I am very nearly the same age as Lucy Jordan when she “bowed a curtsey to the night”. I too, will never drive through Paris with the warm wind in my hair.*
I mention this as a friend, several months younger than me, is having concerns. She wants to pursue her career and to travel more but she is recently married and also wants to have a baby. Her main concern seems to be feeling secure enough to have the baby while simultaneously being worried about feeling trapped and restricting her from doing what she wants.
We both went to a girls’ grammar school which spent quite some time building up our expectations of what we could achieve in life – huge aspirations were the norm even if we were unable to articulate exactly what those were. Even for someone like me, who had very little idea of what career I wanted to pursue, it was accepted that I would go to university and that something brilliant would appear to me. The one person in our year who didn’t want to go to university got all sorts of pressure to change her mind. (She didn’t – good on her)
I imagine that most of us from school (I hardly keep in touch with any of them so I don’t know) are pursuing noble, useful, worthy professions like teaching, civil service, local government and so on. Nothing wrong with any of those, except they don’t strike me as the kind of thing our teachers were telling us we could achieve.
So where do babies fit into this? For our teachers, of course, they didn’t. Career paths were mapped out, families didn’t fit in or maybe they assumed that we’d work that bit out without help. For my friend it’s perhaps more of a dilemma than for me – she has a career, I have a job. I’m quite happy to take time off to have a baby. It won’t have much of an impact on my career, as it does for so many women, because I don’t really have any prospects in my current role. A new job is where the prospects will lie and that will have to wait for a little while till I get the hang of being a mum. But for her, there’s a risk in having a baby – her career may well be affected.
The worst thing about hitting your mid-thirties is the dreaded biological clock. There is a time limit to having babies and we’re up against it. And how I hate it – the phrase, the pressure, the added health worries, everything. I had a phase last year where I sat in self loathing, looking back at my teens and twenties, feeling like I’d wasted all that time by not doing more with it. I got over this eventually but not before seriously contemplating going to the doctor’s and talking about possible depression. But I think these things are related – the worries about wasting time and being trapped by a baby are real, even to career-less types, and therefore more to women who have real prospects.
A recent survey found that many young women were actively looking to have babies and be stay-at-home mums as a lifestyle choice because having a job was dull or that they worried about the “having it all” attitude that encompasses women today. I find this pretty depressing. It sums up a lot of modern society for me and not in a good way. For obvious reasons work is one of the most important things to us in today’s society yet there seem to be few people who actively enjoy work – it’s supposed to be dull and we’re supposed to just get on with it. Productivity is the most important thing – bank holidays are criticised for losing the economy money as we take a day off work, unemployed people are vilified in the press and by politicians for being scroungers, despite the economic climate and so on.
And what about men? Surely there are as many men out there who’d love to take time off work to be with their families but don’t feel that they can. Once again, I don’t have any answers, I’m just lamenting how unimaginative we’ve become – seemingly trapped in these roles and too scared to find any creative solutions. Is this a developed society or have we just been lulled by dull jobs, TV and consumer culture into finding no other way to live? In the meantime, women who are too young to know the lessons of Lucy Jordan see her trap as a desirable outcome for themselves.
* For those asking, it’s a Marianne Faithfull song – look it up! Feminism IS relevant!