Women’s lives have changed dramatically over the last fifty years. In the 1970’s a woman couldn’t buy her own home. In both Ireland and the US, she couldn’t get a credit card unless it was co-signed by a man. She had limited access to birth control and, if she was unfortunate enough to find herself accused of a crime, her jury was exclusively male.
In Ireland she had no right to the family home and her husband could sell it without her permission. If she worked for the government, she was forced to retire when she married. And heaven help her if she found herself pregnant and unmarried! Murderers were treated better, and in many cases, served shorter sentences.
Nobody wanted women to receive equal pay. Even Trade Unions objected to it, fearing that increased wages for women would mean lower wages for men.
In the US, where the women’s movement started long before it was even thought of in Ireland, in 1962 JFK spoke about increasing the role of women in society “in addition to their primary responsibility, which is the home”.
Society changed and the lives of women changed with it. Nowadays, women can work outside the home, they don’t need a man’s permission to get a credit card and they have legal rights to the family home. Sometime around the 1970’s they were told they could now “have it all”. But is that ever really possible?
In theory, a woman can become the CEO of an organisation, some do. For many women, though, this will never happen. Statistics show that women and men progress in the workplace at about an equal rate until they hit the age of thirty. Then most women start having children. They become less attractive to employers who fear they’ll be taking time off to look after sick children etc and, although the law forbids discrimination against women, it would be naïve to believe discrimination isn’t still a reality. Men’s careers begin to take off in their thirties, many women get side-lined.
Generally speaking, men still earn more than women. I was shocked when it was discovered that Clare Foy (plays Queen Elizabeth in the Crown) earned far less than the actor playing her husband. I would have assumed that the star in any show would be the highest earner. It’s unbelievable that in the 21st century, an actor with a far smaller part received higher pay simply because of his gender. And, of course, despite equal pay legislation, women as a whole still earn less than men.
As men generally earn more, it makes economic sense that it should be the woman who takes time off to care for the children. It is true that some men become full-time carers but the majority of carers are still women. Also, society and employers accept that mothers take a career break for child care reasons. Many are not as accepting when men do so.
Nowadays even stay at home mothers get more help from their partners. I never really knew my grandfather. He was a hard-working farmer who was unable to make himself a cup of tea. I presume he believed his responsibility to his children ended with putting food on the table. Everything else was their mother’s duty. These days men are more involved in their children’s day to day lives and activities. Most accept that housework is a joint responsibility. But how does this work out in practice? The majority of women I know take full responsibility for the home and for their children. Their partners ‘help out’ but, making sure everything runs smoothly is still generally the woman’s role, and it is she who must pick up the slack.
Most women I know, especially those with young children, are exhausted. They work full or part-time, take care of their homes and assume the main responsibility for childcare. They have more freedom than their grandmothers and far more options but is this really “having it all”? I heard a Ted Talk lately where the speaker said women can never have it all until society as a whole changes. Maybe in another fifty years?
Problems faced by the modern working day woman were the inspiration for my character, Laura. Laura has four children and works part-time. She and her husband struggle to make ends meet and this puts a strain on their relationship. Laura is constantly exhausted, feels guilty she can’t spend more time with her children and barely has to energy to cope with a demanding job.
If you’d like to read more about Laura’s life, check out my thriller ‘Girl Targeted’ here.