Friday, 19 August 2005

It's not fair

I came to Sex and the City late (I came to sex late, but that’s another story). I began watching right at the end, when they started the countdown, because I thought I might have missed something, some kind of TV landmark. I don’t like missing landmarks. I’ve seen lots of them: the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth; the Hungarian uprising; the ’68 Revolution in Paris – I was there for part of it; the First Man on the Moon, etc. etc. Although, SATC can’t possibly be compared to those momentous events, it seemed a shame to miss it completely. So I watched the end, got hooked and then watched all the repeats, which ended the other day.

Most of the time I couldn’t identify with any of those four young women – even if one forgets about the age difference, none of them was like me, but there were things about life that I could easily understand and sympathize with, none more so than in the episode about the shoes.

I know, I know, lots of episodes featured shoes in a prominent role; I mean the one where Carrie goes to a party at a newly-pregnant friend’s – a baby shower. She’s bringing a beautiful present; she’s wearing a very expensive pair of Manolos and she’s asked to leave them at the door. When she wants to go home, she discovers someone else has made off with them and the hostess refuses to give her the money because she says paying that much for a pair of shoes is preposterous. She makes it sound like it’s some kind of crime.

There ensues an interesting reflection on lifestyle choices. Carrie says she’s not married so she hasn’t been the recipient of millions of pressies on the occasion of her wedding; she hasn’t had a child yet so … same thing, yet she’s expected to buy presents for her friends every single time. The only way she manages to get the money for her stolen shoes is by registering at Manolo Blahnik’s, announcing her “marriage to herself” and sending the details of the one present she wants to her friend, who finally gets the message.

I’m not married; I don’t have any children; I don’t have the money to buy Manolos, but over the years, like Carrie, I’ve been expected to furnish other people’s kitchens and supply their kids with toys. The daughter of the woman, for whom I worked full-time for 15 years but who sends me work now only once a year and doesn’t speak to me at all in the interval, is pregnant. Her other daughter has had two kids already and, of course, I bought presents for both babies. Now I’m expected to fork out for the other one. Has Mummy ever given me anything, except stress? Nope!

It’s not the money; it’s the principle of the thing. Oh, and what about mothers who get time off in the workplace? I don’t resent them having it; I resent the fact that women who are not mothers can’t have the same time off for other reasons. As if there was still only one acknowledged role for a woman.

Who’s responsible? Who should I slap?


  1. Slappity-slap to everyone who feels *entitled* to special treatment!

    Yes, we all want our special-ness acknowledged - but not one of us deserves it at the expense of others. The social contract only works as long as everyone gives something. Problems arise when some people enjoy being on the receiving end, but never make it around to the giving. Jesus of Nazareth said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" - but you notice, people are more apt to apply that injunction to others than to take it to heart themselves!

  2. I have a friend in Paris who, when we used to lunch together, would always order the most expensive dishes - always three or four courses and the most expensive wines. She then expected me to pay half the bill. I've always been unable to drink wine or manage more than two courses and I used to feel hard done by, but she was a good friend otherwise so I never said anything. However, I had to tackle the subject once, after a birthday party I had in a particularly expensive restaurant. It had been agreed I would pay for certain items and my guests would pay for the rest. As it turned out they decided to split their bill equally. Except that another friend, who, like me, had a small appetite and didn't drink alcohol, complained to me afterwards. So I decided to bring the subject up with my greedy friend. She was stunned but agreed to refund some of the money. Her parting shot was, "I'm a taker, what can you do?" What can you do?

    The whole of society conspires to make one whole group "takers".

  3. Can I add a slap to the woman (an ex-boss) who told me smugly once that unless I had experienced having a child, I couldn't consider myself as having become fully emotionally human; that no feeling I could put up for discussion could possibly compare. It's connected, because it's the idea that marriage and childbirth deserve special praise and special presents above all else. I'd like to suggest that doing something loving for someone one is not bilogically programmed to protect unto death is actually MORE praiseworthy.

    Like you, Bela, I think maternity leave etc etc is fine, but here's my idea - any woman who reaches, say, 45 without having taken any gets to have six months' sabbatical on statutory maternity pay rates - to travel, learn something, have a rest, whatever. What would you do with that time?

  4. i agree: i think everyone should be allowed to consider part-time working or taking time out from the workplace, regardless of the reason why (i.e. not just to bring up children)

    when i was (admittedly involuntarily) childless, i was in the process of discussing the possibility of switching to four day a week working with my boss, who was very supportive of the idea

    it was HR who were reticent, saying they only gave automatic permission to "those who were doing so to fulfil parenting responsibilities"

    also not sure who to slap here...perhaps we should all slap ourselves for not making more demands like these of our employers

  5. Glad to see I'm not alone. :-)

    What would I do if I didn't have to work for six months? Erm, I only work half the year already, so I doesn't apply these days, but, years ago, when I was in full employment, I would probably have taken the opportunity to learn a skill of some kind, most certainly related to the theatre, or the media in general. What about you, Lulu?

    UC, did you not pursue it, then? Was there no higher authority you could have taken your case to? It's such a shame.

    It's the SMUGNESS of those women that I can't stand.

  6. i did not pursue it because i then fell pregnant and dropped back to four days a week until i gave birth (no problem at all negotiating that, funnily enough)

    the rest, as they say, is history...

    still think the system sucks though - so far i know only one person (a man) who managed to persuade his employer (a govt dept) to let him work three days a week so he could pursue his love of dancing

    wish t

  7. ooops, hit send too early

    wish that there were more people like him, more sympathetic employers and so on

  8. As a self employed person myself I would say that you should not feel obliged to give this new infant a gift. And if your client complains, tell her you don't have enough work on at present to afford extras and let her join up the bits in the middle.

  9. Dear J., with respect, this is really a story about people who expect you to take off your shoes at the door. I have beautiful shoes that I spend a great deal of time selecting, I look lousy barefoot and I don't want to roam around like something out of Tobacco Road because you care more about your floors than your guests' comfort. In a house in Kyoto, requesting shoe removal is due to hundreds of years of tradition. In a suburban American four-bedroom, it's pretentious.

    There, I said it. I feel much better. I love this blog.

  10. UC, you’ve experienced first hand how easy it is these days to negotiate special working hours when one is pregnant. I’m glad it worked in your favour. :-)

    GreatSheElephant, I do have to buy the baby a present when it’s born because its grandmother and I used to be “friends”, in that weird way employer and employee can be friends. I had tea at her place a couple of times and she used to regale me with tales of her daughters’ progress at college, etc. Now, for a few weeks every year, she tells me about her grandchildren. I listen politely and make all the right noises. She's not aware that I have no reason to be so friendly with her any more (see my June post, "Oh, to be a freelancer!"). I will do the work, but I don't want to be part of her life. I might just do what you suggest this time.

    F, you’re absolutely right: it’s pretentious and patronizing. I’m so glad you feel better when you come here – and you don’t even have to remove your shoes. LOL!

  11. I love this blog-it is tonic!
    I am at the unfortunate stage where many of my friends are getting married and having children. A lot of my friend tend to present themselves as young people struggling to get ahead-trying to save for a home, ect., and frankly I am forever shelling out a lot of money to get them the stuff that is on their registry list. I have recently purchased my first home (yea!) after many years of saving. I am currently on my own. I moved myself and furnished my place on my own, and have recently discovered that there was some gossip-poor thing, she is all on her own. Well, I believe there is dignity in living on your own, and not just settling for the first person who comes along just for the sake of having a partner. I chose to not have a housewarming party because I never want someone to wander through a store, experiencing stress over choosing me a present. Instead
    I hosted a birthday party for a friend of mine, and invited all our friends over. I had gorgeous food for them abd we watched the last satge of the Tour. Now almost all the people I care about have been to my home and no one had to whip out their Visa to do so.

    I also believe I may never have a biological child, but I may chosse to provide a good upbringing for a child who might not otherwise have a home.
    Slap to sociey in general, and to that weird cult of people who worship marriage (even if you met your soulmate on Bill Gates' software) and children (very nice, but are NOT meant to rule the universe since the day of their birth). Also major slap to those who tell you the gory details of the birth of said children in clinical detail.

  12. Slaps to all selfish people! Slaps to employers (and others) who assume single people without kids are infinitely exploitable!

    Of course, I'd also like to slap the people who made SATC for fooling women into feeling empowered by identifying with abominably shallow, sex-obsessed women, but that's another story.

    P.S. Didn't know people were so put out by the shoe thing! In my family, it's a granted that when you visit you take your shoes off. My mother has scolded me so many times for sauntering into someone's house with my shoes on, it's imprinted in my cells by now. I've often found myself awkwardly mid-shoe-removal in a non-shoe-removal house, flashing my toes when everyone else is remaining shod. Cross-cultural shenanigans can be so embarrassing.

  13. Carole, thanks for your kind words. What you did was very nice and I hope it’s going to stop your friends expecting more from you. Society is only interested in people who are procreating, isn’t it? :-(

    Of course, you’re right about SATC, Tania, but to be fair, it was called "Sex" And The City, not "The Intellect"... I think we knew what to expect; it only explored in depth one aspect of those young women’s lives. I thought some of the insights were quite interesting and true. But, you know there is currently an anti-feminist backlash anyway so it’s not possible to show women in other roles.

    As for removing one’s shoes, I would really be a little put out if I had to do it at a party. What does one look like all dressed up with no shoes?

  14. Slap them all! It's a two-way street. Some people ONLY know how to take, but when it comes to giving, they're clueless.

    As for wanting time off, my experience is you just have to "TAKE" it, because employers will push you as hard and as far as they want.

  15. T, it's not always possible to just take, as far as time off is concerned: you might go away and not have a job when you get back. Of course, when you're a freelancer, like me, you're not entitled to anything anyway.

  16. Argh, THAT is a dilemma! I was there once, too, having been an freelancer/independent contractor myself for 12 years. It was either feast or famine. I could only ever take time off in one-week clips, and even then when things were a bit on the slow side. For me, it was better than nothing, and those breaks were life-savers.

    Hope you find a way to get some relief.

  17. I once went to a party at a restaurant where lots of alcohol was being consumed and they'd put an automatic 20% of the total bill as the tip. I decided not to order anything as I figured that the tip would easily figure out to three times what my entree would come out to. So, I sat there drinking and eating nothing for almost three hours and was so starved by the end of the night but felt rather satisfied once the bill came and everyone's total was well over $100.

    I love that SATC episode! It's such a struggle to pay for the endless cycle of gifts. Last year I was really low on funds and spent more a lot more on the gifts for one of my best friend's kids than I did her own gift. I felt bad until she brought up the subject of her gift. It's a gift! How can you put a price on a gift! It's the thought that counts!!! Ugh, slap!

  18. I get really really pissed off by some people's "insensitive" expectations. I take into account the kind of life they have; why can't they do the same with me?

  19. Oh oh oh - must tell you, atreau - we once had an office cleaner who used to announce her birthday and give us a list to choose from! And she used to tell stories of another office she cleaned where they gave her a present she didn't like. She had been about to go on holiday to South Africa and so they bought her a travel guide to South Africa. And she told us with outrage how offended she was and how she threw it back at them, saying 'What makes you think I would want this? And how little did it cost!' *open-mouthed with disbelief*.

    Carole, yes to everything; if we stand outside the herd of marriage and children, for whatever reason, we get run down by that herd on their way past. And good on you for planning to adopt if you do decide there is room for a child in your life - it's such a huge gift. The world doesn't need more people, it needs the ones who already exist looking after.


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