My daughter has very recently weaned from the breast. This has, with some serendipity in timing, freed me to go to a couple of events in London, which I would have struggled to have attended until now. So, after some feminist love-ins, some ‘walking along the street without a pushchair’, I feel fine. If not a little weird.
Conway Hall is slap bang in the middle of my old world. The world of the barrister. The world of the law reporter. Round the corner from my mum’s old office. But those days of getting the bus from Waterloo, or walking back to Charing Cross after an evening in the pub, or of grabbing a coffee from *cough* Starbucks, or whatever from Boots, are long gone.
Instead, just walking along Holborn, without my children, without the suit, without the stress, without the cigarette, without the leather handbag and heels, and without a salary in the bank, I feel like an alien. A foreigner. A tourist. A misfit. A ghost.
My entire 20s were spent living in London. Working in London. Living London. Living ‘equality’.
I now live a life broadly centred around my children – they take up my daytime hours. My evenings are my own – although they are rarely spent outside the home. I’m not complaining about this: I gladly and enthusiastically left my career to be with my children. I’m rocking the ‘private sphere’.
In reality, I occupy an extremely small geographic diameter nowadays. So when I found myself back on the old turf, it hit me that my physical world has literally and absolutely shrunk. It reminded me that, while my and my husband’s lives have both changed since having our two children, it is I – not he – who has faced the most significant and fundamental day-to-day transformation in my routine, my geography, my patch, my clothes and my income. Almost everything has changed. Yet, when my husband walks that walk, gets that bus, grabs that coffee, wears that suit, hails that cab and works that career, he remains outwardly and functionally the person that he always was, in the place he was always in, out there, in the ‘public sphere’.
Jean Bethke Elshtain wrote about Public Man, Private Woman. Something she addressed is the issue of why the ‘public sphere’ is deemed to be more important than the ‘private’. Her writing begged the question of why it is that ‘public’ success or participation is regarded as the sole marker of status, of worth and of citizenship. It is no stretch to the imagination to see how this bias affects mothers who want to take time out of the workforce to care for their children at home.
Outside of the Internet, my public presence during the week of Monday to Friday has consisted, consistently, of walking to and from places with my children, activities, school, playgroups, swimming, volunteering and play, within a 2 mile radius of our home. I am well and truly going about my business as a mother in the ‘private sphere’ and operating in the ‘shadow economy’: the one of care, connection and children.
However, despite my temporary constriction in location, I have almost certainly, since becoming a mother and looking after my children on a day-to-day basis, experienced an expanded emotional range and traversed an extended intellectual terrain. It forced me to write. It forced me to find ways to connect with other people totally unrelated to professional concerns.
And so it was that I listened carefully to Germaine Greer’s lecture at Conway Hall on Wednesday, in which she raised the issue of invisibility and powerlessness. In short, she encouraged us to make a noise.
To make a noise is JUST what I have intended to do with Liberating Motherhood.
During the past week, I sent my completed, edited, final manuscript to a select group of academics, writers, activists and amazing persons. Written in private, but to be shared in public in September. I hope we can join our voices, resist invisibility, and remind the world that mothers, fathers and other carers may well be concerned with the ‘private sphere’ but this is not a ‘second class plane of existence’. It is central. We do not deserve to be marginalised, our unwaged labour freeloaded upon by society, and penalised by policies which discriminate financially against family-based care. We are not inherently ‘unequal’ because we have prioritised the ‘private’ over the ‘public’ sphere – and we should not be treated as such.
London I love you. I’ll be back from time to time. But for now, my place is at home. It’s where my heart is.
Liberating Motherhood, Birthing the Purplestockings Movement, is due for publication in September 2016, by Womancraft Publishing.