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Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

Most tips about dating targeted at single women amount to a Sisyphean course of self-improvement, whether the focus is on their appearance as complicit with the beauty mandate or with interpersonal skills such as listening and hobby development, all are designed to make women a better match and ring ready, which culture has emphasised since they were knee-highs.   Instead of regarding every date as a potential Prince Charming, it might be more useful to utilise the Rochester Rule as a primary criterion for finding a good man.  Put simply, Charlotte Brontë’s novel unintentionally illustrates how much one can learn about a man from the way he treated women in past relationships, only her titular Jane Eyre was too much of an inexperienced sap to give the evidence full consideration.  When you have a man’s track record to consult, do so with the knowledge that he’s not going to be an entirely different man with you.  You can anticipate who he was with other women will remain consistent in the current relationship.  In the case of Brontë’s Edward Rochester, a man who locked his wife up in the attic for a decade, just to keep control of her dowry, Jane would have to wonder what he’d do once she became inconvenient, put on some weight or asked too much of him.  Marry him?  Reader, she should have busted ass for the nearest exit.

Edward Rochester stands as a familiar romantic figure in popular culture.  He’s usually attractive but in an unconventional fashion.   A Rochester presents himself as a ‘deep’ or ‘tortured’ soul, a misunderstood genius, a man prone to emotional outbursts, passionate exclamations and who makes wild demands on a lady.  After the 19th century original, there were several other men who fit the Rochester template, a leading man who should give women pause, including Charles Boyer in the classic Gaslight, Orson Welles, Ted Hughes, probably Richard Burton, Ike Turner, Charles Bukowski and Jack Nicholson.  The Rochester type gets off on treating women like crap, by building himself up through reminding women how little they matter in the end.  With outsized ego and a dissembling manner, Mr. Rochester manipulates women while remaining oblivious to the distress he causes.

Scarlett Johansson should take note of the Rochester Rule now that she’s moved in with Sean Penn.  Any dude who imagines a divine intervention in terms of licence to blow rails and buy women, where god commands:  ‘you’ve tortured yourself enough.  Two hookers and the eight ball are inside’ (starts 9:16 mark) probably isn’t going to cozy up to monogamy, especially when he likens it to self-imposed water boarding.  Penn rates close to Charlie Sheen’s level of wacked out entitlement, public rages, a total disregard for a woman’s well-being, with only a slight differential of talent in his favour.  Ms. Johansson, go ahead and have your fling, but do it without the mistaken belief that you can heal or redeem him.  Robin Wright tried that route and looks positively shell-shocked as a result.  Vagina ain’t the Red Cross, ladies.  Let the Rochester type save his own damn self.

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…opined my 4 1/2-year-old on the way back from school. He thought the concept quite laughable. Whilst I’m flattered, in a way, to be thought of as in a different category to all other women, according to him, it brought me up short.

I’ve been reading unsettling things lately, which has added to my dis-ease (the disease of being a mummy, as opposed to just being a woman). There was that book I picked up about love and marriage. It had a whole chapter on how men are more likely to stray when they are older because the sex gets boring after 20 years with the same person, but mostly because older women are more likely to put up with an affair and not leave because they are less likely to find someone who would want them.

A week later an article did the rounds on Facebook and Twitter by an American woman who, being recently divorced, regretted taking half a career break to be there for her children in the way we are exhorted to do.

Her advice? Don’t do it. Kids cost a million dollars per child and mummy gets screwed in the process – and not in the fun way. We lose  our financial security and the ability to make what we were making, and on the path to making, before we took two days off a week to bring expensive, needy, future tax and pension paying, joy into the world.

Is being a mummy and being a woman compatible? A woman can stride through her life, making her own choices, having a room of her own. A mummy is a breeder, someone who is there to serve her children, to be seen to try to fail to mould them into what everyone else thinks they should be like. She literally has to give over her body to her young for at least a year, often two. Her job is to love, feed and clean up.

In the process she becomes financially reliant.

In doing all this she becomes dull. Her body is no longer for sexual subjection (begging a hippo of a question about how we define our womanhood), because it’s given up, handmaid-like, to procreation and protection.

The yummy mummy phenomenon only occurred in the past ten years and purely because celebrities with enormous amounts of money had their children early, by optional cesarean section, so that the final couple of weeks of pregnancy, the ones that see the most weight go on the baby and the mother, were circumnavigated. Then, whilst under anesthetic anyway why not have a quick tummy tuck and maybe a boob job and hey presto, instead of coming out of the maternity ward like a sad sack, expanded and then retracted like a five-day old birthday balloon, they sprang out, gazelle like, Frankenstein stitches hidden under designer garments.

Mostly mummy is not yummy. She’s worn out, socially isolated and fiscally poorer.

Of course she will be a lot poorer if she doesn’t slap on a smile and keep her husband happy.

So why do so many of us do it and others yearn for it?

Love.

As Alice Thompson Elis put it: ” There is no reciprocity. Men love women. Women love children. Children love hamsters.”

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I love sex. And I love lots of sex – morning, noon and night.

And this is precisely why I haven’t had it in years.

I haven’t taken a vow of celibacy, and I’m clearly not saving it for marriage (I’ve already been married – and divorced – twice, so that ship has sailed).  I’ve been on my own – yes, I do mean in the ‘Biblical sense’ – for seven and a half years. Simply because I’ve decided that, outside of a relationship, I’m not interested in having sex.

The reason is simple – I love great sex, and I can only have that if I’ve arrived at a level of intimacy with the other person.  Intimacy is what makes good sex great.  If food is analogous to sex, then I prefer proper, healthy, gourmet meals to fast food.  One night stands and other forms of ‘casual sex’ are sexual fast food meals – they fill a certain purpose, but the effect wears off really quickly. Then I’m left feeling very empty. Intimate sex is a gourmet meal – satisfying, fulfilling on more than one level, really enjoyable and best shared with someone who appreciates fine dining. Maybe I’m alone in this (though I doubt it), but I never fancy fast food, and I never fancy a quick fumble with a stranger or acquaintance, either.

Intimacy is arrived at when you spend quality time with the other person, when you feel you know them – and they know you. Intimacy is feeling safe and vulnerable with a person. It’s being open and honest with the other person about who you are, knowing that they are doing the same. That, sadly, cannot be achieved in the course of an evening – or even several evenings. Intimacy is both an investment and the return on that investment.

Interestingly, while I get very crabby when I’m in a relationship and not getting any sex, I find that I’ve become used to living without it. A bit like giving up sugar in your tea for Lent – I loved it when I had it, and giving it up was hard, but now that it’s been given up, I’m happy enough without it.

Occasionally, when talking to friends, I am grateful that I don’t have to negotiate bedroom etiquette: Who sleeps on which side of the bed; who sleeps in the wet patch; who puts on the condom; worrying about unwanted pregnancies; worrying about STDs; worrying because you haven’t managed to make it for a wax this week etc. etc. etc.

More seriously, I don’t need to be concerned with a man having a ‘sleep-over’ and being gone before my kids are up.

I miss sex, but I’d rather do without it altogether than have unfulfilling sex with people I hardly know. Maybe if I’m still a born again virgin in another year or two I might revise that statement; but for now, I’m happy enough to wait.

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Lisa McInerney: I remember well the February 14th I realised Valentine’s Day was not for me. I was eighteen, lurching through drizzle to get to a lecture, when a friend stopped me and asked excitedly what I had gotten for my boyfriend.

“Nothing,” I said. “Am I supposed to?”

For I had thought Valentine’s Day was about single people, which I realise sounds perverse, but it makes sense when you think about it. When you’re a kid, you use Valentine’s Day as an excuse to send lovelorn, barely anonymous cards to stodgy idiots too stupid to play detective. When you’re a slightly bigger kid, it becomes an excuse to go on the lash wearing a suggestive grin and a Traffic Lights Disco sticker on your cheeky chest (amber, of course – no one ever wore a green sticker coz that was, like, desperate). When you get to the stage where you’ve sealed the deal with your desired one, Valentine’s Day becomes trashy, tragic… a day for drunken boors, and weeping chicklit weirdoes. Doesn’t it?

“You have to get him something!” mouthed my friend, so close to dumbstruck was she.

“Nah. Sure he’s not going to get me anything either,” says I.

Naturally, he arrived at my flat a couple of hours later with a self-penned, TERRIBLE poem and a teddy-bear clutching a satin heart. I had nothing to give him but a sheepish hug. I figured that as he was a boy, he’d only have been embarrassed by any cuddly-wuddly gifts I would have proffered, so that I’d get away with it. But he stood there, looking sad and unloved.

He broke up with me a week later. Just as well; it never would have worked. He was far too big a sap.

Still have the teddy, though.

Sinéad Gleeson: I have had numerous heart-in-mouth Valentine’s Days. Teen ones where you pretend not to care and then ambush the postman at the front door. One year, five pink and red envelopes fanned the hall floor and I wondered if a portion of them were pity missives, as I was on crutches. Another year, 12 red roses arrived anonymously. The mystery! The romance! The idiot! Who spends a small fortune on 12 red roses and doesn’t sign the card?

Then there were my own delivery efforts. The memory of rushing up someone’s driveway in the dead of night, Ninja-style to drop a card in the letterbox. Or elaborately disguising your handwriting so that a guy you’d never spoken to would – gasp!  – not suspect it was you. When I was 15, I had a planet-sized crush on a guy in my school. He possessed creamy skin, cow brown eyes, an aquiline nose and floppy hair beloved of 1990s indie boys. He was incomparably gorgeous. About 50 other girls felt similarly, so I lingered in this imaginary, adoring queue and admired from a distance. I would see him approaching on the school corridor, hiding behind his fringe and my heart would totter from one side of my chest to the other. We liked the same bands, and one day his friend stopped me. I turned and standing beside him – and about three feet from me – there HE was. He – let’s call him John – nodded to my scratchy, canvas schoolbag and asked if I really did like The House of Love. The handwritten logo had taken hours of painstaking copying. I nearly keeled over. But not before noting his striking resemblance to the band’s guitarist Terry Bickers.

When Valentine’s Day came around, I decided I would send a card under cover of  ruthless anonymity. Or so I thought. I bought a calligraphy pen and copied the text from a House of Love 12” – “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”. I procured his address and posted it off.

Apparently John got EIGHT cards that year, a nugget casually passed along by our mutual friend some weeks later.

Me: “Really? Wow. That’s a lot of cards”.

Friend: “Yes. But he got this one card that he that was so cool.”

Me: “Oh yeah?” (being as nonchalant as a loved-up 15-year-old in pre-OMG days can be).

Friend: “Yeah. One with the exact same font as a House of Love song. Any ideas who, er, would have sent that?”

Me: (panicked now) “Um. No. Er, great. Well, seeya. ”

He looked at me and smiled, as he had probably smiled at the other seven girls who had sent his friend a card. For the next two years, John and the Leaving Cert did equal battle for my headspace. We spoke occasionally and I never said a word about how I felt. Years later, on a casual night out, someone revealed that John had actually liked me back. I laughed, of course. Then I thought about it. And then I wished I was gymnastic enough to kick myself.  But it was a good lesson. Life is too short. If you like someone, tell them. And bypass the calligraphy. It’s an almighty pain in the ass. And it’s so 1990s.

Catherine Crichton: As a skinny, speccy, swotty teenager, Valentine’s Day was a form of torture for me. Other girls, infinitely cooler and more popular than I, would swan into class brandishing their haul of cards for all to see. The ones who had actual boyfriends got gigantic garish padded cards and cuddly toys, others received mystery greetings from unknown admirers, covered in amusing and romantic verses. I could only gaze on in silent envy. My experience of boys was limited to the odd wordless slow dance at the school disco; I had never had a real conversation with one.

After several years of this, my luck changed and a card addressed to me hit the mat on the big day. It featured hearts and teddy bears, and had the requisite ‘roses are red’ verses scrawled all over it. It was perfect. I had no clue who it could be from, but of course that only added to the thrill.

I shyly showed it to my mother.  “What’s this?” she cried, unable to hide her surprise. “Ah sure, that’s only some of your friends messing”.

My Valentine balloon was well and truly burst.

Nuala Ní Chonchúir: Valentine’s Day. All I hear is people complaining about it. ‘It’s too commercial.’ ‘It’s a made-up celebration.’ Blah, blah. I love it, I have to say.

I haven’t always loved it – as a young teenager I longed for a secret admirer to send me a card, but it never happened. And one boyfriend sent his 9-year-old brother to buy my card (he was the type to tell you that, in case you got above yourself.) I think he was also the boyfriend who got me a Thin Lizzy LP, though I had zero interest in them at the time and no record player either…

Nowadays, I relish the day. Any excuse to be gooey and romantic, and crack open a bottle of Prosecco and a box of dark chocolates with my husband. The card is the big thing for me – I love cards for every occasion – and I usually end up getting two for my man: something arty and something cute.

I always send my sons anonymous Valentine’s cards. They know they are from me but I’ve been doing it so long now it would be a shame to stop. And seeing that my husband proposed beside the relics of Saint Valentine in Dublin, I feel morally obliged to have fun on his special day. Roll on Monday!

June Caldwell: I was snared rapid at age 12 sending a card to myself because my friends recognised the obscure verse as being only possible by my neurotic hand (yes, I was headmashed even then): ‘Roses are red, violets are blue, a car is yellow and a gate is green.’ Signed by a ubiquitous ‘Edgar’. Boy did they laugh and boy did I cry. At least I knew from then on I’d make a lousy fraudster. In later years Valentines’ Day (VD day for short) came to symbolise something a bit more sinister: my first boyfriend very kindly gave me genital warts which were diagnosed on February 14th at an NHS clinic in Hounslow/London – though I waited till he went down that evening to break the news -and of course he didn’t take it well. Cheers Garry!

Many moons later a man I was in love with decided to get his demented, derailed girlfriend knocked up and took me out for a meal to announce his imminent and certain exit from my life. This on top of the fact that I’ve *never* received a poxy Valentine’s Card (not even from my mother, who would normally be prepared to adopt any hideous gesture to help make us ‘feel better’) means that I abhor, despise, dislike, hate, loathe the very idea that one day could be more superior a show of bravura and love towards a humped one that the other 364 days in the homosapien calendar… that we are somehow meant to sit in a shabby restaurant somewhere, sharing a plate of deep fried garlic mushrooms (times are tough and the gourmet food is gone) to celebrate a bucketload of saints & martyrs who were all called Valentine?

Preposterous, the entire thing. A National Day of Farting would be far more contempo and cutting edge. Who is St. Valentine anyway?

Hazel Larkin: It’s a Hallmark holiday. The one day of the year when a single red rose will cost you about five times the amount it would cost on any other day of the year. The one night when, if you haven’t booked a table for two, you’ll be lucky to be fed in your local chipper.

St. Valentine’s Day is an outrageous affront to love and lovers everywhere. Yet, millions of people across the world buy into it, and feel pressurised to make a display of how much they love their other halves. Surely, if you love someone, you should remember to tell them – and not need a day set aside to remind you? Surely, there is supposed to be a degree of spontaneity in love and its expression? Having a day set aside specifically dedicated to looking after the emotional well-being of the person you’re supposed to love seems almost as silly –and outrageously affronting – as having a ‘feed your children day’.

Of course, I might just be jealous. I’ve never received a V-day card in my entire life – never mind a red rose or the offer of a night out on the 14th. Neither one of my ex-husbands made the effort for my birthday or our anniversaries; so expecting them to do something romantic for V-day would have been expecting too much. Boyfriends before and since my husbands (and I include the father of one of my children in that mix) have displayed a similar attitude to this particular Hallmark Holiday. Maybe if I get a card this year, I’ll revise my attitude to Valentine’s Day – watch this space!

Jennie Ridyard: At my high school there was an annual V-Day fundraiser, when carnations could be purchased anonymously and delivered to the dreamboat who’d stolen your heart, the dreamboat who dragged it through the hallways, the dreamboat who never knew you existed.

I was 13, and breathlessly I sent a carnation to Jacques — tall, dark, athletic, the greenest eyes in the whole world, a full four years older than me and (possibly) four-foot taller. I’d first loved him at the age of eight when he asked me to dance at the primary school disco. Yes, now I realise it was a Big Boy joke and, yes, his friends sniggered as I boogied, yet as I did my rhythmic sidestep all I saw was him and I thought I’d explode with happiness, especially when he smiled so kindly at the end of the song, touching my shoulder as he said thank-you.

So on this first high school Valentine’s Day I glowed, waiting for break, waiting to see my carnation pinned to his glorious chest, and there it was. Well, I presume it was there, somewhere amongst the veritable bouquet on his blazer, the great field of flowers that he’d sweetly crafted into a big L: L for Lisa, Lisa his girlfriend.

Eventually the flower sellers arrived in my classroom, and I feigned nonchalance just like everyone else did, pretending not to notice as Jane got flowers, and Tai, and Cheryl and Sheryl, and then the sellers were gone, my lapel was empty, and I wanted to die.

I wasn’t alone though. The only truth I know about Valentine’s Day is that if you’re alone, if you’re unloved and undesired, you certainly have company.

But come each new Valentine’s Day it’s the hope that gets you every time…

Claire Hennessy: Valentine’s Day bothers me. It’s not a Being Single versus Being Coupled thing – in fact, I think it bothers me more when coupled. Gentlemen I have been entangled with have had to put up with my ‘let’s not do Valentine’s Day, okay?’ speech – and I’ve had to curb my eye-rolling at flowers (flowers! For flip’s sake!), teddy bears with hearts embedded in their tummies, chocolates, and other officially-sanctioned emblems of romance. All right, to be fair, chocolates are always welcome.

The thought of being someone who genuinely expects certain things (roses, chocolates, jewellery, fine wines, romantic getaways) on Valentine’s Day is repulsive – as is the idea of being someone who despairs, aloud, at how unromantic her ‘other half’ is. I hate the thought of having to be on your best behaviour because it’s a romantic holiday, one that’s commercial rather than personal. I hate the thought of expectations, implicit or explicit, that money needs to be spent in order to demonstrate one’s love. I hate the focus on romantic relationships at the exclusion of all else – the notion that there is one person in your life who fulfils all of your emotional needs.

I’m a cynic. But I do think cynicism and romance are two sides of the same coin, and the truth is, I love the idea of a day when people consciously check in and remind themselves why they are with someone, and why that particular someone instead of just Being Coupled for the sake of it. When they appreciate that person instead of getting caught up in the day-to-day rushing about. I just don’t think Valentine’s Day quite does the trick.

Eleanor Fitzsimons: Nowadays my Valentine cards tend to be handmade, not shop bought. Delightfully crayoned, heart-studded wonders sweated over in the classroom and triumphantly handed over to thirty teary mums at going home time. This year’s offering, addressed to “Dad & Mum” made me realise that I might have drifted slightly off-centre in my son’s universe. Could the two tickets that “Dad” scored for Ireland v France in the Aviva Stadium have something to do with that?

It’s quite some time since I received a card from a boy my own age. Recently number-one-son allowed us a glimpse of the future when he handed over his latest masterpiece to a girl in his class and hung around shyly to watch her giggle and whisper with her friends. My lovely husband is very generous with his affection but more likely to fill the dishwasher and put a wash on than buy a cheesy Hallmark token….and I’m all for that.

I was never one who overburdened the postman in mid-February but I do treasure the memory of the few cards I received. So, where did it all start? In Anglo-Saxon England it would appear. Once ‘twere customary for a young lad to hand over a token of his esteem, usually a pair of gloves (‘twas nippy back in those pre-central heating days), to his lady; But before we sigh a collective “Awww” be aware that gloves were a symbol of authority and benevolence, often given by landlords to their peasant tenants. Inhabitants of Norwich, the second largest city in England, after London, in the eleventh century, would leave a small package on the doorstep of the object of their desire on Valentine’s eve containing a terse “a Good-morrow to you Valentine”. They would then ring the bell and run away, no doubt to peep out from behind a nearby wall and gauge the reaction.

This innocent practice was bound to be commercialised eventually. In the seventeenth century a book of verse entitled A Valentine Writer put in an appearance and at this time Samuel Pepys records the practice of delivering “substantial” gifts (boys take note). The invention of the envelope helped with anonymity and the penny post removed the necessity for knocking on doors and running away. Victorian Valentine cards were complex and intricate concoctions of lace and ribbon (similar to the doily-adorned delight that Sinéad Gleeson received this year) containing messages hidden carefully from the keen eyes of a prying Victorian Daddy.

Before the pre-printed card a love struck lad or lass had to resort to one of the many books of suitable verse doing the rounds back in the day or, if really dedicated, invent something suitable themselves. Those whose intentions were less serious might turn to The New Quizzical Valentine Writer, which contained a “most excellent collection of all the humorous, droll, and merry valentines ever published.” As the century turned to the 1900s paper Valentines became so popular that factories were established to manufacture them and that’s where we are today. You can buy just about anything with a Valentine theme these days but I wouldn’t part with my half-share of a slightly scruffy handmade card, even if the accompanying chocolate heart was scoffed by its donor before we even got beyond the school gates.

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Sexy Housework?

Imagine, if you will, that you are a young professional woman. Through your profession you meet a man, a well dressed, well-groomed man. You fall for each other, date, and as people are wont to do, you move in together.

So fine, so rosy.

Imagine then, again if you will, in a short space of time, this charming man reveals himself to be Wayne Slob. He cuts his toenails in the kitchen, he leaves the toilet seat up, he leaves cups everywhere. He turns from sexy right, to an intolerable and unhygienic wrong. You begin to question whether you find him sexy any longer, possibly while removing a toe nail clipping from your carefully Nana knitted cereal.

What to do!? What to do?!

Why of course! Write to Rosanna Davidson!

Dear Rosanna, what to do about Wayne?

Now me, I’m old school.  Were I to discover I lived with a person who had full use of his limbs, was capable of feeding himself, but remained  a lazy dirty slob I might take a number of actions. I might, A) come to some arrangement whereby the housework comes under my remit  but only if all cooking chores are undertaken by him. Or B) yell all the time, making myself hoarse and him wonder what kind of scary harpy he had attached himself too, or C) move into separate accommodation.

But dag nabbit I had forgotten to take into account option D)  the ‘sexy house work’ routine!

For verily what woman does not consider dressing in a french maid’s outfit while bleaching out the bath? Who does not automatically ponder ‘now where is my latex catsuit?’ while emptying the rancid kitchen bin that you’ve both been playing Jenga with for over a week? Need to strip the beds? Strip yourself first foxy mama! Litter trays starting to hum?  Jiggle those boobie pasties and drop your bootie on down while you scatter the low odor wood pellets, jiggle it, jiggle it, he might be watching from his place on the sofa. Now sing, SING my pretties, let the Dyson lift you higher! Soar on the fumes of anti-bacterial spray! ‘I believe  can fly, wooooo I believe I can touch my thigh,’ no wait…oh, getting dizzy from wearing my thigh high leather boots on the landing. Say, I wonder whatever happened to Shake ‘n Vac…

Finally (!) when all of this sexy cleaning is done, you can lie on your freshly laundered rubber sheets, glare at the mirror screwed into the ceiling over your bed ( is that a smudge?) and think back to a time when you used to be an adult and wonder where it all went horribly wrong.

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The One You Love

This is the sort of stuff that terrifies me. Wait until after you get married to have sex – an academic study and a family therapist say so!

The therapist’s logic is that as sex is one of the most common causes of rows in relationships, it’s better to delay sex until after marriage. No, I’m not following either. The study, though interesting, is from an institution run by Mormons, in the notoriously conservative state of Utah, so let’s not pretend that there might not be some small biases here.

More depressing is the experience of two Irish couples speaking about their decision to wait to have sex before they get married. It’s the idea that you have “clearer heads” if you’re not sexually active; that it’s “weak” to give into sexual feelings; that if men (only men, their responses imply) have slept with someone other than their wives they’ll be discontent, and most irritatingly, the definitive “Couples who refrain from sexual activity before marriage are just going to be happier”. Full stop.

I know, I know. This is the kind of thing that newspapers love to print so that people can get annoyed about it. It’s also the kind of thing that validates a lot of assumptions – that everyone wants to get married. That everyone will get married. That a good relationship means getting married. That despite it all, despite the crazy liberal bias out there (where? Where?) really at the end of the day everyone just wants their one true love and to be settled down with the Love Of Their Life.

I don’t believe in Loves Of Your Life. The American journalist and sex advice guru Dan Savage (‘Savage Love’) talks about how every relationship you are in will fail, until one doesn’t. Excuse me, mister. The end of a relationship is not automatically a failure. Painful, often, sure, but the point of many relationships isn’t that they last forever – it’s that they’re good while they last. In an era where people may frequently move jobs, move towns, move countries, it makes far more sense to think about relationships as something which need to be with The Love Of Today – by all means considering long-term possibilities, plans and goals where appropriate, but always ensuring that each relationship is in itself a good thing. Not something which will later be compared to a marriage, not something which prepares you for the ‘real’ love later on, not something which seems like it could ‘become’ good if you follow a rigid path, but something worthwhile in itself.

The Love Of Today might sound pretty flippant, but the benefit of it as an overarching theory is that it works for all relationships, not assuming that everything needs to lead to marriage or long-term commitment or monogamy. It reminds us that people grow and change and that the person who’s a perfect fit at fifteen might not be at twenty, or be great for us at twenty and completely wrong at forty. We don’t always want or need the kind of relationship that could last forever – and there’s a whole lot of worthwhile, valid and meaningful middle ground between the fleeting one-night stand or holiday romance and the lifetime commitment.

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Sociologist Dr. Catherine Hakim of the London School of Economics has, not for the first time, attracted considerable controversy in response to the publication last week of her most recent paper, “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine”. Hakim has previously published provocatively titled works such as her 1996 paper “Mummy, I want to be a Housewife” and last year’s controversial article in the European Sociological Review entitled “Erotic Capital”. This latter contends that women should prize assets such as looks, charm and sexuality and that this “beauty premium” can have as big an impact on your career as your educational qualifications or background.

In “Feminist Myths & Magic Medicine” she argues that the battle for equality is effectively over, that “most of the theories and ideas built up around gender equality in the past few decades are wrong” and that women still aspire to “marry up”, that is to marry men who are richer and more intelligent than they are (though they were not asked I suspect that men would be quite keen on the idea of marrying money too; a situation that would undermine the argument somewhat).  A number of outraged women have accused Hakim of “depowering women” and taking us back to the days of Jane Austen. Feminist campaigning and advocacy group The Fawcett Society accuse her of “threatening the progress made in women’s lives”.

However, the reaction to Hakim’s most recent pronouncements has been far from universally negative. Some women argue that there is merit in what she says. The reality, they contend, is that family life requires a couple to operate as a partnership and that rearing children requires one party to spend more time at home. The greater the earning potential of the male partner, the less pressure the family unit is under to juggle childcare and seek a second household income.

Hakim’s own approach is to advocate preference theory, supporting a woman’s right to choose whether to remain in the workplace or the home and using the fact that the vast majority of main earners are men to support her theory that women, when given the choice, opt to remain at home. However, in her comprehensive critique of Dr. Hakim’s theories in the most recent edition of the Sunday Times, Kate Spicer quotes University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies’ director Jude Brown as saying: “Hakim belongs to the school of thought that interprets certain inequalities as reflections of the choices that individuals make. The thinking here is that these choices are related to people’s preferences. But for there to be a real choice there need to be different options, instead of just herding people into stereotypical roles. For most families seeking to balance child care and work, there is no real choice”.

This is the crux of the matter in my opinion. I firmly believe that we are addressing the wrong issue entirely. Instead of looking at how we should or shouldn’t force the square peg that is the modern, well-educated mother into the round hole that is the modern, inflexible, often dysfunctional workplace should we not be asking how we can incorporate more flexibility into the workplace thus allowing society to benefit from the skill sets of women who can do more that feed a baby and fill a dishwasher?

As a rather disorganised mother of two young children I cannot envisage taking on the stress involved in juggling the kind of full-time, high-powered career that I enjoyed before my little ones arrived. Yet as a well qualified, experienced and highly motivated individual I simply cannot draw sufficient fulfillment from adopting the role of homemaker alone. For a women in my situation (and there are many of us) the options for combining a flexible career with the role as primary child carer (the housework can frankly go to hell or be sub-contracted as far as I’m concerned) are very limited. What organisation wants to hear that you are only willing to work term-time? Yet my children are in school and for thirty weeks of the year I can devote five hours per day to productive, revenue generating and ultimately fulfilling activities. That’s 750 productive hours per annum, not one of which will be spent nursing a hangover, moodily dreaming about a turbulent love life or worrying what I’ll wear at the week-end as may have been the case for my younger, single self (I’m admitting nothing). Employers take note – mothers are brilliant and efficient multi-taskers who make the most of the precious hours available.

In the recently published How Woman Mean Business (a follow-up to Why Woman Mean Business, co-authored with Alison Maitland in 2009), Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of gender consultancy 20-First, clearly and comprehensively documents how corporations can best implement strategies to achieve gender balance and attract the best and brightest members of both halves of the talent pool. She believes that enlightened companies are moving away from the old ineffective mindset and adopting radical and viable new strategies.

At 20-First gender balance is treated as a business issue not a woman’s issue and blockages are removed. This approach is considered radical and attracts clients that are, “open to new solutions and willing and committed to work with them”, having recognised that their organisation is flawed. They realise that gender balancing brings the best mix of management styles to the fore and has a positive impact on the bottom line. As for the rest, “traditional, resistant companies go elsewhere and continue to do all the wrong things.” The “wrong things” include talking about glass ceilings and setting up internal all-female support groups, thus treating women as the problem and convincing them that in order to succeed they must learn to behave more like men.

Ensuring that women remain and thrive in an organisation requires a shift away from the old notion of linear career progression. That’s why women are often attracted to entrepreneurship as it offers greater control. However, access to capital can be problematic. Wittenberg-Cox believes that, “it’s all about shifting the mindset. Creative solutions such as job sharing will work if the company is well disposed to trying them”. Many men welcome changes intended to redress the gender imbalance as this represents an opportunity to improve working life for everyone. So, is the traditional workplace dysfunctional? Wittenberg-Cox contests this assertion, saying that it is simply “outdated. [The system] worked perfectly well in its time when a man went to work every day and had a wife at home to look after him but that time is gone.”

The crux of the issue is this: women should not be expected to make unrealistic sacrifices and take on unrealistic stress; Children should not effectively spend their little lives becoming potentially institutionalised in various crèches and after-school facilities from early morning to late at night (and I do realise that this may be a personal bias and that many children seem to thrive in childcare); and men should not lose the happy, dynamic and successful woman they married to have her replaced by a Stepford style automaton who starts hitting the vino earlier and earlier each day.

What should happen is that society should reorganise itself to allow for more flexibility, thus facilitating the needs of all. Perhaps a mum could take five years out to get her children to school-going age without losing out on status and promotional opportunities as Gwyneth Williams, recently appointed controller of BBC Radio 4, did. Perhaps an Irish dad could take three months off when a new baby arrives as his Norwegian counterpart can. Perhaps junior can spend a happy morning in school knowing that he will be collected by a calm, fulfilled, contented mum not one burnt out by juggling unrealistic demands or worn down by domestic chores that hold little interest for her. Is that Utopia? Perhaps it is and I’d sure like to live there.

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