Wednesday 28 November 2012

The mother of all careers

Women and work. It has never been an easy coupling when you throw children into the mix. Those of us choosing to stay at home are now domestic chief executive officers, according to The Sunday Times

Women who handle the family finances, childcare, school schedules, interior design, etc, etc, are no longer content to be called a housewife. I can understand why - it has become a demeaning label. However, to clothe maternal duties in corporate-speak is perhaps a ploy to satisfy our own vanity, or to convince our menfolk that we fulfill a vital role. It smacks of insecurity.

Unlike our mothers, our generation has been brought up to expect and foster a career. I have just finished reading The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe - the 1950s' answer to Sex and the City. What struck me was the tentative idea that women could actually choose a career over waiting for a marriage proposal. The main character Caroline Bender muses:

"It was good to be able to care so much about work. It must be something like the way men feel... except that men have to worry so much about the money. For her the thrill was in the competition and in the achievement."

Novel: A Sister for Margot
My grandmother was one of those working-women pioneers. She was an actress during the 1940s and went on to to become a television presenter in the Midlands. She enjoyed family life, but she also wanted a career.

My new novel A Sister for Margot is partly based on her experiences and I realise that my main characters, Maud and Margot, come to view work as both a salvation and an escape from domestic humdrum. For them, working life is something they can control outside the vagaries of human relationships, and it is a way of achieving success.

Over the last fifty years, women have been re-inventing themselves. Having a career is part of our psyche now and that is partly why we have become uncomfortable with our home-making role. I am not sure calling ourselves the domestic CEO is the answer. It is all about opportunity and self-esteem. We can choose to stay at home with our children, we can choose to work, or we can muddle along with our fingers in many different pies. But if we don't respect ourselves, and what we elect to do, no-one else will.

Emma Clark Lam is the author of A Sister for Margot

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