The year I was born, a book was published – The Fulfilled Woman. Its cover shows a bouquet of candy-pink, white and yellow chrysanthemums and carnations fringed with ferns and gypsophila blooms. Flowers as dated as the views within its pages…
It’s a treatise on how to live a fulfilled life as a married woman.
It includes advice on:
Admiration: "Admire your husband. If you don’t, you are denying him the one thing he wants most in life, and his ego will be crushed."
Home décor: "Happiness is a pretty bedroom. Bedrooms should be romantic. Soft, indirect lighting, pretty sheets, an attractive bedspread, wall decorations and a radio playing mellow music all work together to make a nice atmosphere."
Laundry: "Have his clothes in order, clean and antistatic. A man should have clean underwear when he needs it, and socks that match."
Sex: Including four sexual archetypes: Ivy Iceberg, Eva Excuse, Sally Sexpot and Warm Wendy. I’ll let you guess which one you’re meant to be… But one thing is for sure, once you’ve read these, it’s very hard to think about brand archetypes in the same way ever again.
The assumption within this book is that it is the woman’s role to stay at home and raise the kids, and the man’s role to go to work and support the family. But what does it mean to be a "fulfilled woman" in a world where many of us are balancing not just home and kids but jobs and clients too?
While I’ve always got a kick out of disagreeing with everything within this book’s pages, there’s something more relevant for today in its dedication: "This book is dedicated to the two men who have made it possible for us to be Fulfilled Women, George and Phil." Now, while I suspect that I wouldn’t very much enjoy being married to George or Phil, there’s an irony in all of this.
Because in a completely different decade, and almost a completely different universe, it has almost become true. SheSays is pushing for equal shared parental leave for working dads – something that I wholeheartedly support, because I firmly believe that the very best way you can support working mums is to support working dads. And vice versa. But, for far too long, we’ve been focused on only one side of the equation. If we want to be truly "equal", we should fight for men to be offered the same opportunities.
Working dads deserve to have the same rights as their partners to spend time with and nurture their kids, particularly in that first very special year. And if our industry supported working dads as much as mums, it would afford mothers greater scope to continue their careers.
It has become much more accepted for women to leave early for childcare, but I get the sense from talking to many working dads that it’s harder if you’re a dad not to get the raised eyebrow. And it’s easier to be a working mum if you’re not always the one who is expected to leave early to pick up from school or do the doctor’s trips or stay at home on sick days.
I’m lucky enough to have two brilliant girls, an awesome partner and a job that I love. But without the support of my partner, there are many times when I wouldn’t have been able to do the late nights, work weekends and hit the deadlines. And he has been able to explore new work opportunities with my support and has also shared raising our kids.
For me, being a fulfilled woman is being balanced in your parenting, working and married life. While there are still clearly areas where women need to push for equal rights, when it comes to the question of families and how we raise our kids, we should be pushing for equal parenting rights for men and women.
To quote Ban Ki-moon: "Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility."
Clare Hutchinson is executive strategy director at Havas London
Picture: Getty Images