Claire Foy: ‘In our society, there is this thing where everything falls on the woman’


Whenever I read or see an interview with Claire Foy, I always find her so impressive. She’s very smart and quick-witted and she’s a lot deeper than the average actress. She’s currently promoting The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and the BBC miniseries A Very British Scandal, which are both period pieces for her. That’s her wheelhouse, although she does play some modern characters sometimes. Foy was named Harper’s Bazaar UK’s Actress of the Year in their December/January women of the year feature. She gave a lengthy interview to the magazine and here are some highlights:

Her personality was formed in her teens: In her late teens, Foy was diagnosed with a tumour in one eye, and had to undergo surgery while waiting to hear if it was cancerous. She also suffered from teenage arthritis, which periodically left her on crutches. “It’s not great to be 18 and have no right eye. You’re supposed to be launching yourself into the world, going: ‘here I come… woohoo!’ But it fundamentally changed me in the best way.” In what way? “A lack of vanity; being able to do things I’d never now take for granted.”

Working on The Crown just months after giving birth: “It makes me sick thinking about it. I would never have a four-month-old and do that again. I was grateful for everything that experience brought me. It completely changed my life in every single way. I don’t regret the decision, but… my God there were some very dark days. Awful days. The industry itself is fundamentally flawed. You’re working 14- to 16-hour days. One person always has to be at home, and that is conventionally the woman. In some countries, like France, women are paid a lump sum when they have a baby. It feels like in our society, there is this thing where everything falls on the woman. The guilt of it. The burden of it. It all seems too much.”

Trying to be the perfect mom: “There’s this pressure to be this cake-baking, fun, playing 24-hours a day mother, being some sort of vehicle for entertainment, love and food. I’m just prepared to apologise for who I am: ‘I am so sorry – but you’re lumped with me. This is the hand you’ve been dealt, let’s try to make the best of it.'”

On love & her split with her child’s father: “I have always found love very…” She struggles to find the word. “…overwhelming. Children just love you, even if you’re a monster. It’s such a big responsibility to be in charge of such an amazing thing and all you’re going to do is f–k it up.” She feels this especially keenly because she is no longer with her daughter’s father, the actor Stephen Campbell-Moore, the pair having separated three years ago. “So there are periods when she is with her dad and not with me. That is physically painful. Physically painful. It’s just hard.”

Female characters should not be in the mould of men. “It’s to underestimate the fact that women have, for centuries, been wives and mothers, and still are. That’s denying our entire history of what it means to be a woman. I’m interested in what she’s doing, what she thinks, what she believes. I don’t ever want to say I’m never playing a part that is supporting, or someone’s wife, because they exist, and if you can give them a voice, you should, instead of just making all these female characters that are basically just men but look like women – the superhero women who can fly, punch men in the face, that sort of stuff.”

[From Harper’s Bazaar]

She also talks a lot about A Very British Scandal, which is based on a true story of an aristocratic divorce in the 1960s and it sounds filthy and infuriating. I hope we get a chance to see that here in the US. But yes, she and her partner split when their daughter was very young, and she’s been navigating single-parenthood, single-breadwinner, societal-sexism and everything else. Women are burdened! It f–king sucks. Burn it all down!

British Vogue and Tiffany & Co. celebrate Fashion and Film - 20th September 2021

Cover courtesy of Bazaar UK, additional photos courtesy of Avalon Red.

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36 Responses to “Claire Foy: ‘In our society, there is this thing where everything falls on the woman’”

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  1. CROWHOODreturns says:

    I am the significant breadwinner in my
    Household, which requires a lot of travel. My husband is a good man, but still a man. We are educated and aware of things like unpaid labor and societal expectations and yet it still all falls to me ultimately. I don’t know a single Hetero relationship where this doesn’t ring true. Even the best ones are unbalanced, in my experience.

    • Gigi LaMoore says:

      There are levels to how “unbalanced” things are. What I see and have dealt with is near equality. I wouldn’t have it in me to be the main breadwinner, travel and have it all fall on me. I would be too mentally overwhelmed.

    • PeacefulParsley says:

      I finally found an equal partner. In fact, he knows how stressed I am as a single mom (with a difficult co-parenting situation), and he picks up the slack without complaint. I’m beyond grateful.

      The catch? It took me 55 years.

    • Bettyrose says:

      Same. My partner has been largely unemployed the last few years as he just lacks the hustle to keep his freelance design work going. We don’t have children because I’ve never felt emotionally/psychologically prepared for that level of responsibility, so I’m not a single mom per se but I have a man who will barely do any housework without being nagged and I hate being in that position. I’m paying a cleaning service rather than deal with the stress. But an unemployed adult actually has the potential to save a household lots of money in food and labor costs. So why doesn’t he? He didn’t grow up spoiled. But somehow men still manage to get the message it’s not their responsibility.

      • Gigi LaMoore says:

        He has no reason to pull his weight. There are no consequences.

      • rea says:

        That sucks. It can definitely be a warfare with people to get to do things outside of what they perceive is not their job. I had a male friend whose mom told him growing up to never wash a dish or do any household chore because it was a woman’s job. My friend turned out alright though and he did not follow his mom’s philosophical teachings as an adult.

      • MelOn says:

        Ditch this guy. You’re enough

    • Yasmine says:

      You’re so valid in your feelings about how men fail us. It’s not just the physical labour when we see unequal division of labour in heterosexual relationships. Because technically, any able bodied person should be able to do it, yet men still don’t. It’s the emotional burden of having men in our lives. I read the Harper’s Bazaar article “Men Have No Friends and Women Bear the Burden” (look it up) and it taught me the term ’emotional gold digger.’ Everyone, including the men in your lives, should read that article.

  2. LovesitinNM says:

    Felt keenly during the start of the pandemic when my family was denied daycare for essential workers. My husband is a truck driver, deemed essential. I have a job that’s important to me and my career but not deemed essential. The daycare said I can look after my child at home so we don’t get care (the place we paid $1,000+ per month for years for her care). I asked if they are only providing care for single parent essential workers or inquiring about the other parent for women who are essential workers. I felt completely disposable. My mental health, my career, my ability to provide for my family all meant nothing.
    Being in a male dominated field made it even more painful as the men continued on with their careers like nothing happened and women left the workforce in droves.

  3. Lena says:

    It’s true, for the first time woman’s unemployment was higher than men’s, and it all came down to women were the ones who left employment to home school.

  4. Mcmmom says:

    I divorced my kids’ father a few years ago and the physical pain when my kids were with their dad was stunning. I expect it now (and I only have one at home, as my sons are in college), but there are times when it’s still a gut punch.

    Interesting that France pays women a lump sum when they have kids – I have also heard that it’s very difficult for women to achieve professional success in France, so while the lump sum is nice, how about also focusing on professional equity so women can get ahead in their careers?

    • Eleonor says:

      I have been living in France for the last 10 years, as a foreigner I can tell you this: yes women get a lot of financial support…when they have children. The society is still very patriarchal: women get recognition when they are mothers or wife, which for me was shocking. I mean I come from Italy , which is not the most progressive place on earth, but seeing how young women see being married by the age of 30 as a life goal, or take husband’s surname for me is absolutely crazy. And don’t get me started with the side eye I get when I say I am 40, refused marriage, and I don’t have children because I don’t want to have them

      • Bettyrose says:

        Eleanor – that’s surprising. I always think of France as such a forward thinking, enlightened nation.

      • Eleonor says:

        @Bettyrose: it’s a contradiction which I can’t explain.
        I can tell you this : between 2019 and 2020 I had a boyfriend (45 years old, 2 children from previous marriage) who wanted to get a vasectomy.
        He started the processus. First thing he had to do was talk to a psy, which can make sense…except after the first meeting bf had another appointement 3 or 4 months later, to check if he hadn’t changed his mind. I mean a 45 yo man with tho teen children who clearly say he doesn’t want to have other children anymore must be checked every 3/4 months before approving his vasectomy ? Clearly it’s something to persuade him to change mind.

    • Dierski says:

      McMom- I so appreciated her (and your) descriptions of the physical pain for a mom being away from a child after a separation. It’s been about 2 years for me sharing my 9yo’s time after separating from his father, and it has dulled some overall, but has been shocking to process, alongside all the rest. It’s been the hardest part of my divorce, for sure.

  5. manda says:

    I didn’t realize that show was going to be an anthology. I watched it with hugh grant. Best part of that show: they go to visit an aristo who has let his house become overrun with badgers, so he has people put on wellies in case they get bit!

  6. teecee says:

    She’s right about the societal expectations, but I think she’s a little wrong about how she expressed what female characters should be. Many women are wives and mothers but using that as the primary means of identifying us reduces us to the roles we play in relation to the (usually) men in our lives. And it erases women who do not marry and do not have children. Are single women with no children not also women? Shouldn’t our lives also be seen on screen?

    I could even argue that the societal expectations can be worse for us, because we don’t have the “excuses” mothers and wives do, and are often seen as “failures” because of that, even by other women.

    • Sel says:

      100% agree with this !

    • Tessa says:

      I think her point wasn’t that single women with no children aren’t also women. Her point was that single women with no children are still women even if they aren’t exercising their reproductive rights at the moment or ever. They aren’t the same as single men just because they aren’t mothers and wives. They still have different bodies, different experiences, different burdens and expectations, and talking about isn’t demeaning or boring or even feminist – it’s just facts of life. The conventional attitude is that books and movies about men tell us about daring adventures and important pursuits, whereas books and movies about women are about the mundane and the feelings, UNLESS they have daring adventures and important pursuits like men – Marvel heroes, scientists, spies, etc. She’s trying to say that the mundane is NOT the mundane. Being a caretaker to a sick parent is an important pursuit. Being a teacher or a nurse or a Mom is an adventure because not every adventure is about Everest. And really, who’s more valuable to a society – a teacher who taught 100s of kids to read or a dude who satisfied his ego?

  7. Embee says:

    It appears that more women are recognizing the imbalances and making decisions accordingly. I know a number of young professional women (late 20s) who’ve unequivocally decided not to have children because of the insurmountable imbalances in a hetero household. I’m in my mid 40’s and have opted out of a relationship whilst I finish raising my child because there isn’t enough of me to go around. I can either work and raise a child; work and have a relationship; or raise a child and have a relationship (not actually sure about this because if I cede my economic independence…bad things would likely occur and also the risk to my child’s and my safety). I cannot do all three. And I’ve tried. Very hard.

  8. Think says:

    It’s so refreshing to hear from an intelligent actor rather than one who thinks they are and espouses garbage. I’m as educated as my husband, and have the same desire to succeed in a career as my husband, and yet there have been so many factors that have placed me as the full-time caregiver for our 2yr old. I have found it impossible to fight against. Hopefully in the future I have the same rights I did pre-motherhood. I really appreciate this post.

  9. Ainsley7 says:

    I think it’s because of behavior modeled to them growing up. Not only by their parents, but also media. I’m not trying to make excuses, they are prefectural capable of breaking out of that. It’s just that tv/movies and such tell men not to bother with school, it’s ok to be awful in every way as long as you are funny and that they actually need to be taken care of. However, they are also still being told that they have to be the breadwinner because that’s all they are good for. Meanwhile, women are being told they can do it all (which no one can or should be expected to). Hollywood has spent decades putting men down rather than actually lifting up women. Leading to a lot of insecure men who take that insecurity out on women and expect them to be able to “do it all.” It’s a mess. All it’s led to are man babies and more work for women.

  10. Jaded says:

    Mr. Jaded’s daughter has big job as a private school principal and has a 9 year-old daughter. Her husband has been the stay-at-home parent until quite recently when he went back to work. He did all the shopping, cooking, etc. while the little one was growing up and it worked well for them. I like that and see it more amongst younger generations. In previous relationships it was ALWAYS me being chief cook and bottle-washer. Now I’m with a man who happily takes on the bottle-washing duties (his cooking is godawful so I told him he was relieved of that duty), the laundry, vacuuming etc. There’s still enormous pressure on women to be everything to everyone and I totally get what Claire is saying.

  11. Candy says:

    She makes very good points all around. I’m sure it was really hard to have a baby and then take up a major role in a series. She couldn’t turn it down, it was the opportunity of a lifetime. Luckily the salary probably covered her childcare expenses, which is how it should be. I am child free not by choice, and in many ways I’m grateful. But it feels lonely and isolating at times not fitting the societal definition of what it means to be female. Even reading an interview like this doesn’t fully resonate with me. She is sharing her struggles but still perpetuating this idea of doing it all and still “achieving” motherhood. I get that it’s hard but it’s isolating for me personally.

  12. Slippers4life says:

    My husband and I bought a game called “fair play”. Don’t know if you’re allowed to discuss products here but honestly it really helped us divide things up much more fairly. Takes into account wanting to do fun things and me time and emotional labour

  13. Stef says:

    Brilliant interview and she is bang on correct with so many points. I enjoy a woman who can communicate so eloquently, without vanity, clearly highly education, while also randomly using the F word.

    Love her!

  14. Meep says:

    Um…that last comment is all kinds of yikes imho. First of all I don’t think anyone is in denial about the fact that women have been “wives and mothers” for centuries. But you know what else has existed for centuries? Women who were NOT wives and mothers. And women who were wives and mothers but also something else and wanted to be known as more than just “the wife of X” and “the mother of Y”. And the idea that depicting women as something other than “wives and mothers” occasionally (because i’m sorry where is this shortage of wives and mothers on screen??) is somehow “denying” the entire history of women?? Yeah no, sorry but f-ck that BS. And only men should be depicted as superheroes flying around and saving people???Again f-ck that BS.

    Guess what Claire? “What it means to be a women” isn’t solely defined by the role of “wife and mother”.

    • Hikaru says:

      Yeah, and wasn’t she playing the superhero take on Salander in the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo sequel?

    • Agreatreckoning says:

      @Meep, I disagree that is what she is defining ‘what it means to be women’.

    • Tessa says:

      I think you misunderstood her point. Her point wasn’t that only mothers and wives are women, her point is that women shouldn’t be either supporting characters to men or rivals to men to be interesting. Either way, they are defined through men. She is saying we need to reclaiming the space in between – a space where a woman is nothing like a man and is not defined by a man, either. I truly agree with her that such stories are rare and are still often stigmatized as boring, even though they are a lot more essential to human experience than Marvel, spies, or billionaires.

  15. Tans says:

    I’m so thankful I don’t want to have children. No maternal urges whatsoever and I’m in my mid thirties. I read a lot on reddit about parenting and it just looks so incredibly difficult, even if you luck out and get a supportive partner who pulls their weight.

    I just broke up with my boyfriend of 5 years, and while I’m heartbroken, I also am loving having my own space in a one bedroom cottage. I can’t imagine even getting into another relationship, I think I’m just going to stay single and hang out with my dog. There’s so few good men in New Zealand!

  16. Triscuit says:

    You know, Claire Foy, the range of what a women can be and be very much a women does encompass everything from being able to be a woman who is a superheroine who kicks a** to being a a mother who has no intention of fighting anyone and everything in between. Those strong fighters aren’t men who look like women, they are women being whatever they believe their calling in life is. Don’t limit what a women can be.