Do girls need to choose between career and motherhood?

Leading headteacher tells schoolgirls they need to choose between career and motherhood

If Vivienne Durham, headmistress of Francis Holland Regent’s Park, was quoted correctly recently as insisting that girls should be told that they have ‘to choose between career and motherhood’, I would find this surprising given the large number of women who successfully combine children and a career. Even more bizarre, however, was what I came across at the bottom of the Telegraph article, that ‘a report by former Minister for Women and Equalities, Jo Swinson, published last year separately said that girls cannot “have it all” and are unable to combine a successful career, motherhood and beauty.’

Beauty? What madness is this? Who claims that these three are every women’s dream? I, and I suspect many others, have never aspired to beauty. Presentable, yes – I have no wish to frighten anyone – but how beauty comes to be part of the ‘having it all’ debate escapes me.

Returning to the suggestion that it is schoolgirls who have to make the career or family choice, I wonder why boys are not told the same. I understand that men don’t actually give birth, but delivering a baby hardly takes much time so I suppose Vivienne Durham’s concern must relate to childcare. However, it is of course perfectly possible to share childcare once the maternity leave is over. And yes, I also understand that not all mothers wish to go back to work and of course that is as it should be. Yet neither do all fathers wish to work full time or indeed at all, and that is also as it should be. Indeed it seems to me that suggesting that girls need to choose between career and motherhood also implies unhelpfully that men must therefore combine career and fatherhood.

Far more relevant were Johnnie Boden’s comments when he came to speak at St Swithun’s recently. His opinion was that it is difficult to give equal attention to friends, family and career so that you have to choose which two to prioritise. To me, that sends precisely the right message – namely that life is all about choices and therefore all young people are likely to be faced with challenging decisions at some stage regardless of sex.


GSA Web Editor’s note: Please click here for Vivienne Durham’s letter to the press stating that she was misquoted and, in fact, did not say that girls must choose between career and motherhood.

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