Thursday 21 February 2019

Starring role: Business as usual for Mrs Amal Clooney

She's married to a Hollywood star, but Amal Clooney is playing her own starring role this week at the European Court of Human Rights. Sarah Breen reports on the growing set of women who won't let their husbands' success eclipse theirs

Human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, arrives with her colleague Geoffrey Robertson to attend a hearing at the European court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin Clooney, arrives with her colleague Geoffrey Robertson to attend a hearing at the European court of Human Rights in Strasbourg
Eddie Redmayne and wife Hannah Bagshawe
Nick Clegg and wife Miriam Gonzalez Durantez
Bill and Hillary Clinton
Amal and George Clooney
Joseph Gordon Levitt and wife Tasha McAuley
Cherie Blair

Sarah Breen

When George Clooney announced his engagement last year, the collective female population wailed. Hollywood's Mr Big, the most eligible man since Cary Grant, was finally settling down. But unlike George's previous conquests, a random mix of cocktail waitresses, models and actresses, his new fiancée, Amal Alamuddin, was a successful human rights lawyer.

By the time the Clooney/Alamuddin party arrived in Venice for their paparazzi-infested September 2014 nuptials, it was becoming more and more obvious that Amal was not just a designer-clad show pony. She had kept working throughout their five-month engagement, wearing her seven-carat ring and quietly climbing up Vogue's best-dressed lists, while being photographed with colleagues walking around London. It was business as usual.

And then something shocking happened: after the wedding, she changed her surname. According to the website of Doughty Street Chambers, the legal practice where she works, Amal Alamuddin was out and Amal Clooney was in.

Critics decided that this was the death knell for her 10-year legal career. Now that she was officially Mrs Clooney, it was goodbye to being a barrister and hello to a lifetime of being a plus one at awards shows. It was inevitable, they said. After all, how difficult would it be to juggle two high-flying careers in such different spheres? In such a relationship, one person almost always steps back. The ulimate example of this is Michelle Obama, who deliberately took a back seat to enable her husband Barack to focus on his political career.

It wouldn't have been surprising if Amal did the same. The worlds of Hollywood and the European Court of Human Rights seem like unlikely bedfellows. But it didn't happen. Amal is currently at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, France, representing Armenia in a high-profile case against a Turkish politician who denies the 1915 genocide.

Amal is only one of many high-profile women who in a growing trend continue on their chosen career trajectory long after tying the knot to a big name.

When Bill Clinton entered the White House in 1993, Hillary was the first First Lady to have her own successful professional career outside of her husband's campaign.

She played a central role in matters of public policy during his term, while he appointed her to lead a task force on National Health Care Reform. Whether she decides to run in 2016 or not, it's safe to say marriage did nothing to dampen her political aspirations.

Closer to home, Cherie Blair continued working as a barrister during Tony's rise to power while British MP Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, is currently co-chair of International Trade and Government Regulation at the legal practice Dechert.

For college-educated, incredibly accomplished women, giving up such exceptionally successful careers for the simple reason that they bagged a high-flying man is unthinkable. And wasteful too.

"I don't understand why people are surprised that Amal is still working," says Mary McAuliffe, a lecturer in women's studies at UCD. "She had a career before they met and so had he. She has chosen to continue working because obviously that's where she gets fulfilment, as well as within marriage.

"Feminism has campaigned to allow women make these choices. She chose to take George's surname. That's her right and her choice. I don't think it was any big statement; she obviously felt very comfortable to do that. If she has a child she may take some time out of work, or give up work altogether, that's also her right. The whole idea is that women have a choice now."

The question of whether women can have it all, that is, a happy marriage, a successful career and a family, has been debated to death. But for someone like Amal, who's work is so essential, to pack it in could have huge consequences. And at just 36, time is most definitely on her side.

In the past, marrying a successful man was considered the be-all and end-all for a woman, after which she would stay in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, making sandwiches. But not any more. Being independently wealthy, thanks to their own careers, gives women the freedom to choose their own paths after marriage.

For most women, giving up work is simply not an option. Two salaries are usually required to pay a mortgage and various household bills. But there are many other reasons for women to continue working outside the home. One study from the US found that marriages where both spouses work were happier, while being financially independent is also important. Another study revealed that women who leave the workforce for just three years after having kids lose as much as 37pc of their future earnings.

Hitching your cart to a Hollywood superstar means one thing for sure: wealth. But that didn't stop Jennifer Meyer, wife of actor Tobey Maguire, designing and selling jewellery from her successful self-titled line long after they got married. Hannah Bagshawe, wife of Oscar-nominated actor Eddie Redmayne works in PR and opted out of attending the recent SAG Awards due to work commitments.

Worth an estimated €160 million, George is not short of a few bob, but then neither is Amal. Her motivation for continuing to work runs deeper than financial gain, and considering what she does for a living, it's not hard to understand what drives her. Like a lot of women, she has ambition.

"Amal is almost certainly earning a lot of money herself," says McAuliffe. "She didn't need to marry from an economic perspective."

It's that personal fulfilment that drives so-called career women to continue doing what they love. And the world is a better place for it.

I'm every woman: The women making a success of it both at work and at home

 Hillary Clinton was the first First Lady to hold a postgraduate degree when she and Bill entered the White House in 1993. She ran an office in the West Wing, as well as the traditional East Wing, for the duration of their time there.

 Actor Eddie Redmayne appeared solo at the SAG Awards last week, revealing his new wife, PR executive Hannah Bagshawe, couldn't make it because "she does a proper job."

Jennifer Meyer, wife of actor Tobey Maguire, owns and runs her own successful jewellery business and was named US Weekly's 2007 Jeweler of the Year.

 MP Nick Clegg's wife, Miriam Gonzalez Durantz, is currently a working partner at international legal practice, Dechert.

Tasha McCauley married actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt last December. She's the co-founder and CEO of FellowRobots, a robotics company based at NASA Research Park.

Cherie Booth married husband Tony Blair in 1980 and continued her work as a barrister while he climbed the political ladder.

Irish Independent

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