Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Domestic goddess, career woman or both?

The dichotomy or choice between being a domestic goddess or a career woman has been on my mind over the last week for a number of reasons, but although my thoughts are a little half-formed at the moment, I wanted to write about it. My blog probably gives a sense of me as someone who loves her home and enjoys pursuits related to the home - primarily baking (not just one but two sorts of biscuits), but who has dabbled in other domestic arts such as making jam and chutney and mincemeat and who makes her own Christmas cards and cross-stitches. But I recently wrote posts as part of the Library Day in the life project where I detailed some of my professional activities. I'm at the stage in my career at the moment where I can just about manage to balance my life as a professional and my life as a home-maker, but I'm not sure if I would be able to if we lived somewhere that is bigger than our current small flat or if I progressed any further up the career ladder.

I tried to think of role models, particularly in literature as I suppose my world view is generally more affected by the books that I read than by celebrities. But the trouble is that the books seem to reinforce the view that you can't really do both. One of my favourite publishers, Persephone Books, publishes books "by women, for women and about women", but they unashamedly seem to focus on the domestic sphere. Similarly Virago books celebrate women too, but although some of the titles feature women who have careers and do great things, they don't ever do so at the same time as trying to maintain a household and a partner.

I asked my friend Claire (Paperback Reader) if she could think of any examples; she came up with Nigella Lawson - a woman who is held up as an illustration of a domestic goddess, but who is also a career woman, but we decided that she is not an example really at all since her career was made out of pursuing domesticity!

Are there any women in literature who I might be able to emulate? Or somewhere down the line am I going to have to admit that I can't have it all and make a decision between which path I pursue? A better job and Marks and Spencers Ready Meals and predominantly seeing my partner when we are both tired, or deciding that I want to have time to wear my Persephone pinny, bake and blog and look after my partner but accepting that this means I will never reach great heights of salary or importance.


  1. Sigh! I have been down that route. I gave up teaching to be at home with my children. I hated staying at school till late every evening and working all the time to prepare for the next day. I know we have holidays, but they were normally taken up with more school stuff.
    I hope you can find a balance. Now as my kids get a little bit older, I have other dreams I want to pursue and I am hoping they will allow me to still be a mum when it matters.

  2. I think it is possible to do both, but it isn't easy. You'll need to save baking for the weekends and prepare a lot of meals in advance. It is always going to be a difficult decision for women, but I hope you make the right choice that makes you happy.

  3. What about Nicola Beauman?

    Seriously I think most of these decisions have a habit of making themselves as the circumstances keep altering. I had a sort of career until the recession bit and now I have a job with little prospect of improvement, but that encourages me to look for other things to make me happy and it turns out there are lots of them.

    I'm sure even if you had a better job though it wouldn't be ready meals... You're working 6 days a week now and baking - a better job might mean less time at work!

  4. A very thought provoking post Verity. I have come to the conclusion that you have to find balance and that life is not about work and then coming home falling into bed and not saying two words to your other half.

    I admire the way you fit in all the things you do and blog about and it is obvious from your posts that you have found that balance, and that you can leave work at work and enjoy all the other stuff.

    I work hard at my job, but it stays at work and I enjoy being a home-maker although there is only me in my lovely flat, but it is mine, I have worked hard for it and if I want to bake I will, if I want to hoover I will (though not keen!)if I want to go swimming I will, if I want to cross stitch or knit I will. If I want to do none of these things and read I will. Suffering with depression, I have had to learn to do all these little things because I want to and not get focussed on fitting into a stereotype.

    Life is about finding your own balance and not trying to balance someone elses.

    Hope this make sense! I have gone on a bit!

  5. I can't think of any examples, but I wanted to send much sympathy. It's so unfair that the way the world is structured does seem to demand that women choose. Things are slowly but surely changing, though, so hopefully you and other women our age (I think we're close in age) won't have to give up either one of the things they love.

  6. Well personally I think we need to stop talking about 'domestic goddesses' and 'career women' as if you can either only be a perfect housewife who cooks and bakes everything from scratch and has a lovely Cath Kidston esque interior and always has everything neat and tidy and wonderful, or a hard hitting super amazing smashing glass ceilings professional with a fantastic career and six figure salary.It's just completely unrealistic and sets up impossible expectations and a lot of feelings of inadequacy and guilt among women. We don't expect the same of men, do we?

    The vast majority of women are going to sit in the middle somewhere, doing their best at their jobs, and doing their best at home. It's not going to be perfect all the time, and we might not reach the heights of six figure salaries and worldly fame, but we can get to a happy medium. The pursuit of perfection and excellence in all areas of life is what makes women's lives seem an impossible hamster wheel of expectation and difficult choices. It doesn't have to be that way.

    Enjoy your career, enjoy your home, do the best you can with the spare time you have, and don't worry about occasionally having to eat a ready meal. They don't kill you! A supportive partner is key, and especially one who pulls their weight around the house. Plus an ability to manage your time and a willingness to cut corners!

    These lifestyles we are peddled by women's magazines are not realistic and the sooner we accept this and stop trying to achieve the impossible, the better. No one has it all. But we can be happy and fulfilled regardless.

    I work full time and study part time and still manage to cook my dinner and do other things I enjoy - I just have to compromise and cut corners sometimes, and accept I won't always get everything I want to get done in a night. That's life! It's never going to be perfect and it's not always going to be easy but with some determination and some compromise there's no reason why women can't work and fulfil their domestic side at the same time. Our foremothers have worked too hard at ensuring we have access to careers for us to throw in the towel now!

  7. Also - Persephone and Virago books publish a lot of fiction from the era when it wasn't possible for women to have careers and work. So they make it seem like you can't have both, when really, now, we can, and we should make use of the way society has changed and made that possible for us!

  8. Hmmmm this is very thought provoking! I love making a nice home for my husband and I and cooking fresh meals every evening but it is very hard when you throw work into the mix. I am very lucky in that I work from home but there are times when I am still sitting at my desk at 9pm at night, feeling guilty that I haven't cleaned the bathroom or tidied the kitchen. I think we have to strike some sort of balance and try not to beat ourselves up when there are days when things don't exactly go to plan!

  9. Fantastic post, Verity. I like Hayley's real-life suggestion; NB occurred to me late last night. However, there are a distinct lack of literary examples and I think that is telling (and not merely because our favourite imprints tend to publish older fiction by women).

    Everyone seems to think that it is possible yet difficult. It is wonderful that we have the freedom to be both domestic and career-orientated and that we do not necessarily have to choose between the two; we have, indeed, come a long way. However, I wonder -which is the basis of your post- whether, even though we have the freedom now to do both whether it is at all feasible. Physically do we have the time and energy to do both successfully? We can balance and juggle them both but, like you, when it comes to progressing up the career ladder and smashing through that glass ceiling, do we have the capacity for both roles? I worry that we don't and, ultimately, we have to choose between our ambitions, our loves and our ideals.

  10. by "choose" I don't mean an either/or decision but one has to prioritise and I don't think we can "have it all". We have limits and can't be perfect at everything, nor should we be expected to be. As I said yesterday, you need to be easy on yourself and lower your standards some! There are unrealistic ecpectations placed on women now that we have choices; having choices does not mean we *have* to do it all.

  11. Hi Verity, firstly let me just get my little bit of unashamed praise over: I LOVE your blog...

    And now on to the question in hand...
    Damn it I wish I had something wise to say! On a very personal basis this is something I have struggled with for a long time, and the whole business is complicated for me by the fact that I am a single Mummy with a seven year old boy who longs to be able to housekeep and Mommy to perfection but is challenged daily by the need to keep a roof over both our heads.
    To me the answer has been finding something I love, and that will provide financial support (the blog) while doing my best to make a nurturing home for my own dreams and little boys ambitions. It isn't easy. It involves emotional and financial compromise, but I have come to the conclusion that in order to succeed I need to look at life as a whole instead of dividing it up into "roles" and in the process nurture what I've come to think of rather daftly as a work of art in progress.
    I don't know what this means for you: maybe part time work? Enough time at home to create your own dreams uncompromised by exhaustion, because I do know this: from empty space spring dreams. From time comes clarity and clarity is what ultimately helps you see what it is you need and how you can go about incorporating that into a life that is satisyfing on an emotional, intellectual and financial basis.

    Just don't be scared. I'm living proof you can make it work.x

  12. Dear all - thanks for your thoughtful comments; I agree that there are a lot of unrealistic expectations out there, not least mine, and I guess I am wondering what is realistic for me. Certainly there aren't more interesting library jobs that are higher up and only part-time. My OH made the point that he doesn't expect me to do either and would rather I concentrated on other things outside the home which panicked me slightly as I don't see how I could fit that in too! I already have excellent time management abilities (batch cooking, use of freezer, trying not to stress too much about the mess) but the time has to be there to do things in.
    I'm still struck by the lack of people to emulate and I guess a bit puzzled as to where to look for my inspiration...

  13. The only people I can think of who appear to "have it all" are celebrities and then they're not a fair comparison to the rest of us because they can buy all the help they need. I think that for regular people there are inevitably going to be some choices. I studied to be a lawyer and while I am doing challenging work where there is career advancement potential, I am no longer practicing law as a legal career pretty much rules out having a personal life. My free time is now split up between playing with my son, reading, writing and then other domestic pursuits, none of which I can spend as much time on as I like.

    I think though that these are the realities of adult life. At some points our choices will be narrower and at others they will broaden, depending where we are in our life circumstances.

  14. Hi Verity. It's strange, I've been wrestling with almost exactly this question for a few months now. I have 3 part time jobs and I'm studying too and finding time for my husband and home is almost impossible. I haven't even blogged since November! I've been trying to work myself up to quitting one of my jobs and just can't make myself do it. It seems like a huge indulgence to give up a paying job just to float about my house planting vegetables and writing (I'm not so big on the housework or cooking aspect!) I've found myself fantasising about being made redundant just so I don't have to make the decision myself! But reading your blog has made me realise how much I miss things like blogging, so you've given me another point to put on my 'Pro quitting' list anyway. Thanks!

  15. Mother etc - that is what I am scared about - ruling out the chances to have a personal life. That seems less important to my OH - he is happy to work long hours and would be happy for home to just be a place to sleep (partly I think that is a product of his previous relationship). I think that your point about choices narrowing and broadening is a good one; sadly I feel that aged 26 and without children my choices are about as broad as they are ever going to be.

    Emily - it's such a big question and makes me hate being grown up. I have missed your blog so it is really nice to hear from you here.

  16. I have been a single parent for 10 yrs. now. My children are ages 17 and 13. I've raised them alone, basically, since their wee years. I also am a full-time high school English teacher who just recently added Principal Intern and master's degree candidate to her agenda. Trust me, I don't know balance! All I do know is that every effort made to enjoy the leisure moments we have, we should take and embrace wholeheartedly. Circumstances lead us to making decisions sometimes that don't take the inner-us into consideration. Having it all means just that...and, I think, with perspective and a willingness to rule out the truly unimportant time distractors, we can have everything!

  17. Verity, what an interesting post! I think you can do both, but if you career begins to demand more of you, you may have to make choices. For example, you might find you have to give up your blog if your career becomes more demanding or your home and family life is more important than a promotion. It's about priorities and deciding what is important at the moment. I may go back to school, and from past experience, I know I want to do a better job of balancing my life when I'm in school. School isn't all important, and I want to have a life while I'm in school; at the same time, I want to do well, and I may have to give up some activities in my personal life for it. It's all about balance.

    Traditionally, women have had to make these choices more often, but I think men have made them in the past, too, and are doing so more and more. If you want to see your kids before they go to bed or play with them on the weekends, you have to make some sacrifices work wise. You have to also make money, though, too, so it isn't always easy to make these choices. It is a balancing act and not an easy one, by any means.

    For pertinent literary heroines, right now, I'm reading Testament of Friendship. In a passage I just read, Vera Brittain is talking about how she envied Winifred Holtby's active career and humble literary successes after Brittain gave birth to her second child, is taking care of both of her children, and is finding little time to write. She feels she has not accomplished anything important enough literary wise. Yet, as far as I know, Brittain wrote after this (Testament of Friendship being an example).

  18. My first job was one of those time stealer jobs and the one I moved to is a 9 - 5. They both have their drawbacks, but honestly I think the drawbacks are created by corporate culture, not by the actual high poweredness (or lack of) of the jobs. My first job required me to work all hours, not because that held any chance of advancement, but because of other issues (I'm sure you know what 'other issues' lead to someone in an assistant position working longer hours). What those of us who want to progress in our careers, but spend time doing the things we like outside of the office, need is to find a job that is high paced within working hours, but rarely requires you to go outside those hours if you work effectively. I'd happily even abandon my lunch hour if I knew that meant I could leave at 5 every night. Unfortunately there can be outside factors that impact on our chances of getting some jobs done in a timely manner, but surely these jobs must exist!


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