I heard a great story from a woman I know – a hugely talented woman; she designs clothes, does up houses, has faultless taste, a great eye, has a super garden and is a wonderful cook. In addition to this she is wife, mother of four, owner of three dogs and two cats, and keeps the whole show on the road. Sickeningly, she is also clever, funny and an all-round good egg. She was at a party in London and a woman asked her, as she was from Ireland, did she know Orla Kiely? Yes indeed, she replied, she was in Art College with her, to which the woman retorted ‘Oh so what happened to you then?’ Flabbergasted my friend just blushed and muttered that she does up houses and looks after her family.
This exchange raises a number of questions:
1. Why are some women such utter bitches to other women?
2. Why are so many women so ridiculously modest about their achievements and capabilities?
3. Why is running a home and family so undervalued?
The first point is very troubling indeed, and from what I hear talking to my friends and acquaintances, it is common behaviour for women to be nasty to other women. One would hope that competitiveness, cliqueiness and jealousy would end at the school gates, but it seems to dog us for life. I am ashamed to say that I am as guilty as the rest of us – I salaciously read the Daily Mail sidebar of shame almost daily – though would never be seen dead actually buying the rag. I get on my moral high horse and tut tut about the crassness of it all, how lousy it is that it publishes pictures of slebs on slightly off days and piece by piece points out every flaw, every fashion faux pas, every ounce of weight gained, or expresses sham concern at a ‘worryingly thin’ star when they have actually lost weight. Instead of applauding success it is easier to chip away at it. It is as if there is a fear that if someone else looks good, achieves something or does well that there will be a little less of the happiness pie to go round and it takes something from us that is rightfully ours. To wheel out the tired old Gore Vidal truism ‘every time a friend succeeds I die a little’. The put down described above was designed to put my friend in her place and belittled her (perhaps it was inspired by the fact that she is very pretty?).
I think that the nastiness or perceived chance of nastiness is what leads to my second observation, the modesty. Is it that we fear that if we blow our own trumpets too much – or at all – that someone will be ready to cut us down to size lickety split? In some cultures what we think of as showing off is actually applauded. Why shouldn’t we be proud of something we have done well? Men don’t seem to have this inhibition but there does seem to be a sense with women that anything we have done has been pure fluke and that someone, somewhere is going to find this out and out us to the world as a fraud. It all starts when we are teenagers and append that ridiculous rider to anything complimentary ‘yes she is very pretty – but she knows it!’ Why shouldn’t she bloody know it?
This brings me to the last point. I am not for one minute advocating throwing in a career or going back to being chained barefoot to the stove. But if for whatever reason, a woman can afford to stay at home and she wants to and it works for her, and her family – what is the problem? If that is what she wants to do, so what? Personally I do sincerely believe that if woman do stay at home that they shouldn’t throw in the career towel altogether: do a course, carry on writing, dress-make, work from home, even in a very low key way, but keep up some skills and keep a toe in the water as when children grow up all but the most brain dead will want some sort of occupation. I think it is also vital that no matter how small, a woman should have some source of income that is all her own. But, and this is the big but, if you do meet someone who is up to her neck in nappies, or even one who spends her days having her nails done and getting botoxed to the hilt, don’t judge her. Just live and let live.
Read more from lawyer-turned-horticulturalist @vandracarolyn Costello in Image Interiors & Living where she does the gardening pages.