Wednesday, January 9, 2013
What I Wish the 1970s Feminists Had Known
This may prove controversial but it's about being a mother, and I need to say it. I hope no one is offended by it; it's really nothing more than a wistful thought on my part.
I'm a working mother, but wish I wasn't. I love my job and couldn't ask for a better one, with the exception of one.
I'd love to be a stay-at-home Mum.
Sixty years ago women gave up their jobs (as teachers or secretaries) when they married, and spent their lives looking after children and doing housework, making a clean and comfortable home for their husbands. Then along came the feminist movement and women fought to escape that demeaning drudgery. Various legal challenges followed and now women are expected to be fully part of the workforce, to achieve as much as any man in the same job, and to be paid the same amount.
So I am very grateful to the feminist movement for that tremendous achievement. It means I can have a job where I use my skills and am valued, I contribute to the family income, and I have an identity other than "wife" and "mother" or even "homemaker".
But actually there's a downside too. Because when women started going out to work society reshaped itself to allow for that. Paid maternity leave is now up to a year, but women are expected to go back to work after that, and welfare benefits are in place to pay for childcare for working mothers rather than giving financial support to mothers who choose not to return.
House prices went up when women started working because families now had more disposable income. In fact, they went up so much that the average family can now no longer afford to buy a house unless both parents are working. The cheapest three-bedroomed house in our area is around £200,000 ($300,000). A fairly good salary of £30,000 ($45,000) would yield only a £90,000 mortgage - not enough to buy a house. So in almost all cases if the family want to buy a home (and renting costs as much as buying) the wife is going to have to go out to work too. And the children are going to have to go to a childminder or nursery. That's the situation our family finds itself in. We can't afford for me not to work.
I love my job, but I would love to not work. It's a real wrench sometimes to walk past the dirty breakfast dishes and piles of laundry to my home office. For five hours I sit and design adverts, put together rotas and send out leaflets, and then it's time to collect my children from school and make dinner. It means that most of my Saturdays are spent frantically trying to catch up on housework,Sundays aren't a day of rest at all (it's when I do my visiting teaching and prepare Seminary lessons) and most evenings are spent feeling exhausted and guilty about how little time I've been able to spend with my children. Being a Mum and looking after my home is a full-time job, and I'm run ragged trying to combine it with my paid work.
In order to placate all those who are asking why my husband doesn't share in the housework and childcare burden, he does. He does laundry, cooked Christmas dinner and often cooks our Sunday roast, and is chief dishwasher loader and unloader. But he leaves the house at 6.30 a.m., gets home at 6.30 p.m. and often spend his evenings on his private client work.
So I may be succeeding in my job, but because I am expected and essentially forced to work, I am failing as a mother and homemaker. I'm always running just to stand still, and I'm perpetually exhausted. I would like to finish decorating the bathroom, sort out the garden, paint the bargeboards and sweep the children's bedroom weekly, but I just don't have the time.
What's the solution? Short of us one of my books hitting the big time thus enabling me to give up work (or hire a cleaner) there isn't one. And I don't want it to sound as though I'm complaining - I have a fulfilling job, happy children, and a nice (superficially clean) home. I like knowing that I can work and be paid and valued as much as any man doing the same job, and I don't want to change anything.
But I wish someone had told the feminists who fought for our right to work that they were also taking away our right not to.
Posted by Anna Buttimore