News Analysis

Friday 19 September 2014

Helen Moorhouse: Let's face it, girls, sometimes women just can't have it all

Published 11/01/2013 | 05:00

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I'M not a fan of ardent feminism, or country and western either, but occasionally, you have to agree that, yes, sometimes it's hard to be a woman.

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Our foremothers would have clipped me around the ear for saying that – what with my dishwasher and education and elasticated underwear. And rightly so. The day-to-day problems of ye olde woman seem mind-numbingly dull to us modern girls. "Will this mutton feed 15 'til Tuesday?'' or "how do I wash sheets equipped with a bar of Sunlight and a depleted will to live?" They longed for education, freedom, jobs – stuff that we take for granted. Equality. And Hoovers. History's women would think that we have it all.

Former Tanaiste Mary Coughlan forged a career in a tough game, juggled with the help of childminders and family, worked long hours and grasped opportunities to rise to the top.

Which is why it's so heartbreaking to hear her say after the end of her political career and the sad loss of her husband last September to cancer, "...What was it all about when you have a lot of loss to bear". You might feel that a woman who once held the second highest government office while having a family might have achieved 'having it all', but at only 47 years of age she is coping with devastating loss, learning anew about her own teenage children and trying to create a new normal. What was it all about indeed.

Reminded thus that life can kick us all off the cliff any time, is there even any point in trying to have it all? Actually, can we? I nine-to-five-thirty-ed for years while longing to be with my children like many of my female colleagues. It broke our hearts to surrender our young to carers. Wouldn't it be much more satisfying – simpler – if we could just stay at home, like the old days?

Some of us got our wishes. Only to find that, actually, being a 1950s mum isn't all we cracked it up to be. I met with two former colleagues recently who didn't give professional life a second glance when they left the office, yet both now hanker to get back to an existence outside home and hearth. After all, we didn't go to college and accumulate all that pre-child career experience to waste it making beds and washing PE kits, did we?

The other man's grass and all that, eh?

So which is it to be?

Mary Coughlan's situation reminds us that when our time comes, we won't wish that we'd stayed late in the office more. But how reasonable is the alternative? I would hate to think that my daughters might miss out on life because of a pressurised career. But it would also make me uneasy to think of them choosing to be satisfied solely by domestic ' bliss'.

They – and all women – have much more to offer than that. Looking at both sides of the coin, it seems that we might not be able to have it all.

Especially when, ultimately, 'all' still might not be enough.

Irish Independent

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