Most mornings I trudge resentfully to work. Today, however, I skipped merrily through the August sunshine, eager to reach my desk, get my head down and perform my duties as a useful economic unit labouring away for The Man. Whence this joy? It’s not simply because my kids were being annoying, making the office seem a welcome break (let’s face it, that would be most days anyhow). It’s because I’d just read this, a piece that’s enough to make any sane woman think OFFICE! WOO-HOO! YEAH!
The piece I’ve uncovered (via @Scriptrix and @LynnCSchreiber) tells the story of a woman whose whole family turn up at her office to “liberate” her from the tyranny of work and celebrate the start of her new life as an “ever-present loving homemaker”. I don’t know if it is a spoof; I suspect it isn’t. Either way, it reminds me of the reasons why I became a feminist in the first place.
My mother didn’t have a paid job. This is not the same as not working (although you’d never think so to read of the happy homemakers and the “heroic” men who have liberated them from the “workplace”). My mother looked after the children, took responsibility for all domestic tasks and undertook other services – on behalf of schools or charities – providing no money was exchanged. This was what women of her class and status did. As a child I was never troubled by this fact; even now, for those who can afford it, it seems to me a valid thing to do. What bothered me then, and still bothers me now, was the attitude that accompanied it – the belief that this was a woman’s duty and that, simultaneously, it was not really doing anything of measurable value.
At school we used to sing a song called Supermum, which reflected the middle-class assumptions of the teachers – they obviously thought all families were like mine:
Supermum, you’re wonderful but very underpaid
Supermum, you cook and clean, a handyman and maid
If I put in a bill for all the work you do
There’d be an awful lot of wages due
I’m pretty sure this song was not intended to be the feminist rallying-cry of the Wages for Housework campaign. If anything, it struck me as a pat on the head for good old Mum; keep at it, dear, it’s almost as though you’re doing a “proper” job. Still, this was better than the attitudes I witnessed at home. Common catchphrases round our way were “he who pays the piper calls the tune” (to justify my father making all decisions about how money was spent) and “why have a dog and bark yourself?” (to explain why my father would not perform the slightest household task). My parents have a good relationship and I’d say my dad now does more than he ever did. Even so, I knew from an early age that I wouldn’t want to be in my mother’s position, let alone that of women from the previous generation.
My grandma spent most of her working life supporting my grandad, who left her on retirement for a younger woman, taking the money with him. While never a self-declared feminist – although she doesn’t read Viz, my grandma seems to have picked up the idea that all feminists are in fact Millie Tant – she, unlike my mother, has always stressed to me the importance of having your own role and your own money. I don’t believe this necessarily has to come from living in a double-income household. I do however think that if there are two of you and only one person is getting paid, an understanding that resources are shared – and that what everyone does is valuable – is essential. Otherwise one half of the partnership has to be selling themselves short.
As a privileged middle-class feminist mother I’m as bad as the next person at wringing my hands over all the compromises we have to make and all the people we trample over. I know the office isn’t a place of “empowerment”. I don’t like sending my youngest to nursery every single day. I’m conscious that my career advancement is of no benefit to women in general, particularly those who haven’t enjoyed the same privileges as me. I know I’m meant to resent SAHMs and they’re meant to resent me, and that even though we don’t, regular outpourings of nonsense in the media mean we have to waste hours explaining why this isn’t the case. I know SAHMs are undervalued. I often think I am undervalued, too. And I could spend all day wittering on about this. Blah blah blah blah blah. But really, I read something like this and I know that, however much “choice” can be dismissed as a middle-class feminist indulgence – and however little “choice” we have in practice – I am living in a better time and place. Thanks to the efforts of women before me, I do have some space that is mine. It’s about bloody time I valued it.
I don’t necessarily think “Rebecca” has made the wrong decision. She can do whatever she bloody well likes. It certainly bothers me to see pictures of little girls with captions such as “A little princess that will never know the workplace” (and that’s not just because whoever wrote the caption is using an incorrect relative pronoun). I don’t think this is freedom. On a global scale we can moan like hell about none of us being free, but I know that, comparatively, women and men can have more than this.
So anyhow, I’m heading back to my beloved desk and spreadsheets and stapler and the temperamental coffee machine. And for one day only, OFFICE, I LOVE YOU! GO OFFICE! GO FEMINISM! GO ME!