This woman’s work

Work eh. Who’d be bothered. And don’t give me that women-can-do-anything routine with a tampon ad voiceover quality to your enthusiasm. That’s all fine and dandy until you hit your forties when you just want to put your feet up and whinge about what you could’ve been if only you had gotten off your arse on time. But as a mother (not merely a lowly ‘parent’) to a female member of the species, I’m morally contracted to keep up this Lean In On Me routine till she finds out about the ways of world for herself. (Future awkward conversations.. “Well, you fell for Santa, and the Tooth Fairy, and *scratches back of head* I just sort of lost of the run of myself after that. You did drink milk from those things lying at my feet though.”)

I’m not allowed to admit to anyone that I hope she gives university a wide berth unless she’s planning on becoming an astrophysicist, or enters well after she’s left her teens behind her. I once shared a house with an astrophysicist and distinctly remember indignantly remarking “I don’t remember seeing that on the prospectus” as if the sector was robbed of my scientific genius. That was after he regaled me with tales of chasing brown dwarfs around space, and before one of my mates chimed in to ask if he could read star signs.

Some other things not in the prospectus I hope she discovers…

  • A healthy scepticism towards third-level education: whether it’s the only route available to what she wants to do with her life, while recognising the value and privilege of education for its own sake; not just a route to work, or an entitlement to work based solely on it. Graduates are a mixed ability group like any other. Look around your office. Actually, just look at your management.
  • Be suspicious of folk who define themselves by the letters trailing their name. They haven’t done enough waitressing to know what a knob they sound like, or what the application of ‘interpersonal skills’ really means.
  • Wanting to do something ordinary is OK. That’s what the majority folk end up being as they contend with modern life. Except those people who make the buns in our local bakery, and Enya. But if doing battle with the piped cream, or wandering round naked in a field on the grounds of a castle howling at the moon isn’t her thing, that’s OK. Every modest job contributes to making our world spin.
  • She doesn’t have to fly to the moon, gesticulate weirdly in an ill-fitting power suit in a boardroom; cream her knickers discussing Sheryl Sandberg at her book club, or facilitate unethical financial transactions over obscenely priced lunches with people looking rougher than the photo accompanying their inflated Linkedn profiles, to break the gender mould. She can also build beautiful walls, thatch cottages, repair car engines, or be a real hero and fix washing machines. Plumbers are the unrecognised feminists of this world after all. The world will always need plumbers. Most jobs with an element of manual labour are extraordinary.
  • A job is not guaranteed for life. Anyone with that expectation is divorced from the real world.
  • If it all goes to shit and she needs to bow out of the mainstream workforce for whatever reason – that’s OK. Generations before her fought hard for workers’ rights. The right to sick pay, the right to get well. The right not be ashamed for being human.
  • Chances are everyone is under some degree of stress. Comparing your own work stresses to others is futile and, if you’re a teacher, will only win you a few headbutts. Remember that in the modern age, the union representative is the message. And most sectors of hardworking people don’t have a union to negotiate conditions or fight with Matt Cooper on Thursday evenings while she wonders what’s in the fridge for dinner.
  • Not to worry if she’s exhausted by the ‘professional’ persona she strives to cultivate or the bizarre ‘professional’ persona of others that appears at odds with their regular personalities. Work is all about suspending disbelief and leaving your normal personality at the door. Just remember to pick it up on the way out.
  • Life isn’t fair and until there is a universal definition of what constitutes worthy work, the wealth from work will continue to be distributed unevenly, with or without an education.
  • The composition of discussion panels in the media regarding the status of women in the workplace is usually skewed in favour of middle class women and their corresponding problems. Valid and relevant though they are, and she might well be one of them, if she filters the same problems through a person with half the wage, and a quarter of the opportunities, it’ll aid perspective.
  • Email read receipts are unnecessary and the scourge of the instant gratification generation. Ignore them.
  • That reminds me. Folk who will pride themselves in pointing out her grammar or spelling mistakes are just working through their feelings of guilt  and shame around masturbation.
  • It’s only work.


A barrier to women in the workplace

6 thoughts on “This woman’s work

  1. Tell her that no one ever remembers the mechanics of how you were at work; unless you’re one of those people who sends receipts with emails. People only remember who you were: whether you took your turn at making coffee and doing the soup run, if you listened without judgement at others venting their rage, and if you helped to make the days better. And if you manage that, you’ll have pals to play with if you get to retire. And these pals will come to your funeral and say good things. Because the work/life balance must always err on the side of life.

  2. There is a time and a place for everything. We don’t all need to go to uni at 18/19, but that doesn’t mean there is no place for uni in a life.It is definitely not the be all and end all.
    Personally I would love if my own gang would take time out before going, but I am talking to myself. My eldest began one course, hated it and had the courage to leave. She is finishing this year a business degree, but is going to go on to do primary teaching….. no comment! It is her life and there is no experience wasted. She is a waitresss who works every weekend and has a great insight into life.
    I think the fascinating thing about being a mother is that when our children get older we must realise, we gave birth to them to live their own lives, not the lives we would live if given a second chance or based on the knowledge we have gained.
    In a way I find it fun to watch.
    Loved this post.

    • I’m going to have to get the masking tape out eventually to shut my mouth. I marvel at parents like yerself, and my own, who recline and let us make our own mistakes/choices, depending which side of the family fence we’re gazing in from. Rearing teens and young adults (I say that like an aul’ one) is definitely the more intriguing aspect of parenting. ‘It’s all ahead of me’ hehe. Ta, tric.

  3. I’m starting to think that the best thing a kid can do in these times is give university a wide berth. This is a major detour compared to how I felt until recently: I used to champion ‘going away’ to uni until blue in the face, but I realise I was mostly championing fun, drinking, casual sex, escaping from adults and delaying full-time work. Right now in the UK, with its massive unprecedented mental health crisis amongst adolescents, and catastrophic unemployment, some kids (my niece) are dropping out of A-levels at college (which has become draconian and hugely unpleasant) to do one of the new generation of quite flashy apprenticeships to get ahead of the impossible graduate clamour for jobs after third-level. I resisted when I first heard, but started to read the boring bits of the Observer on Sundays and the state of things in the UK shocked me. I don’t think university will have a place for the average kid in a few years. Maybe it’s the same here.
    If your daughter does end up thatching cottages or making tiny lacquered, wooden furniture for Victorian-style dolls’ houses (oh, did I insert that one? Er, not my dream job, honest…) she will be much happier than the average graduate office drone (as attested by that book “The Case For Working With Your Hands”, I think it’s called).
    Make sure you laminate this list and ensure that she never remembers not knowing these things.

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