The Real Cost of Childcare: Motherhood and Flexible Creative Labour in the UK Film Industry

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There is one clear factor that leads to women’s inequality in the labour market: ‘becoming mothers’ (The Commission for Equalities and Human Rights, 2007). It’s difficult to talk about women and work without talking about childcare. The same would not be true about a discussion of men and work and this is still one of the most obvious difficulties to be managed by working women, even those who choose not to have children. As I hope to demonstrate, it is the potential of all women to have children and the associated disruption to their career that can lead to women being perceived as less worthy of investment – of time, of career advice, of promotion and even of pay (Fitt and Newton, 1981, Groysberg, 2008, McGuire, 2002,Wajcman, 1998). In the UK film industry, only 14% of women have children compared to 40% of men (Skillset & UK Film Council, 2008, Section 2.6): Work in the UK film industry shares many traits of other creative professions such as flexible working hours, project-based employment, uncertainty, precariousness and irregular and often unreliable payment. Skillset’s report on the status of women in the creative industries in the UK found that representation is highest in sectors comprising larger employers in which more stable, permanent employment models are common, such as terrestrial television (48%), broadcast radio (47%), cinema exhibition (43%), and book publishing (61%) (Skillset, 2010, p.5). This article considers the hidden inequalities in the apparent freedom of a creative professions such as the UK film industry, paying particular attention to the role of the screenwriter in order to illustrate how continued gendered assumptions about a women’s role as the primary carer for children can impact on their career opportunities in creative project-based work.

I will begin by exploring academic research on motherhood and the workplace, drawing on key thinkers to argue that women’s potential to bear children can position them as less than the ideal worker, particularly in a culture of long-hours and total devotion to the job, and therefore can continue to uphold inequalities of opportunity and recognition along gender lines. In the next section I will unpack how the very characteristics of creative labour that appear to offer freedom to the individual can disadvantage mothers, using screenwriting as a case study and drawing on my own interviews with the employers of screenwriters as well as data and interviews on screenwriters and other film workers from trade organizations and academic research. Finally I will attempt to draw some brief conclusions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalStudies in the Maternal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Motherhood
  • Creative Labour
  • Screenwriters
  • Film
  • Gender
  • Inequalities
  • Maternal penalty


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