What does Louise Mensch quitting tell us about 'women having it all'?

Laura Nelson
Louise Mensch (Image © Rex Features)
Louise Mensch is a successful author, mother and - until earlier this week - politician, who had worked her way up the Parliamentary ladder. Mensch decided to quit because she wants to spend time with her family. Is her decision proof that women can't have it all? Laura Nelson investigates.
Louise Mensch resigned from Parliament and predictably triggered a flurry of comment pieces about whether 'women can have it all'.
In the Daily Mai l, Janet Atkinson-Small writes: "I am sure the women feminist Guardianistas will tear her apart for letting down the sisterhood whilst at the same time saying they're glad she's gone as she was a nasty right-winger."
I am a left-leaning feminist and have no time for 'tearing people apart'. Yesterday I tweeted my good wishes to Mensch. Regardless of her policy ideas and priorities, I have always admired her - because she has done exactly what she wants. Mensch published her first novel at 23, was a best-selling author, decided to go into politics and was notable for her eloquence, honesty and courage. She has now identified her passions lie elsewhere (family and her new online forum Menshn ) and is taking action to follow them. She has always been dignified, honest and driven.
It's the same with other successful women - they just did it, and that's how they 'got it all'. Liz Earle, beautician who has built a 600-strong company, is a mother of five, one of whom is two years old. Cherie Blair - judge, charity founder, author and speaker - has four children. The author JK Rowling wouldn't have started writing her books if she hadn't reached 'rock bottom' as a single mother, and it was Rowling's daughter that gave her the courage to pursue her purpose.
Passion, focus and persistence will make anything happen, and no one said it isn't hard. The unfair reality is that is it often harder for women, because we live in a patriarchal society. UK childcare arrangements are unfair - skewed between the sexes so that it makes sense economically and socially for the man to keep working and the woman not.
Fundamentally, our culture is unfair. There is a widespread belief - based on myth rather than evidence - that women are 'naturally' better at parenthood, which gives men a licence to focus on their work and women a licence to give it up. Women are judged much more on their looks rather than their brains, turning them into 'ornaments' who are not taken seriously. These stereotypes are rife among men and women, locking people into roles that they believe are expected of them, preventing them from pursuing their potentials as individuals.
But in Mensch's case, would she have stayed in politics if childcare was equal for men and women? Was she put off by the media's obsession with her good looks? No doubt it irritated her, but I think she may have left politics anyway. In the end, being a politician wasn't her priority or her primary passion and she had the courage to face up to that.
There are many ways our culture must change. But ultimately, it is the change from within us - our courage to be true to ourselves - that will drive progress. If 'having it all' is realising our passions and having self-belief, then Mensch 'had it all' a long time ago.
Dr Laura Nelson is a writer, speaker and social entrepreneur. She is the Director of Breakthrough: The Gender Stereotypes Project , runs a blog on political and equality issues [http://delilah-mj.blogspot.co.uk] and has a doctorate in neuroscience.
Follow Dr Laura Nelson on Twitter @DrLauraNelson
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