Pearls, Frilly Apron and a Keyboard

I  went to a conference many moons ago, for women leaders in science. I was but a lowly grad student at the time, but there were several hundred high-powered female scientists there, many leaders in their fields. As they gave presentations on their career paths and accomplishments, a theme began to emerge. Finally, one woman stood up and pointed it out.

Every single woman was attributing her success to chance.

“I was lucky enough to get a place in X’s lab.”

“Somehow I ended up with the grant doing Y.”

“For some reason, I was handed the opportunity to do Z.”

The woman who pointed this out suggested that the speakers stop using this phrasing and instead acknowledge that they took advantage of opportunities open to them because of their hard work, talents and skills.

They tried. They were terrible at it.

Now men have no problem with this it seems. I know I’m generalizing, but if you had a series of male scientists speak about their career paths and accomplishments, you’d hear a different story. Men seem to be able to value the work they do in a way the women don’t so much.

This is on my mind lately because I know a number of women writers who are full-time writers, who also handle all the domestic duties. In some ways they fit the scathing cliche of the housewife and/or mother, who also writes. And yet, many of these women are quite successful writers. Maybe it’s not a female thing. Maybe it’s a “I’m home all day so I can handle the home stuff” thing. I’d be interested to know how many male full-time writers follow this same model.

The thing is, I work from home, doing my environmental consulting day job. And I do not handle all the domestic stuff. David does the meal-planning, grocery-shopping and cooking, which is huge, I think. I handle the cleaning, dishes, laundry – which I pretty much save for the weekends. Yes, even the dishes. Ours is not a spotless house. But, I also receive a salary for my day job and I get consistent feedback that it’s valuable work.

Neither of which happens when you’re a writer.

No steady paycheck. No co-workers expecting a certain level of production. No annual performance reviews.

So, I wonder if the full-time writers feel the need to “make up” for the time spent at home, staring off into space, by at least keeping a clean house and providing nutritious meals. But doesn’t that devalue the work of writing?

I’m trying to decide what I think.

10 Replies to “Pearls, Frilly Apron and a Keyboard”

  1. I keep thinking that when I get my first royalty check, I can do less around the house, that I can demand that my dh do more. But in all honesty, he does so much around here that he doesn’t have time to do anymore–not unless he takes time off from his job (or cuts back on exercising which he is absolutely over the top about). And I keep reminding myself that his job pays the bills and allows me to stay home and write. Still it bugs me than I’m expected to take time out of my work day to cart the kids around–no small time suck. And when I ask for a few mornings off from my unpaid job as cab driver, I get attitude. Anyway, as you can see I’m conflicted. I suspect that even if I were making six figures, I would still be carting and cleaning in between chapters and paragraphs. That’s why I sometimes think about running away from home.

    1. Ah, what a thoughtful reply, Julie. Thank you for sharing. I suspect you’re right, that in some ways the female taking-on of domestic duties has nothing to do with our salaries. It’s even worse when there’s a salary disparity. Maybe running away from home IS the answer!

  2. Yikes. This subject has been discussed around this household numerous times. I have taken some time off from a regular day job and am having a blast doing my own thing, which includes writing. I am supporting myself through this time, i.e. living off my savings for my share of expenses. (Can you tell we were both previously divorced?) I’ve told my husband that “when I go back to work” he’ll be responsible for three dinners a week and a variety of other household chores, which he may pick from the list. He scoffs at the idea. I think by postponing his contribution to the running of the household, I’ve demeaned the value of my work as a writer. Hmmm. I’m going to have to rethink this. Thanks for a great post Jeffe.

    1. How interesting, M. It’s fascinating that, though you’re living off your own savings – and I totally agree on the split finances – you feel responsible for the household stuff anyway. I think you could be right on in your assessment. I love this: I think by postponing his contribution to the running of the household, I’ve demeaned the value of my work as a writer. Good luck!

  3. I’m not sure what I think about the topic, either. I do know that I tend to place a value on what I do in terms of dollars and cents. Back when I was working full-time in a non-writerly way, I did less housework. I also think I valued my time more.

    A lot of it for me also boils down to controlling one’s environment. I want to work in a clean, tranquil space. So…I do pause every so often to chase down the dust bunnies.

    But deep down, I feel like since I’m not bringing home as much bacon as I did before, that I should at least compensate for it by scrubbing the floors.

    1. So, if we place value on our work on the basis of remuneration, how much would we have to make to “match,” I wonder?

      I totally agree on the clean and tranquil space. That’s the main reason I don’t mind taking on cleaning – it lets me have the space the way I like it. (dishes totally don’t count)

  4. I guess I’m lucky (*grin*) because even before I made any money off my writing (which is a damn hard thing to do), TG always did more than his fair share around the house. Cooking, cleaning, yardwork — he was there. Granted, I took most of the responsibility for carting the kids around, because his job in theater made it impractical for him to do it.

    His paycheck was never “his,” always “ours.” Same goes for “my” advance — it’s “ours.” But I do have to say, it feels good to put something into the pot myself.

    1. It always sounds like you and TG have a great partnership, Linda! How lovely that the money you’re earning now feels like a special gift to give and not repaying a debt.

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