Do We Want To ‘Have It All’?

The workshop ‘Who Cares? Gender, Care Provision, and Inequality’, put on by the Centre of Gender History at the University of Glasgow, was a follow up event to the WWV workshop that took place in April. Using a similar structure of bringing together care practitioners, academics and policy makers, the workshop addressed issues around the gendered assumptions and implications on the paid and unpaid care economy.

An emerging idea, highlighted by Professor Jane Mair of the University of Glasgow, was the issue of a new stereotype of independent, self-sufficient individuals, which ignores the care commitments that large numbers of society hold. This idea that ‘you can have it all’, implies everyone should be able to have a high profile, highly paid career and live exciting lives while simultaneously and effortlessly raising a happy family. Professor Nicole Busby showed images put out by the EU of women, working while preparing food or holding a young child. While this is a lifestyle choice that people should be able to make, participants at the workshop seemed to think it is not one we should be expecting, or imposing on women. It suggests that those who choose caring for children, elderly or ill relatives, over a career, as a higher priority, or see it as just un-reconcilable with working life, as somehow doing it wrong. In this model, where is the place of care?


Italy’s MEP Licia Ronzulli, with her daughter Vittoria in the European Parliament. The Telegraph called her ‘a poster girl for working mothers’, but is this what women should have to do?

This conversation echoes the individualist/ relational arguments that have coloured feminism since the time of Mary Wollstonecraft; do we advocate complete, uncompromising equality with men, or do we create policy and perceptions that cater to ‘differences’?

Recent feminist thought has obviously nuanced this debate significantly, acknowledging individual experience and ‘difference’ between all people, rather than either side of a defined gender line. Particularly differences in experience that have been formed through institutionalised discrimination against certain groups, women of course being one. However, the persistence of this ‘have it all’ stereotype, worryingly seems to miss these ideas.

It was suggested that this stereotype seemed to echo the male breadwinner model, of an autonomous individual who ‘has it all’ at the expense of their care obligations being fulfilled by others: men who achieve high status careers while their wife cares for the family; wealthy families who succeed in their jobs while their children are cared for by others; etc. This ideal sees care as a burden or a disadvantage, and this is reflected in the legal terminology. Perhaps women, and in fact everyone, should be striving towards an ideal where care is acknowledged as an essential foundation of society and valued respectively.

This idea that care work, both paid and unpaid, is undervalued in society, resonated throughout the workshop, with all the speakers addressing issues ranging from the low pay given to care workers, to the lack of quantitative value for the care work done in relationships. In all the cases looked at, women were disproportionately the ones fulfilling the role of carer.

Later discussions raised the question of the feasibility of commercialised care; whether the role of supporting vulnerable people should be assessed through an economic lens or whether we need a new way to value care.

Speakers agreed on the need for interdisciplinary, intergenerational and interdependent thought on care work, so we can provide support for vulnerable people that fulfils their needs, giving them respect and dignity, without negatively impacting the care giver’s mental or financial situation.

Maybe we need to re-think our perception of what it really means to ‘have it all’.


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow


Behind the Silver Screen: Women’s Work in the Film Industry

“If there’s specific resistance to women making movies, I just choose to ignore it as an obstacle for two reasons: I can’t change my gender, and I refuse to stop making movies” – Kathryn Bigelow, director of The Hurt Locker.

Kathryn Bigelow

Kathryn Bigelow 

From the claims Sony paid Jennifer Lawrence less than her male co-stars for the hunger games, research that shows female characters speak far less than their male counterparts in a lot of Disney films, to the discussion over the fairness of the Bechdel test, there is growing awareness about how women are under-represented (or badly represented!) and under-valued in the film industry.

However, the gendered debate in film goes further than the characters we see on our screens. Inspired by papers given at WWV conferences, an insightful talk given by the Leeds based Feminist Archives, Feminist Futures, and my involvement in a Women’s Home Cinema Club that dedicates a night a month to watching and discussing films made by female directors, I have recently become increasingly aware of the challenges women face working behind the screen as well.

Considering the history of the film industry, there has been a significant improvement in recent years. Sharon Hooper, a senior lecturer in Visual Communication at Leeds College of Art, told me that 40 years ago, women were assumed to only be able to work in typically ‘female’ roles such as costume and make-up. Many film sets would not even have female bathrooms. In response, in the 1970s, feminist scholars such as Laura Mulvey started writing about the impact of who was making films on what we see on screen. [1] She claimed that the male dominated industry was producing film from the perspective of the ‘male gaze’, which often presented female characters as merely love interests or sexual objects.

Although this perspective has since been nuanced by scholars and challenged by some film makers, Sharon Hooper still believes there is a link between the under-representation of women in key roles behind the screen and what we end up seeing on it. She commented on the lack of positive female characters for children: “The lack of involvement in decision-making and creative roles in media production in general has to have some bearing on the poor representation of women and girls. Prescribed gender assumptions creeps in early and are hard to combat.”

The statistics demonstrate that women are still massively under-represented in the industry. In this years ‘Celluloid Ceiling’ report, Martha M. Lauzen found that in 2015 in the US “women comprised 19% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films.” [2] There are many other statistics that show a worrying lack of women in these creative industries.

As with all issues of this kind, there is no definitive answer as to why we see these discrepancies. Kathi Kamleitner, a Film and TV Studies PhD student at the University of Glasgow, pointed out the importance of looking at where it is that women are dropping out of the system. Almost half of the graduates from film school are women, yet there is still a huge disparity in women working as directors, producers and writers in mainstream filmmaking.

The factors preventing women from entering these fields often include difficulty in getting funding and a lack of confidence in women directing films, particularly within certain genres, like action movies. Kathi noted that women directors are more prominent in experimental and short films, comedy and documentaries and speculates this could be because these are cheaper films to produce and because women are more likely to make issue-based films, which are often documentaries. Looking at the paths taken by recent Leeds graduates, Sharon Hooper agrees that it seems to be more acceptable for women to direct and produce artists films, but it is harder to make a living in this field.

It is clear that, as a society, we still have gendered assumptions about the areas in which women are likely to work, within the film industry and elsewhere. Director Liza Johnson has spoken about how people have often assumed a man was the director, rather than her. This seems to be consistent throughout the industry; I spoke to a woman working as a technician, filming interviews with Gaelic speakers, who said most people assume she will be doing the interviews and the man she works with must be the one behind the camera.

Another important consideration is how women’s work is valued within the film industry. The concept of the director as the auteur, the artist/author behind a film, ignores the collaborative nature of film production. Kathi highlighted that this is problematic when considering women’s representation in the industry: “We mainly speak about female directors not getting enough spotlight and some women’s film festivals only accept films directed by women. How ironic is it that these festivals want to empower female filmmakers by giving them a platform to show their films, and at the same time they ignore women working on other creative roles – and by that under-value women’s work as cinematographers, editors, writers etc.”

Within the film industry, the drive to increase women’s representation is becoming more visible. Festivals such as Sundance and the Edinburgh International Film Festival are including higher number of films made by women. Places like the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds are dedicated to showing less mainstream films, which are more likely to be made by women and the wider issue of diversity in film has been publicly highlighted recently in the criticism of the ‘whitewashing’ of the Oscars.

An LA based group, Women in Film, have pledged to watch 52 films directed by women, one a week for a year. Have a look at their suggestions and start bringing female film makers into mainstream culture, while enjoying some interesting films made by awesome women!

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow



[1] Mulvey, Laura, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen vol. 16, (1975)

[2] Lauzen, Martha M., ‘The Celluloid Ceiling: Behind-the-Scenes Employment of Women on the Top 100, 250, and 500 Films of 2015’,   Women in Film and TV, [accessed 3 June 2016]


History is in the past: the social relevance of historical research

In scholarly research, it is possible to construct a world out of your towers of books, built on a foundation of statistics and references. We can create distance between the scholar and the subject. We risk writing for and about, rather than with. Replacing voices with our own.

As historians, we have the privileged power of hindsight. We are able to label actions and events as causes and consequences, trace narrative threads that were invisible to contemporary actors. This can add another layer of distance. Another filter on our perspective, coloured by what we know happened afterwards, events these actors could only speculate about.

Yet scholarly work is obviously invaluable and the social relevance of historical research is crucial. The advantage hindsight gives us the possibility of predicting the future. R. G. Collingwood wrote “nobody knows what he can do until he tries, the only clue to what man can do is what man has done”. Nuanced and thoughtful historical perspectives are one way to form positive and effective policy.

What use is the world of theory if it does not intersect with a world of action?

The Women, Work and Value workshop, that took place on Monday 25th April, aimed to address this issue of distance. Set up as a knowledge exchange between scholars and experts in the field of care, the event took steps to bridge potential gaps between these groups. It aimed to bring scholarly and historical research into line and into conversation with the work of social actors.

Helen McCarthy from History and Policy discussed the importance of conveying historical work effectively and creatively to politicians and civil servants. A running theme throughout the workshop was the idea that scholars and experts from NGOS and non-profits organisations must work together. Only then can we put forward strong cases for effective policy change.

The importance of this kind of collaboration is becoming more and more visible and is a central pillar of feminist research. In June, the Centre for Gender History at the University of Glasgow is putting on a similar knowledge exchange, also aiming to connect scholars and practitioners working on in the field of care and the care economy.

joint poster

For more information about the event and how to attend, contact Dr Valerie Wright at the University of Glasgow:


Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

‘We Try Harder And Get Paid Less’: Visiting Glasgow Women’s Library

The next Women, Work and Value workshop is taking place on April 25th at the University of Glasgow. The event will focus on women, gender and the care economy and feature contributions from local non-profit organisations Work/Care/Share, Engender, and Close the Gap. Preparations are well under way and everyone is excited to see what comes from this event.

final wwv poster.png

However, we couldn’t hold an event about women’s history in Glasgow without taking a little trip to the Glasgow Women’s Library. The GWL was established in 1991 when a feminist group called Women in Profile decided to take women’s history off those dusty shelves marked ‘miscellaneous’ and create a space where it was a central focus. The GWL, situated in Glasgow’s East End, now has a large lending library and a fascinating archival collection of historical and contemporary artefacts relating to women.

To honour this amazing institution and resource, we decided to use an image from the GWL’s archives in our promotion of the Glasgow based WWV workshop. The image shows a collection of feminist badges that formed part of the GWL’s Badges of Honour project in 2014. People across the world were invited to share important badges from their lives and the stories that accompanied them.

These political badges are interesting artefacts because not only do they embody a range of campaigns for women’s rights, from the national to the very small scale, but they also represent the individual women who wore them with pride, purpose and possibly fear. Each has a specific and unique story, whether we know what that is or not.

womens library badges.jpg

Badges are a fitting form of feminist protest because they are worn on someone’s clothing, making the body itself a site of resistance and place of political discussion. These badges come from the collection of Peter Gilpin, who had been collecting political badges since the 1970s. Like the feminists of this period advocated, these badges literally made the person political.

The range of campaigns and slogans in this collection is broad. From the funny to the fiercely aggressive, each of these badges, whether advocating for access to abortion or lesbian rights, is representative of a group of people who felt passionately about issues affecting women. As a singular image, these badges show us the variety, scale and commitment of feminist campaigns of the past.

The upcoming WWV workshop is titled, ‘Gender, Work and the Care Economy: historical perspectives, contemporary challenges.’ Some of the badges from the GWL’s collection give us valuable insight into women’s work and the care economy at the time they were created and worn. Many of them focus on women’s right to work, with obvious slogans like ‘women on the peoples march for jobs ’83’, and ‘a women’s right to work’. Some of them address the more subtle issue of the women’s expected role as carers and housekeepers. One badge reads ‘wages for housework’ and another shows a woman hung up on a washing line with the word housework below. These badges clearly show the desire that some women felt to be freed from the social obligation to stay in the home and care for their family. Others read ‘woman’s place is in the house and senate’ and ‘women make policy, not coffee’, playing cleverly on social expectations and stereotypes.

One badge states in bold, red letters: ‘we try harder and get paid less’. It is difficult to trace the campaign that this badge was part of, but it seems to have originated in America, most likely created in the 1970s by a woman named Jo Ann Evans Gardner who lived in Pittsburgh.[1] This badge struck me as especially relevant because the point it is making is still seen by many as an issue in today’s society. Not only is there still a significant pay gap between men and women in many jobs. Not only are many women still expected to take on the brunt housework and childcare, often as well as having a job. Many women also have to bear the burden of extra emotion labour; a second, third or even fourth shift that is usually unpaid.

The WWV workshop aims to investigate this field. We will look at care as a profession but also as an expectation imposed on women in other types of employment. How is the care economy central to the wider gender structures and gender inequality of work, in the workplace and on the labour market? Are women still expected to be more caring than men and how does this affect how they are treated in their jobs?

The GWL’s badge collection shows us that these are questions women have been asking for decades. They challenge us to ask, what has changed? How have these inequalities been improved, or have they not? They encourage us to question, what still needs to be done?

Kate Whitaker

Women, Work and Value Intern at the University of Glasgow

[1] Jo Freeman, ‘Say It With Buttons’, Ms. Magazine, (1974)

One thing I learnt in this workshop…

Untitled 1

At the ‘Women, Work, and Value’ academic conference in Florence in October , I had been fascinated by the ideas and debates surrounding the position of women in the workplace and at home, and how their output was valued by society and economists. Now it was time to take some of these ideas to a group that would have a slightly different perspective on what was being discussed than a group of academics. On April 21 I had the pleasure of running a workshop for a group of young women from the Meriton School, Bristol,  in my role as the network’s Public Engagement intern. The Meriton is a school for teenage mothers and expecting mothers, with crèche facilities enabling teenagers to continue their education, and take public exams, while their children are being cared for.

Josie McLellan and I met the group in the Refectory for lunch, and could already tell they were an exceptional group of girls- outgoing, chatty, and amazingly at ease in completely unfamiliar and potentially intimidating surroundings. I then ran a workshop designed for the girls to reflect on the discussions that had been had at the conference. Wary of a possibly shy and intimidated group, I had prepared plenty of activities and stimuli to prompt discussion.

Yet starting with just one simple activity – to name one ‘man’s job’, and one ‘women’s job’ – the group immediately launched into spirited debate, already asking each other the kinds of questions I had planned to raise with them. Why were certain jobs were perceived in such a gendered way? Can’t women do anything? This pattern continued through the whole workshop, with the lively debate, contributed to by every single girl, picking up outstandingly on the issues surrounding women and work. My favourite moment was when a fourteen year old suddenly made an astonishingly perceptive point about how women in advertising are just sexualised bodies – something I definitely did not pick up on when I was fourteen!

The debate continued when we moved on to ask how much stay-at-home mothers should be paid per hour, compared to what bankers, lawyers, teachers, and nurses earn. The point was made that a mother’s role incorporated all of these elements – something that had not occurred to me when preparing the activity! The room was divided between those supporting high pay for mothers, and those who thought mothers should not be paid at all, because it’s something you should do for love, not money. This led to another lively discussion about whether child benefit was payment for mothering, as well was why certain jobs were seen as better suited to men or women; we all challenged our own perceptions about female plumbers, and male childminders.


We honestly could have carried on the discussion for hours, and there was just time for a quick evaluation before the girls had to leave – as well as Josie introducing Bristol’s Foundation Year in Arts and Humanities One of the many fantastic moments of the afternoon was one of The Meriton’s students showing a real interest in the course (which is a year-long preparatory course for an undergraduate degree) and leaving with leaflets and Josie’s email address.

Thank you so much to Josie, Amy in the Widening Participation office, and Eleanor at the Meriton for organising the afternoon, but most of all to The Meriton’s participants, who made quite a nerve-racking experience for me (the first session of that kind I’ve completely designed and run alone) an amazing, enriching experience that I feel everyone got a lot out of. The level of discussion, as I told them at the end, would not have been out of place in one of my undergraduate seminars, and their life experience meant I saw the ideas and research that had been bandied around at the conference from a different, and helpful, perspective.

My whole internship, from the conference to this session, has given me the chance to connect with such a fantastic cross-section of really inspiring and impressive women in settings that put me far out of my comfort zone, and I hope all the network’s participants have found it as stimulating as I have. It’s also given me a fair few ideas for my dissertation… in fact, I might have to make another trip back to Florence for, um, research?

Sarah Brodie, Women, Work and Value Public Engagement Intern.

“My house in Budapest/My hidden treasure chest”

“My house in Budapest/My hidden treasure chest”…I can’t get this earworm out of my head as we prepare for next week’s third Women, Work and Value workshop at the Central European University in Budapest.

In this workshop, we focus squarely on the politics of how women’s work was valued in the postwar era. The programme [] truly is a treasure chest of exciting new research, from Jackie Gulland’s work on the intersection of gender and disability in the definition of incapacity to work, to Roxane Vasile’s paper on sex worker activism in postsocialist Eastern Europe.
We are also lucky enough to have another inspirational keynote speaker in Eileen Boris []. Eileen will be giving us a insight into her new work on labour organising around care work – no doubt picking up on many of the themes from workshop 2.
Registration is still open for this workshop, but if you can’t make it to Budapest, do follow the Twitter conversation via our usual hashtag #womenwork2015. We also hope to bring you some highlights via the blog in the coming weeks. Watch this space!
Dr. Josie McLellan, Reader in Modern European History, University of Bristol
0117 9546817

Men’s Valuing Of Women’s Work: Labour In And Outside The Home In Britain, C.1945-1970s

Why do women work? And why do men work? For money? For companionship? Because they feel they should? Because they enjoy it? Because they have no choice?

The strong tie between being a breadwinner and masculine identity, throughout modern British history, explains in part why men work. Being a breadwinner for a wife and children has been throughout nineteenth- and twentieth-century British history one of the most important markers of masculinity, tied to men’s status as workers and as adult heads of families. This has been an important dynamic affecting why women work too, and importantly, how they and others value that work.

Numerous historians have investigated the Second World War, its aftermath and its impact – on women’s lives and ideas about femininity. Historians like Penny Summerfield, Dolly Smith-Wilson and Elizabeth Roberts have debated whether the war and the period following it was good for women, as mothers and as workers. During the war, women worked and served in the armed forces in huge numbers, and their participation in the workforce reached record numbers in the post-war world, as an economic boom created new opportunities and seemingly a new valuing of female workers, particularly married women, who had been barred from working in many industries and professions until this point. By 1961, 45.4% of married women were working outside the home, compared to 21.7% in 1951 and 10.0% in 1931. Furthermore, the government and the media played up women’s importance as mothers, reiterating the value of their work in the home; the government passed legislation for the payment of family allowances in 1945, which was said to be in recognition of women’s vital role as housewives.

Yet women’s work – in and outside the home – remained trivial and undervalued despite – and indeed sometimes because of – these changes. Women’s paid employment was frequently trivialised as an ‘extra’, superfluous to men’s core breadwinner wage, even if it meant the difference between surviving or not, affording a bigger house, a car, or in general the more affluent lifestyle that was becoming increasingly accessible for many working-class families in the 1950s and 1960s. At the same time, the hard work many women put into cleaning, cooking, childcare and other chores was not seen as ‘real’ work. As one woman, interviewed in the 1980s, put it, domestic labour did not constitute work, ‘not as far as the men were concerned’.

Within family life, whether men were happy about their wives and other female relatives working outside the home could make a big difference. For some women, this dictated whether they worked at all, and men’s attitude to their wife’s work was often the deciding factor in whether they helped their wives with domestic chores and childcare. Yet, strong gendered stereotypes around men as workers and women as homemakers continued to dictate behaviour. Some men valued women not working. Previously, this had been about proving one’s masculinity as the sole provider for family life. In the 1940s and 1950s, an emphasis on their role in the home became important, to care for husbands and children. There was a tension here – many men expected women to complete domestic labour (whether they were in paid employment or not) and valued this more than paid work. Yet even though men spoke in warm terms of their wives’ skills and abilities in domestic labour, it also remained inferior to (male) paid work in its status and value. The account of one male interviewee, born in 1944, highlighted how men’s work and role was valued much more highly. He suggested that women ‘had it easier’ because ‘I know that married women have to run a house, but we were saying that when it all comes down to it. Us [men] we have to go out and we are responsible for paying the mortgage, the rates, paying the bills in general […] if a woman wants to stop work she can, but I just can’t say I’m packing up work.’

As such, although women experienced new opportunities in the workplace and their importance as mothers was continually stated in post-war Britain, these ideas combined meant that the difference between men’s and women’s labour remained stuck in a hierarchy. Some couples managed a more equal balance of labour, but for many women at least, the secondary nature of their status as workers and their contribution as domestic labourers ensured the continuation of the undervaluing of their work.

Dr L. King
Arts Engaged Research Fellow, University of Leeds