Hooray for International Women’s Day: how far have we come?
By Emma Smith | Senior Managing Editor for PA EDitorial
Kitchens and cottages
It’s 1985. I’m spirographing (new verb, courtesy of myself) at the kitchen table, and the solvent smell of paint is wafting across the room. I watch my mother – right leg crossed over the left, right foot tipped up and outwards for no apparent reason. Her face is one of both concentration and contemplation. On reflection, I suspect that her thoughts were miles away from the small cottage she was painting. Lists of jobs to do; clubs to remember; uniforms to iron; recipes to try. Each meticulous brushstroke adds another splodge of colour, another part of the story. Each week, the white van pulls up, the crates are unloaded, and my mum sits and paints: before we wake in the mornings; in between the daily washing; after she’s made the lunch; when we are finally in bed and the dust of the day has settled.
“That looks like so much fun, mum. Can I have a go?”
“No, sorry love, I can’t waste any of these – I won’t get paid.”
“Will you make lots and lots of money, mummy? Painting the fairy castles?”
Mum laughs and then snorts. “Ummm, a few pennies, maybe? Not a lot and not enough, but it’s better than nothing. A bit of pin money. Never bad.”
My mother carries on painting. I continue to watch. Smelling that intoxicating and probably unhealthy paint (a smell I still love today), I wished only that I could paint like her, and not understanding how it couldn’t be the greatest fun in the world.
My mum left school at sixteen. She’d wanted to become a military nurse, but as was common then, her father didn’t allow it (that’s a whole other story). So, she went to work as a typist, met my father, and went on to have four babies.
Fulfilling our potential
I grew up with a keen sense that whilst my mum did not regret, for one second, having children and making a family, there was something missing. She was a frustrated nurse (and a Casualty addict). She always regretted not having had the chance to follow her dream. But she was also many other things, an exceptional touch typist – the words seemed to float out of her fingers onto the paper within a blink – an amazing cook, who would never really follow instructions, yet created the most amazing meals. She was a hoarder of biological and geographical knowledge (I still have no idea where that came from). And she was a quick and efficient mathematician (I didn’t inherit that trait, by the way) and a wordsmith.
When faced with the need to earn money to supplement her husband’s income and support her large family, my mum would often lament that options were few. She wanted something, like the cottages, that could work around her family, using the many other skills she had and giving her adequate recompense for this.
Her desperate wish for me was that I would have more options. Particularly as a girl who, from her experience, wouldn’t necessarily have the head start sometimes allowed her male counterparts. She hoped that I would have the chance to create my own family and know the joys of it, but that I would also have an identity and a vocation that was my own and of my choosing. My eventual pathway was strikingly different in some ways, yet familiar in others. With her and my father’s support, I went to university and went on to begin my career. By the time I was twenty-three, I had accessed a whole world that was closed to my mother and her sisters when they were the same age.
What about now?
This International Women’s day, I am reminded of my mum, painting at the table. I reflect upon how options were limited not just for her but for her sisters, her aunts, and her mother before her – in fact, many other working-class women and specifically working mothers at that time. Fast forward to 2022, we have moved on – no doubt. We still have far to go. But we have moved on.
There are undoubtedly more opportunities for mothers to work around their family lives, either from home or with greater flexibility around their children. There are opportunities within careers that not only give fair monetary award but also allow women to use their specific skills and, dare I say it… enjoy it! However, both nationally and throughout the wider world, there is, of course, still some way to go. Women are still faced with barriers, some of which may be economical, geographical or cultural, depending upon their context. If we were to take a bird’s eye view of the situation on our planet, it would still be clear that across the board, wages and opportunities are, of course, still not equal. We know that only time and, in particular, perseverance will help to move things forward.
PA EDitorial, and companies like it, are making strides to continue to redress the balance and #BreakTheBias. Lizi and her team have created a culture that not only celebrates the skills and contribution of women (from all over the world, I must add) but supports, engages and enables them to bring their contributions out into the open as equals who have much to offer.
Through PA EDitorial, I have been able to work in a sector that I love. I am using my skills, and I am using my mind. I am a mother and a wife. Yet I am also a writer, a proofreader, a copy editor and a journal manager. I have been able to make my work literally ‘work’ around my family.
Having been founded by working mothers, there is an acute understanding and appreciation of family life and the juggling that comes alongside that. Through our work at PA EDitorial, we communicate with many other people across the world, needless to say, many of whom are women – women editors, women writers, women academic reviewers and women managers. There is a comforting solidarity in the fact that we all have a platform, which we are using not only to show our skills and to contribute to our societies but also to use our voices. Some of us are mothers, many of us are sisters, friends, partners, wives to somebody. But alongside that, we are writers, managers, collaborators, communicators and problem solvers – amongst a whole host of other things. Whoever we are, and wherever we are from, we all have an awareness of what has come before, how far we have come, and how far we have left to go.
I often wonder what my children will look back on and remember. My hope is that they will remember a mum who gave them all the time that she could – but who also worked. In fact, not just worked but loved her job. I hope that they see a mum and a woman who worked with words and computers, emails and Zoom calls, alongside people from all over the world, using her skills and making a contribution both inside and outside of the home.
Through seeing me work and build a family life alongside my work, I hope my sons will see that a woman (and specifically to them, a mother) can be more than one thing at once to more than one person. I hope my daughter will realise that there is no lid on the jar and has the opportunity to enjoy this as I did (and, I hope, much more!). I hope that she will know that she can have more than one dream for what she wants in life and that each is attainable. Finally, I hope that she will reflect on this day herself and see how even further we have come in forty years.
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