I switched on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning to hear a discussion about a very familiar story and lifestyle issue in modern society. It is the debate about whether women should be working mothers or housewives. We all know the story. Some women are adamant that they can have it all: successful career, comfortable family, and all the trappings of a middle class home and life. Other women prefer to stay at home with their children and take time away from the professional workplace for a few years or longer. I am somewhere in the middle.
I feel very resentful about the plight of working women in the UK. To begin with, I do not like the titles ‘working mother’ or ‘housewife’ and even worse ‘stay at home mother.’ Why must we always succumb to labels, and why must they define us as people? For example, in my life at the moment I am considered unemployed by the authorities. This is because I do not earn enough money in my writing career to survive as a self-employed business owner. I am currently working on a business plan to diversify simply to bring in some more cash and put myself in a more official position.
So, when people ask what I do, what do I tell them? When my daughter was a newborn baby and I was on maternity leave from my part time sales assistant job, I would say just that. I rarely mentioned my writing, because at the time it felt like a hobby. As I developed my novels and manuscripts, and got into the hard slog of self promotion, I realized that this is my career. The fact that I earn no liveable wage from it at the moment is not an issue to me (well it is, but not for this discussion). But it means something to the wider world, and the collective ‘authorities’ who run our country.
How do we progress from this? I would love to have a job with a regular decent wage, and money I can call my own, without having to rely on my husband for everything. At the same time, I am not prepared to give up these precious early years with my daughter. She truly does fulfill me in every way, and I would not put her in a nursery so that I could go and work for some soulless corporation and spend my days missing her and feeling guilty. I also appreciate that I am very lucky to be able to spend time at home with her now, when so many women have to work for financial reasons.
This post isn’t about the money, although of course that is always central to these sorts of discussions. What I am concerned about now is the fact that we still seem to adhere to outdated beliefs of family life. Even now, in the supposedly enlightened 21st century, women struggle to make themselves heard. Those that can be heard are more often than not labelled as hardcore feminists, man-haters, or even not in touch with their own kind. The ideal of the stereotypical 1950s ‘Stepford Wife’ seems to be creeping back into our collective subconscious.
I would like to see a progressive society, where women are encouraged to pursue their careers without fear of losing out on raising their children. I understand that the economy is tough, and smaller employers might struggle to offer flexible working hours to fit around school and nursery. But I am convinced that our workplaces can be more accommodating if they would only loosen up a little, and more importantly, show some trust and belief in their employees, both male and female.
Perhaps I seek a utopia of modern living. For my part I have decided that is not suitable for me to seek employment with an organization. It would be too restricting. My only option now is to develop my business as a self-employed writer, and somehow fit it in around raising my family. Again, the issue of childcare falls to the woman. My husband is the wage-earner, and always will be due to the nature of his career. Therefore, he goes out to work, he does a lot of overtime, and he leaves me in total charge of our daughter. It is not ideal. I want to change that. I am just not sure how at the moment.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Can I hear from other ‘working mothers’ or ‘housewives?’ Do you like or accept the labels? Would you like things to change? Have you seen changes as your children have grown up? And what about the working fathers out there? Please share, because I am interested to hear everyone’s opinions.
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