Alexis Zegerman is a screen and stage actor, best known for her role in Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh, 2008). She has also written screen, stage and radio. She was a finalist for the prestigious 2011-2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize, and won a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress.
We have to make a stand. I think there are other ways for Camden to make cuts, or raise revenue, in their Children’s Centres. They do society a disservice if they think preventing women from going back to work is the way to go about this.
If Virginia Woolf were to write A Room of One’s Own today, it would have a secondary title; ‘A Room of One’s Own, or Affordable Childcare’. Of course, it was my choice to be an actress, a writer and a mother. Well, I can blame Mike Leigh, in part, for the acting, and my partner Peter for his ennobled role in the baby-making. But, yes, I went into all of them knowingly, and relatively compos mentis. Even so, I had no idea that, along with the raspberries on tummies, and ‘Row, Row, Row’s, and ‘Zoom Zoom Zooms’ and hide-and-seeks, the game that’s most played in my house is that of ‘baby tag’. Here are the rules of baby tag: I go to film set/audition/desk, Peter drops our daughter Lola off at nursery, heads to work, I watch phone (switched to silent in sound editing suite) waiting for nursery to call to inform me that Lola has a fever/hand, foot and mouth/some other Victorian disease that’s having a revival, if phone hasn’t rung, one of us races back to pick up Lola from nursery before they close at the media-unfriendly time of 5.45pm. After bedtime, Peter and I relax over enormous amounts of cheap alcohol, discussing childcare arrangements for the next day. It’s a real riot at my house – you should come over.
I went back to work soon after Lola was born. I know I don’t need to justify this to my fellow women filmmakers, but here are some of the reasons: I love my job. I spent a long time forging my career. I cannot afford to not work. Taking a career break in our industry is death. I have to work. I think the last reason for me is the most important. Since becoming a mother I realise I have more to say than ever before. I feel everything more acutely, more deeply, my passions are stronger, my nerves are more raw, my brain more keen, my stories are richer. If that hasn’t scared you off, keep reading.
So why is it precisely at this time in women’s lives that our stories are not being heard? The call to arms for more female directors, more women writers, more deserving roles for women over (gasp) 30 is all well and good, but until we have better, more affordable provisions for childcare, women artists may as well walk around with a gag on.
We were on a waiting list for over a year to get Lola into a Camden Council nursery. They are amazing places – happy, healthy children, committed staff, outstanding Ofsted reports, vibrant and mixed, a microcosm of the community in whose name these nurseries were built. So I was utterly dismayed to hear last month that Camden Council is proposing savage cuts to all their nurseries across the London borough. Yes, this is being done in the name of austerity and blamed on central government, but here’s what Camden decided… The cuts would see the removal of all nursery places for children under 2 years old. No nursery places for under 2s at all. This, I believe, is a real smack in the face to working parents, but mainly working mothers.
Since becoming a mother I realise I have more to say than ever before. I feel everything more acutely… my stories are richer… So why is it precisely at this time in women’s lives that our stories are not being heard?… Until we have better, more affordable provisions for childcare, women artists may as well walk around with a gag on.
I went to a meeting with the council regarding the proposed changes. The room was full of women from all walks of life – self-employed, public sector workers, single mothers. We were told by a benign-looking, female councillor that those women wishing to access nurseries when their children were under 2 were returning to work ‘quite quickly’. The room erupted. Who can afford to take two years out of work? What self-employed person can remove themselves from the work place and go back where they left off? The discrimination against working parents was clear, but I wasn’t prepared for the judgment.
Hilary Clinton, by way of an African proverb, said it takes a village to raise a child. This has never been more prescient than at a time when childcare costs make it almost impossible for women to return to work, and when being a mother and a filmmaker stops being a choice one can make. So I am not just calling on my fellow Camdenites, but also on my village of women filmmakers and artists to have their say on the proposed changes. If Camden is allowed to make these changes, other councils nationwide will start rolling them out. We have to make a stand. I think there are other ways for Camden to make cuts, or raise revenue, in their Children’s Centres. They do society a disservice if they think preventing women from going back to work is the way to go about this.
So if you feel strongly about this, wherever you are, as a parent, carer, parent-to-be, grandparent, please read about the proposed changes, and complete the consultation form online before it closes on July 3rd. We have a voice. It deserves to be heard. And together we can make change.