What it feels like for a girl
As it's International Women's Day today, I wanted to share some thoughts and perspective on my current mind set, or as my recently realised new heroine and girl crush, Jane Fonda, calls her 'third act'.
I never really understood what all the fuss what about being a 'feminist' or women's liberation for way too long as I pretty much took it for granted that I was able to vote, and work alongside men, to walk into bars or cafes alone. I mean, I did face quite a few obstacles but I just took it in my stride and really didn't analyse things too much, and anyway, I always had Madonna as a role model I could look up to for inspiration when I needed to express myself and not repress myself (sic), and while she was being an unapologetic bitch, I promptly followed suit.
Well, that was until I had my first and only child, a much wanted son that I brought into the world almost 14 years ago to the date. What a wake up call that was, and I daresay for all likewise smug mums across the world, you know, that secret smile and nod we all share because 'we know' like we never knew before. It really is an epiphanous awakening when you bring a child into the world; all of a sudden this clucking carer-type superwoman kicks in and takes control of this little being and all of a sudden you realise that your own mother was actually a human being before she had you, you know, a real life girl like I was, just before I gave birth (albeit the via the sunroof!).
I think the first heavy revelation was there was no such thing as 'popping' anywhere anymore. A trip to the local shop involved packing a small suitcase full of every eventually for this cute sleep-depriving mite. Then there was this control freak persona, like I had to do EVERYTHING for this little fella, I couldn't trust anyone else, even his doting father, who despite wanting to help was probably shoved aside because I could do it faster and better! I decided that I didn't want to go back to work at this point because (a) I had moved away from my previous job when I was pregnant (from the Isle of Man to Wales) and (b) because I had waited so long to become a mother, I really wanted to do it myself and (c) because the only family members able to help with childcare were all working themselves.
It wasn't really questioned, but my partner, his dad, went back to work straight away; he worked full time and basically paid for all the bills and housekeeping. Although I had a small allowance through the social benefits system and helped out with housekeeping, I felt as if I was a 'kept woman' so I didn't like to ask my partner for money as we had always been independent financially. In fact, rather than asking my partner, I used credit cards to buy regular shopping and little treats, and borrowed off one to pay another until I eventually ran out of credit.
When our son was about 2 and a half and he was going to Meithrin regularly (that's a Welsh nursery) and I had two mornings a week to myself, I realised that my mummy duties would continue to scale down as he went through the education process and maybe it was time for me to look for a little part-time job, and help out with the credit card debts I had. Everything I considered meant that I would have to look at some support for childcare during the school holidays seeing as unless I went to work in a school. There were very few jobs anywhere with 13 weeks holiday a year (not including chuffin' inset days!). Apparently the reason for the six week summer holidays dates back to the Victorian days of agriculture and harvesting when kids had to help out with that, I mean, come on people. It's SO outdated and down right impractical for any parent and is one of the main points on my 'needs to change' list.
Once my son started school full time, I found a 'flexible job' with 20 hours per week which was local and in a shop so I wasn't far from home if I needed to get home quickly I could. My mother-in-law was retiring from her job and able to help out with school pick-ups and holidays which was a total life-saver. I have to say at this point, the job I left before I was pregnant was as a Senior Designer for the Isle of Man Newspapers and was paid approximately £22 per hour which was more than my partner at the time. So, I accepted this job as an Events Coordinator for about £7.20 per hour (basic rate at the time 2010). Although that was my choice, I didn't feel as if I had many other options that ticked the box of being within the valley and flexible hours to suit. So straight away my social 'value' had been reduced and never really recovered since.
I felt differently about work then, my priorities had changed and my whole world revolved around my family, although I always put 100% into work, my first priority was my boy, and it wasn't long before I was utilising the flexibility around the odd sick day he had and all of those school holidays. This in itself brought issues; I began to resent that when ever my boy needed extra care it was always me that had to flex around work while my partner was oblivious and carried on working without having to worry or take unpaid time off. It wasn't his fault, because I never really asked him, I just accepted this as 'my burden/role' which I think is a very woman-thing that we do. I did anyway.
I remember saying to a friend (who's a counsellor, Lis, that's you gal) only a few years ago, I never wanted a girl, I always wanted a boy...' to which she rightly admonished me for, and it made me really think about why I had said it. This brought up a whole load of issues that stems back to my mental health and self esteem issues. I kept saying that I didn't want a girl 'like me', as I always felt as if I was total bitch to my Mum, particularly in my teens after we lost Dad to cancer. I also think that being born to older parents (my Mum was 44 and Dad was 50 when I came along) and my Mum had only taken part-time cleaning and caring jobs and it was Dad who worked full time, that they ingrained the stereotypical person that I had become. There was never any expectation of me having a 'career' as I left school when I was 16 with hardly any qualifications and told to just get a job in a shop or whatever.
The fact that I was able to pick up and learn a specific trade was always a bit of surprise to me (and probably everyone else around me) - I think my mental health issues made it very difficult for me to just settle down in anything and I always just wanted to please people and show off when I got the chance! Being good at typesetting (and eventually become a graphic designer) came as a by-product of me working in an office doing telesales work. And there was also the complicated way I felt about myself. I can't EVER remember feeling comfortable in my own skin, which has resulted in a very complex weight and eating problems which have dogged me throughout my adult life. And let's not even mention the hormones or sexual encounters - perhaps a post for another day?! (Or not for my son's sake! #metoo)
So, last year, I met an incredibly insightful and inspiring woman called Selma James, who, in the 1970s headed a campaign called 'Wages for Housework'. She spoke about that campaign and about a 1973 film that she presented called Women in the Rhondda, based in the valley where I live today. It was a quite an interesting and emotional documentary, where these amazing local women spoke of the expectations and barriers they faced almost 40 years ago and the scary thing I thought was, of how many of their situations and struggles were still being faced today.
It also made me understand the eternal conflict between being a mother and an independent woman and the importance of the role of being a primary carer - currently unpaid? Why is one of the most important jobs in the world (ie being a parent) so under- valued and disrespected. Why are so many women still going out to work for financial independence, are also still the go-to primary carer and still expected to do the lion's share of unpaid housework? With those flippant words from my partner still ringing in my sensitive ears: 'What have you been doing all day?' As if being a full time carer, taxi driver, cook, cleaner and sometimes nurse isn't enough. In the shadow of many such arguments I once sat down and worked out how many hours I spent 'on duty' as a parent/wife carer and was shocked to find I was regularly doing over 70 hours a week in between trying to earn a part time living as a freelance designer and then wondered why I was always feeling knackered and neglected my own being. Ok, so I've lived a life feeling like the underdog and only now realising I have a lot of feminist issues going on, but until women can achieve financial independence, then the feminist agenda will continue to wage on.
Yep, being a girl is pretty shitty at the best of times, so I guess that's why I wanted a boy so badly! And, I guess, why I didn't have anymore children after getting my first 'choice'. But, I was totally wrong to think that. What was so wrong with me that I wouldn't want to bring another mini-me in to our world? And that's when I realised that I needed to understand why we all need to appreciate the importance of International Woman's Day. Not because men are bad, or women are better, but because of how many women still have mountains to move to even FEEL as if they are equal. And hey, like my muse, Madonna, I would like to state here and now, I do not identify as a feminist - I am a humanist. This issue is not just about women, it's about understanding what barriers we ALL face and working TOGETHER to achieve an equality we call all live with.
So, I'm quite relieved I'm going through the 'change' and as such, and that its too late for me to consider bringing a baby girl into the world because as much as I adore my son and would never want him any different, I quite like the idea of raising a fierce warrior woman - you know, like the woman I have finally become.