yet all the women I’ve worked with who are also mums have been outstanding professionals and actually, more driven than many of their childless counterparts.

Personally, my career went into overdrive when I became a mum for one reason: the need to provide. Forget tiger mothers, working mums are lionesses. They’ll do whatever it takes to bring home the antelope for the family’s supper. I’ve interviewed all sorts of women, including celeb mums, for whom this is the case. And guess what? They raise happy, healthy, well-balanced kids too (shocker).

And women also, in my experience, become more ambitious when they are mums. In some cases this may be because they feel they need to prove themselves, but in the majority it’s simply that they become incredibly creative, with amazing ideas – this is certainly true of all the mums I know who run their own businesses.

It is 2012. You would have thought discrimination against women because they are mums had died out, but apparently in certain industries it’s still rife.

It’s a huge mistake to underestimate a woman because she’s a mum. Mums are an incredibly important and vital part of the workforce. And really, it’s time everyone was able to recognise that.


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  • Hayley September 30, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    I have to disagree with you on this one and stick up on the other side – I don’t think they were discriminating at all, nor being patronising towards Melanie. The way I interpreted the dialogue was that they were just discussing her personal circumstances like they probably did with every other contestent… Unfortunately the producers just chose to highlight this snippet for the very ourpose above: to write her off when probably she’s going to be the first one through.

    Cheryl has made it very clear she loves kids and if she were still married she would probably have a brood of her own by now. She’s stated numerous times that family and love come way before her career in terms of priorities and she has publicly spoken of her admiration for mothers in the music industry. Gary has kids of his own and his wife has maintained her successful dancing career throughout. They both juggle bringing up children with worldwide tours and recording songs with kids in Africa, so I’m pretty sure Gary knows all too well what it takes. I’m absolutely sure that neither Gary nor Cheryl intended their comments to be interpreted in the manner that they were, nor for viewers to feel they were being patronising or critical of Melanie’s life choices.

    They were expressing concern in the same manner that the other judges did when faced with a youngster who has never been away from home, a dude with no confidence or the next Frankie character. What concerns me more is that people are criticised so intently for merely expressing compassion.

    • Liz Jarvis September 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      Hi Hayley – of course it may well have been the way the producers edited the programme so that bit was shown but I still feel that the fact Melanie is a mum is irrelevant, and it shouldn’t have been highlighted. I think ‘being young’ and ‘nerves’ are fair enough concerns when you’re going to put someone on live TV every week, but being a mum isn’t, and shouldn’t be an issue.

      Glad to see she got through after all that though 🙂

  • Erica September 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    I agree, and what about the dads in the show? Won’t they be missing their kids too?

  • Crystal Jigsaw September 30, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I thought the same thing when they said that but I did think it was just acting up for the cameras, to make us think they would write her off when she’s probably got the best voice out of all the contestants. If she doesn’t get through because of Cheryl’s discriminatory comments, then there’s something seriously wrong with society today. And it’s infuriating to hear a so called role model like Cherly and Gary talking in that way. Doesn’t give our future generation much hope really does it.

    CJ x

    • Liz Jarvis September 30, 2012 at 9:13 pm

      I think that’s what worries me most.

  • kathleen September 30, 2012 at 10:28 am

    I agree with you all the way. I left my job in the NHS partly because it wasn’t working out for my family but partly because at times I did feel discriminated against and undervalued. I worked hard over three very long days but because I wasn’t there the other 2 this didn’t seem to matter (even though I was able to fit more work into my time than others did in their 5 days). I also found even as a senior member of staff that I was being left out of key dialogue and I was finding things out from junior members of staff. When I would leave late on a Thursday I was always told to enjoy my ‘long weekend’ even though I’d probably be writing up teaching sessions for junior physios and students while looking after 2 very young children. Looking back now I think possibly there was a level of discrimination but on a subconscious level.
    Being a mum has made me more driven and ambitious. All of a sudden I was more aware of the time that I had wasted before I had children. This year I managed to complete my post grad diploma and I also trained and completed a marathon and raised money for charity. Employers and colleagues should underestimate mothers at their peril because if anything motherhood has shown me that there’s no such word as can’t.

    • Liz Jarvis September 30, 2012 at 9:15 pm

      Couldn’t agree more Kat.

  • Liska September 30, 2012 at 10:22 am

    Well said that woman!

  • The Kraken September 30, 2012 at 10:15 am

    Bloody right! I saw that and my mouth dropped open. Apart from all of the cracking things that you’ve said here I was frigging furious that Barlow and Cole were deciding for her whether or not she could cope with being away from her kids. For fuck’s sake! She’s a grown woman who has probably thought really hard about entering the X Factor process. I’m sure she knows more about whether she can be away from her offspring than this pair of bloody pop-botherers. Or do they actually think that as a mother she is now incapable of making such decisions and so needs Take That to do it for her? Spare me, will you?

  • Anya Harris September 30, 2012 at 9:52 am

    You’re absolutely right how your drive increases and you become even more ambitious. I thought they were patronising in the extreme and you’re right – frankly, discriminating.

  • claire creaser September 30, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Very well said. I am lucky in my part-time job that my boss is very understanding and gives me time off without questioning it during the school holidays or for plays assembelies etc.

    I know at my husbands place of work its not as easy. He asked for time off to go to the christmas concert and was asked “why whats your wife doing?” My husband has openly admitted he would rather employ 2 part-time mums than a full-time single lady. The reasons he always gives is because mums have responsibilities and will always work hard where-as single ladies are quite happy to ring in sick after a night on the pop. Maybe thats a bit wrong but if it champions working mums then I am all for his way of thinking.