I’m a child of the 80s, teenager of the 90s, young woman of the noughties, and for My Entire Life the emphasis has been on becoming an independent, empowered woman. A concept inextricably entwined in my mind with earning my own money.
But now, as a woman in my thirties, a mother of two, set adrift from traditional employment by family circumstances that made my career impossible, I find myself battling insidious implications.
Where I was once independent, I am now reliant on someone else to provide me with security. The roof over my head, the food on the table, warmth and light in my home all depend on someone else.
Once empowered, I am now reduced to the financial status of a child.
And I ask myself if, where I was once strong, am I now weak?
How has this happened? This is not where I was supposed to be, I think, and a few weeks ago I reached the sad conclusion that I am not proud of who I am.
Like parents everywhere, I hope I am raising children who will not build walls, nor grab pussies, who will choose acceptance and welcome over fear and division, and I know there is pride to be found here.
But I also want something else. Something selfish (and I’m totally comfortable with calling it that). Something that pays me my own money.
I can’t shake the feeling that I’m letting the sisterhood down. Like I’m laughing in the face of the hard-won increments made by the women who came before me, so that we have rights that today we take for granted.
I feel like I’m letting down my twenty-something self who sneered in her certainty that she was not one of those Goldigger’s Kanye rapped about. Instead she certain she was one of Destiny’s Child’s Independent Women who would pay her own Bills Bills Bills and Who Run the World (Girls).
I feel like my feminist ideals have been defeated by the cold-hard inflexible economics of life in the modern world. Like I gave up too soon, I should have fought harder for my job, for my ambition, for my equality.
And I feel embarrassed that I now take money from my partner’s pocket and put it in my own.
Questions that were irrelevant in the first 13 years of my relationship, the first 35 years of my life, have heralded an awkward new dynamic in my used-to-be-a-partnership.
How do I ask for money? Does this make me a kept woman? How much control should I expect to have over the household finances? Can I really decide how money that I haven’t earned gets spent?
Of course I KNOW I shouldn’t feel this way. If any friend of mine came out with such drivel I’d heavily exhale and call bull.shit.
I would tell her that to employ a cook, cleaner, round-the-clock nanny and life-admin-PA would cost upwards of £100,000 a year.
I’d tell her that without women (because it is over-whelmingly women) making the same decision I have, to put themselves in the back-seat of the family wagon, squashed into the tiny space between the fortified buttresses of her children’s padded thrones in a perfectly mundane metaphor for her whole existence, then we’d all be fucked.
I’d be the first to object that the value in an action is not always financial.
But I’d say it all then most likely fall back on an exhausted cliche. Something like, raising the next generation is the most important job of all, would be what I’d say next, but I’d know that in the face of this feeling there are no words that are not patronising and inadequate. That she hadn’t already thought of for herself, and still found wanting.
Like so many women of our generation, the truth is I don’t value the work done in the home.
The mind-numbing mundanity, the repetition and relentlessness, the picking up and putting down, the boundaries placed on the mind by the same four walls, and the constant requirement to put yourself last are not new – I imagine there was plenty of gin-numbed angst in Don Draper’s time.
What is new however is the expectation of more – the chance to have it all we were told we would have, but which turns out to be an illusion.
We have been conditioned to look down on being house-proud in favour of being loud-and-proud about our achievements in work – achievements accompanied by a pay-packet and while (in the words of another excruciating cliche) money isn’t everything, what it represents, is.
On the cusp of being a Millenial I took a crumb of comfort that the pay gap between men and women born between 1981 and 2000 has shrunk to five percent. My initial lukewarm reaction – it’s progress but wtf, there’s still a gap – dropped to freezing the second I read the next sentence, because when those same women turn 30, (and one assumes start having children) the pay gap starts to widen.
Projections in the study by The Resolution Foundation estimate that by the time Millenials hit 40, the pay gap between men and women will be closer to 25%. That’s TWENTY-FIVE percent, a number for which only shouty capital letters will suffice.
As a woman who had a child, took a demotion because my previous role was “too challenging” for someone with a young family, had another child, had a “difficult” return to work, and for who’s career the nursing home levels of flex in her partner’s job rang the death knell, I am a seething speck in this incredible statistic.
And I’m willing to bet my substantially deflated financial worth on the fact that I’m not the only pot quietly simmering away on the stove I’ve unwillingly been tied to.
In the midst of the financial fallout of fertility, I torment myself with the thought that the money I am spending is not “mine”. I contrarily reflect on a simpler time when roles were clearly defined and we had not fallen for the falsehood that men and women are now equal.
Family, lifetime partnerships and those pesky, inconvenient, brilliant, small people are of course more valuable than how much cash you carry in your pocket, but we focus on the money because it’s easy to measure.
This, however is about more than just our bank balance because the money stands for so much more.
It stands for choice, independence, opportunity and freedom and I find myself asking why should we live without those?