Last week, George Clooney gave an interview to the Mail Online, in which he admitted to crying regularly since the birth of his and his wife Amal’s twins: “I cry four times a day right now, because I’m so tired.” It was a quote seized upon by websites and news organisations around the world, with hundreds of outlets reporting on George’s tears. The tone was gushing and sympathetic, especially as George praised Amal for doing the bulk of work by virtue of the fact that she was breastfeeding: one paragraph in the Metro’s write-up simply read, “N’awww.”
It’s hard to imagine that if a new celebrity mother had opened up about her regular crying, there would have been such an explosion of internet squee (one can imagine that sections of the women’s media would have praised her honesty as “brave”, while other outlets would have voiced “concern”) but hey, George is a dad, not a mum, and that means he’s just totally super-cute and adorable in every way. Because dads, eh? Especially dads who have actually changed a nappy at one point in their lives, they’re just the best, aren’t they? Just so cute. Dads are praised, dads are fetishised and dads get away with an awful lot of shit that mums simply don’t.
Take for example, two of the new BBC Front Row presenters, Amol Rajan and Giles Coren, who this week found themselves at the centre of a row about theatre, after they both proudly announced that they barely ever go. Given that they are at the helm of a prestigious new arts show, their banal complaints about the medium (the seats are uncomfortable, actors might forget their lines) were depressingly symptomatic of an anti-intellectual strain in British culture but it was their comments about fatherhood that were perhaps most striking. Coren admitted that “I’ve not been [to the theatre recently] because you’ve got to get there by half-past seven and I have to bath my kids and put them to sleep before I can go out.” Rajan said that he enjoyed plays but explained that he doesn’t get to go as often as he would like because he has a new baby. Their frankness about how fatherhood interferes with their suitability for their new job was really quite remarkable and clearly represents the fact that these guys pursue careers blithely unencumbered by maternity discrimination or sexism.
Society admonishes women who don’t have babies and the workplace punishes those who do
As Jean Hannah Edelstein wrote on Twitter: “Imagine a woman saying that she couldn't do her job properly because she has to look after her kids … 'I have small children so I can't easily attend football matches' — No Woman Sports Journalist Ever.” As a childless, recently married woman in her thirties, I am acutely aware of the squish of parenthood and ambition. My friends and I sit around fretting about “how there’s no good time”, aware that having a baby will more than likely curtail opportunities and limit options. But Coren and Rajan seemingly feel no such anxiety.
Their remarks also disregard the fact that this is an issue pertinent to many involved in the theatre industry: actor Romola Garai is outspoken about the challenges parents working in theatre face and when I spoke to Katie Mitchell – who is arguably the UK’s most successful female theatre director – last year, she was frank about how the poor pay, long hours and lack of affordable childcare hampers the careers of women in the arts. It’s still mostly women who have these conversations, too – because while men can boast “Yeah can’t make the play, I’m a dad”, women who want to combine a career and motherhood are forced to search for compromises and solutions. And those women who are not mothers don’t escape the prejudice – childless women speak of being viewed with suspicion. Society admonishes women who don’t have babies and the workplace punishes those who do.
The disconnect between how men and women can discuss parenthood, or potential parenthood, was neatly summed up by Vanity Fair this week when they ran a story headlined: “Jake Gyllenhaal Talks About Kids the Way Tabloids Pretend Jennifer Aniston Does”. The actor seems pretty keen to become a dad – he talks about it a lot – but that doesn’t mean he’s stalked and constantly presumed to be “expecting”. Meanwhile Aniston, who has always been circumspect about the issue, has to write blogs urging the papers to stop speculating about her womb.
In some respects, it’s useful that men feel that they can now open up about the realities of newborn exhaustion and bath-time work clashes and broodiness. It’s important to have these discussions but while women are still experiencing maternity discrimination, forgive me if I don’t get too “n’awww” about it.