After the celebrations of the limitless possibilities for women evoked by the Olympics, the resignation of Louise Mensch as an MP seems a bit of a downer.
Perhaps women can reach the top — so long as they are under the age of 25. When Rebecca Adlington said she felt professionally old at 23, maybe she spoke as Everywoman.
The Olympic arc for women uncomfortably resembles that of women in professions such as the City. Top female graduates look terrific at the starting line. Like the athletes they are willing to sacrifice everything while managing to keep smiling. Yet women on boards are almost as rare as Saudi female athletes. The Evening Standard is co-hosting a debate in September simply to discover what lies behind the mysterious disappearance of senior professional women.
The case of Louise Mensch is a blow. Here is a woman who blossomed without sacrifice to conformity. She conducted politics through social media. She negotiated her hours through the Prime Minister rather than the Whips Office. Mensch made an exaggerated point about balancing work and family by skipping a chance to grill James Murdoch because of “childcare” issues.
Compare and contrast with our fictional heroine from television’s Line of Duty, DC Kate Fleming, who only revealed the existence of a husband and child in the final shot of the series.
Before everyone throws up their hands about the impossibility of juggling, let’s examine Mensch’s particular circumstances. Her husband works and lives in New York. It was not the fact of children that tipped the balance but the strain on her marriage.