Thanks a million, Gloria.

When I was growing up in the ’70s, the “women’s lib” movement was in full swing. I have three older sisters (10, 12, and 14 years older), so I heard more about it, perhaps, than some little girls. I remember that the Title IX education amendment in 1972, giving girls an equal footing in school, was a big deal (equality in athletics was the major fallout, but the original amendment never mentioned athletics and the law applies to all areas of education). Not that I was an athlete; it was just part of the whole “having it all” scene — girls could do anything boys could do. You could have a husband and kids and a career. Burn that bra, get a job, earn equal pay for equal work (oh, wait, we’re still waiting for that one…). Cosmo and Ms. were in; Ozzie and Harriet were out.

I’ve rued those well-meaning activists for years now. Thanks to them, women everywhere are now expected to work, to raise the kids, to take care of the house — to do everything they did before, on top of having a “career” and being a co-breadwinner. Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan, indeed.

It’s the biggest crock.

In striving to give women the “choice” to work, they all but took away the choice not to.

The outcome: a lot of exhausted women and a nation dependent on two incomes. Most of us aren’t willing to radically downscale our lifestyle to live on one salary. (And, most men I know won’t accept their wife not working.) That’s not to say that all women wish they didn’t have to work — I hear some women really love their job and can’t imagine life without it. They’re the ones who benefitted from the efforts of our foremothers.

As for me, I would love to be a “housewife.” I’d be good at it, I think. I’d happily clean and cook and shop and tend the house and the garden — most of the things I do already, though haphazardly. And I’d happily chuck my day job. I’ve done everything I can to make “having a career” as painless as possible. I work from home. Set my own hours. Choose my own clients (as the budget allows). Blog as a creative release. And still, I’d rather be giving the wood floors a good scrub with Murphy’s Oil Soap than worrying about that case study due on Monday and that big project I agreed to in September and that article I’ll need to start soon.

I can believe the whole women’s lib movement was a grand and wicked and incredibly brilliant male conspiracy. 

This article on CNN’s Web site prompted this post. But it’s a sentiment I’ve had for years and years. Who knows, maybe I’d feel differently if I truly didn’t have the choice to have a career if I wanted one. Or if my choices were (a) stereotypical Stepford wife or (b) old maid secretary or teacher or nurse, because those were the only jobs open to me. I’ll never know. All I can do is dream about “retirement” (a dream that gets fainter with each uptick in prices and downtick in the ol’ IRA). If my mother is any indication, I’ll cease caring about cleaning and cooking and gardening (or be physically unable to) by then anyway. Although, she WAS the stereotypical housewife and stay-at-home mom…after working (as a telephone operator) for a decade before she got married. She saw both sides. I wonder what “having it all” means to her?

Life often presents us with a choice of evils, rather than of goods.
                                                          ~ Charles Caleb Colton

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“Following my bliss” or something like that

Nine years ago, on Friday, March 5, 1999, I walked out of my relatively secure corporate marketing job so that on Monday, March 8, I could walk into my living-room-turned-home-office as a self-employed writer. My Day-Timer shows that I actually logged 4 billable hours that first day; 27 that first week.

In those days, I used to track billable time religiously — a by-product of working for the most anal firm on the planet for four years. As if totalling and recording it every day and week would somehow make it increase. Today, I’m much more lax in my tallying — but I still have the same Day-Timer and still manage my time and my projects the same way I did on Day 1 (although my penmanship has deteriorated drastically).

I always tell people this is the longest I’ve worked anywhere. Four years was my “as long as I can stand it” threshold in four previous jobs (one lasted only 2 years, another 3). And while I would be making more money had I stayed in a “real job,” and I still miss the security of a steady paycheck, and the isolation can be hard to take (coworkers were always the best part of working anywhere), I wouldn’t have traded the past 9 years of freedom for anything.

There is so much more to life than money. Living at a more leisurely pace for one. My days no longer revolve around my job, the alarm clock, the commuting weather, what the heck I’m going to say in this year’s performance review, or how Joe So-and-So is going to re-write what I’ve spent hours writing. Sure, I’m still a slave to my clients (who sometimes rewrite what I do, but a lot less frequently than my bosses did), still have to do projects I don’t like, and still have to get out there and prove myself every day. I always fret about money and when the next check’s going to arrive.

But, just as Ginger could do everything Fred could do, backwards and in high heels, I can do everything an “on-the-job” writer does, in slippers and while also doing the laundry, paying bills, cleaning the house, cuddling the cat, and enjoying a midday walk on a sunny day. That makes up for a lot of financial insecurity.

Still, I worry about the future. Will clients accept a 60-year-old freelancer? A 70-year-old? Is there a “Welcome to Wal-Mart” or “Would you like to Biggee Size that?” in my elderly future? More and more, it seems that way, and the prospects are frightening. (After all, I’ve never worked retail or food service. Talk about old dog, new tricks.) Maybe I should start now — take a part-time job just so I can learn the ropes?

Such are the uncertainties a middle-age free agent contemplates. Maybe not so different from what a middle-age corporate slave contemplates — but with a little less money in the bank, a little more job (and self) satisfaction, and a lot more likelihood I can look back and say it was all worth it.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
                                          ~ Annie Dillard,
The Writing Life