Over the past forty years the role of the woman within the family unit has changed significantly in Ireland. Back in the sixties and seventies it was standard practice that women stayed at home while the men went out to work. The women busied themselves with raising the children, keeping the house and trying to manage both on their often frugal housekeeping money.
Over the course of the eighties, nineties and noughties women grew into multi faceted beings that not only possessed the maternal and domestic instincts, they also harnessed their academic capabilities and entered the professional workforce, flaunting their finesse and their intellectual prowess with all the gait and pride of a confident peacock, all that and they still managed to make the time to bake brownies for the school bake sale, the women, not the peacocks.
Entering the teen years, life for the modern Irish woman couldn’t have been better, we had it all, marriage, career and money in our purses. The flaming torch for women’s liberation had been passed from generation to generation and we were proud to carry the torch for a while before we would present it to our daughters. For the first time in forty years, we could afford to contribute financially to our families lives, that is, if we had any cash left over after paying Katia (the Polish au pair) and treating ourselves to Spa days at the Maryborough. We were able to steer our family’s lifestyle to an equal degree, as the guilt of not being a fiscal contributor was eradicated, and we brought home the same amount and in some cases more bacon than the husbands. Progressive social attitudes meant that women were able to enjoy a career and family without having to compromise on either and an independent salary was the cherry on top.
All was going well until woman took up with Declan, the Civil Engineer who found himself relying on a diminishing construction industry to co-support his family. Woman subsequently found herself casting her career, together with all her ambition and ability into the depths of the Persian Gulf as she landed in the Middle East in a selfless act of support for her husband and her kids Fionn and Fiachra.
From afar it looks like these women have it all. The once run-off-their-feet careers mums now find themselves living in sunny Abu Dhabi, in the full-time permanent position post of wife and mother. The initial reaction of these women may often be relief, perhaps even enthusiasm as they look forward to a life of leisure punctuated by a round of golf or a spot of tennis. The first flicker of the torch happens when woman realised that none of their bank accounts, credit cards or contracts bear her name, only that of the name of her husband, hereafter referred to as the breadwinner.
First months in Abu Dhabi may see the woman developing a fondness of shopping and luncheons in French (Arab owned, Philipino run) coffee houses. However the sojourn doesn’t last long, what Declan may have failed to mention during the first weeks was that every time one of his debit or credit cards are used in a transaction the bank send a text, stating the amount spent and the name of the retailer. This nugget of information may clarify why the breadwinner was silent on so many evenings, particularly on the evenings when woman said she spent the day doing housework but the bank reported five separate incidents of card usage. The financial .rape continues until the breadwinner has no choice but to break his silent and disclose the information he is party to. From that point forward woman can no longer spend without consequence, both her whereabouts and her spending habits are fully exposed. The torch is quenched.
Wings clipped and without the price of a stamp to call their own, the women who left Ireland, fully qualified, fully employed and full independent persons now find themselves back in the situation of their grandmothers and great-grandmothers, to a time when women rely on men to provide their housekeeping money. Decades of social struggle wiped as we now struggle to adjust from keeper to kept.