I don't just cook.
Last night, I commented on a blog about that speech Cherie Blair made. The one in which she “criticises career yummy-mummies” . I was mad as hell. I had to stop work because my son was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 2 ½ . Does she consider me a bad example? Perhaps I should have spent the 3.5 years of his chemo and regular (scheduled and unscheduled) hospital admissions carrying on furthering my career to set him (and his sister, who was born 3 months into his treatment) a good example. May be I should have employed a nanny to do all the shit stuff with him, comfort him when he was sick and frightened? If she (Cherie) read this she’d say (may be) oh, well of course that’s exceptional – but I would argue that my reason for stopping work is no more valid than any of the many reasons any other woman gives (although why a reason is necessary) for working or staying at home (although granted, it’s slightly extreme).
I have been quietly stewing about this over night. Not working, or stepping back in a career while children are around, is a big decision. Some people take to it like a duck to water, for others it’s harder. That doesn’t mean that those who found the decision to stop work easy or straightforward were secretly plotting it all along. Pregnancy does funny things to you. It didn’t come easily to me, and although it was absolutely the right thing to do, I raged about it silently (and sometimes not so silently). It took me a long time to get life back on track – albeit that it is now a completely different track. Who is she, Cherie, to judge me for the choices I made – for the choices any woman makes – when it comes to how they bring up their children and manage their lives.
But I calmed down a little and re-read some of the articles again, and the point I wanted to come back to was this. One of the things that she highlighted was a culture where young women – those who perhaps are highly educated and have every advantage, but not necessarily limited to them – are choosing to actively seek out marriage to the right sort of man (one who earns heaps of cash) with the sole aim of not having to work, and simply to bring up children (or, in fact, to be able to hire the right nanny to bring up the children while they ‘retire’) rather than even thinking about a ‘career’.
hope she wasn’t I don’t think she was necessarily talking about women who
began their adult life pursuing a career, or working, because they were
interested, passionate, single-mindedly focussed, wanted to change the world
(or just a little part of it), but then for whatever reason – be it financial,
lifestyle or other - chose to step back.
Now, I have a friend who works in the sort of educational establishment where such breed of the former young women exist. Those wannabe ‘yummy mummies’. We’re not actually talking about a huge section of society, but those who are offered every educational advantage and are driven to achieving excellent exam results. They need these results to get to the right sort of university. Why? So that they will meet the right man –a rich man. And this is OK with their parents. It is kind of expected. After all, doesn’t a career make one frightfully dull? A little job’s OK for a while, something nice in publishing or the art world, but a career?? My friend has been advised of this by her pupils.
I appreciate that this is ‘hearsay evidence’ (get me, Cherie – I used to be a lawyer myself, once), but I can believe it. While I was slogging my guts out (some of the time) to get a good degree, so that I could have a high-flying career and save the world, I was aware of some of my peers who had this type of attitude. I can also see that for women in less-privileged circles, marriage to a rich man might seem like an easy route, and something to pursue. The media does of course propound this. Look at how they venerate the Middleton sisters – but if you choose to believe some of the nastier comments made about them, they are just such a type: boarding school, the ‘right’ university, a stint at Jigsaw (I believe it was, Kate?), marking time in her parent’s business until she bagged a rich guy... but I don’t want to get into a bitch about her. It’s not just the Middleton Sisters though. Look at the WAGS. I try not to, so I will probably say something uninformed and be shot down in flames, but my impression is that they are never ever really portrayed as doing anything other than being out to bag a rich guy, and yes, girls, you too can do this if you look like a carbon copy: Be thin! Be tanned! Wear the right clothes! Be vacuous! It’s the continued peddling of this sort of nonsense in the media that encourages this attitude at all levels in society. How are career women portrayed? Do you need me to remind you?
If this is what Cherie is railing against, then I agree that this is an enormous waste. It is a waste that education will never be put to any use in the world, and it is a crying shame that these girls will not necessarily develop the resources to fall back on should they find themselves on their own. I’m not talking financial, but the kind of inner resources you need to survive these days. It is also a shame that many will not even concentrate on their education because they believe that it is possible to marry a rich man/footballer and everything will be fine - and I think this applies across the board, not just the rich girls. If you are not committed to what you are doing because the end game is not to work, you are unlikely to reap the benefit of all the experiences (bad as well as good) that come from your working life. If it’s all a bit of a game, a time-filler between parties and suitable social engagements, you may not develop the inner resources to fall back on when times are tough. And you do need them. You never know what life is going to throw at you. My experiences at work helped me enormously when I was navigating the minefield that surrounded my son’s illness, Not the treatment itself, but how to deal with consultants, various agencies, pre-school and then school – to make sure he was properly cared for in the widest sense of the word.
However, Cherie, if you read this, please bear this in mind: If you are criticising women who choose to stay at home with their children, or to take a step back, having begun a career; those, like me who started out with thoughts OTHER than marriage on their mind, then my earlier comment stands. Women who have committed to work and then step back for a time, have a huge amount to offer to their children. They know about work and about the work ethic, and can share this with their children. They can (as they get older) talk to them about what they did and the choices they had to make. They can keep their skills going by volunteering - I used my skills to run the voluntary parent committee of our local pre-school for a couple of years – and can gain new skills. Can you imagine all the things that would fall apart without these women to offer their support? My experience currently is that more and more women are going back to work out of necessity and it’s noticeable that those voluntary groups that do amazing things but rely on volunteers, are suffering. This is all part of setting a good example to your kids. Please don’t forget that.