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