The Working Condition
I'm sick of it all. I'm working hard, wearing myself out and I'm trying to remember why.

The phrase "Having It All" has been overused recently by the media industry celebrating the birth of Cosmopolitan magazine and the revolution in women's publishing. In the year Cosmo was first published, 1972, I was a young thing, a girl born into a society whose reshaping the media was claiming to chronicle.

"Having It All" boiled down to three things; sex, family, career. Out of these three women were traditionally used to having families, I'm presuming if they had families they were used to having sex, so it seems that the combination of these things with a career was seen as the ultimate in modern living. I grew up in a culture which encouraged me to strive for these things, to take them and enjoy them. So what's my problem? What am I moaning about?

I'm moaning about work. I'm no stranger to it, and was bred to it throughout my schooling from primary school, secondary and further education, all the way through my degree and post-graduate qualifications. While I did well in all that, I had this image in my mind of what it was going to get me, this "career" that I'd heard about that was to be as satisfying as sex and as fulfilling as child-rearing. Admittedly it was a vague image but I was media literate and aware that this career was the step I was looking to take next, the one expected of me and the one I expected myself to take. So now that I'm there, I'm miserable and what's more, I'm kicking myself for years of naivety, for falling hook line and sinker for the biggest industrial and economic scam this century.

Women working. The common line is that women have always worked, in the home and bringing up children, since the beginning of time. The scam of the century, which crept in the back door under cover of women's emancipation, is that women were encouraged to get out of the home and join the male ranks of dissatisfied, underpaid, disenchanted workers. We too can now be exploited and unhappy wage slaves as well as workers in the home.

Why was it we began to equate work with emancipation? The dictionary defines emancipation in two ways. The first is that it is the setting free from slavery. To view the entry of women into the working world in this light is sentimental at best. Carrying total responsibility for housework and raising of children was a form of slavery, but women's role wasn't simply transformed from one environment to the other, from homestead to factory floor. It was extended into the workplace. So working women worked twice as hard, at home and at their job.

The second interpretation of the word emancipation is that it is the setting free from intellectual and moral bindings. This is the more sinister meaning behind the move of women into the workplace. While it may have been moral fetters which chained the women to their stoves it is certainly not an intellectual freedom we have gained from emancipation. If women were ever to live up to their intellectual and artistic capabilities, if we were ever to have the chance to become as proficient in art, music, and literature as men, then they would need time to benefit from labour saving devices in the home, not find themselves farmed out to labour in industry as well. This is just one of the many reasons behind the lack of female authors listed in the recent "100 best books of the century". No wonder women weren't writing Ulysses. They were too busy with the washing up.

That women were lured out of the home by financial pressures was the beginning of this massive scam that changed our demography forever. What is fascinating is the extent to which it has changed the shape of our society, and that all of this change is still based on an illusion. While early women workers were convinced that employment would free them "career women" are convinced that employment will bring them an intellectual freedom that they cannot find anywhere else. What we end up with though is Cosmopolitan, Bridget Jones and dishwater stains on our power suits.
©Carrie McMilan 1998

the wirking condition