I saw this proclamation splashed across a billboard for the first time just two days ago. It certainly struck me – how could it not? – but being inherently slow to rise to provocation I simply wondered what exactly it was advertising. I thought it must be ironic, stating something so outrageous in order to devalue the sentiment, much as comedians often make bigoted statements to mock those who make them in seriousness. As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong!
Today I saw the idiotic statement again, this time in a headline on the Guardian website. It appears that on further inspection, the ‘Career Women Make Bad Mothers’ insult is actually an advertising slogan – selling ad space. No refutation of the claim is in the small print, nor is it in anyway relevant to the ad campaign. There was not a hint of irony about it. The only point this ad was making was that it can make a point, very publicly, and very offensively. The company behind it, Beta, didn’t even have a good excuse, except to state that “it is not what the campaign thinks” and to confirm the ad was being withdrawn as a result of the offence caused, offence expressed mainly online through mother’s forum Mumsnet. And why not? In this post-feminist era women seem all too often to be the one ‘minority’ people can still mock and, more often than not, get away with it. Can anyone conceive of an ad campaign being run in this country that made racial slurs or indicted homosexuals? No, and so they shouldn’t. But the same taboo should exist regarding gender stereotyping too.
The “kick in the stomach” that one Mumsnet contributor felt was felt by me too. Neither a worker nor a mother, but hoping to one day become both, this insult to my abilities and those of all my sex hurt on many levels. It was telling me what I could not be, it was telling me my own mother was inadequate, and it was telling everyone who saw it that this view was not parochial and outdated. Many British people would look at this statement and say – perhaps playing Devil’s advocate, perhaps not – “They have a point.” The problem is, people are hypocrites. All too often repressive and derogatory frames of reference hold sway despite developments to the contrary. Take my own dad, for example. He’d be one of the “They have a point” brigade (though brigade seems to infer too much vigour to his position – he’d spout it from the armchair, but certainly wouldn’t care enough to comment online or get into a heated debate with anyone outside the living room). And this, despite the fact his wife, my mother, was and is one of these much deplored women who somehow insidiously cheated their way into manning two posts at once – mother and working woman. And she was bloody good at it – in fact, had she not had work to distract her, I can only imagine I would have been at risk of overzealous parenting. Dad, though, forgets this when he wishes to embark on a traditionalist and short-lived rant.
Unfortunately the same is true of so many people’s opinions – what will be embraced in personal situations can still raise eyebrows when talked about as a general rather than a personal rule. This needs to change: awful, ill-conceived ad campaigns like this one are odious and detrimental to the public consciousness, and maintain irrelevant prejudices that should be long dead.
The offending ads are to be replaced with others such as “Educashun isn’t working” and “1966. It won’t happen again.” Not likely to mortally offend swathes of onlookers, but dire and negative nonetheless – this campaign has certainly achieved a lot of publicity, but I wouldn’t expect an upturn in company revenue as a result. If they need any other replacement slogans, let me put forward just one: “Ad Men Make Bad Decisions.” Catchy, no. But apt.