Monday, March 19, 2007

Right to reply

ONE of the best (and worst) things about writing an opinion column for a newspaper is that you open yourself up for a right of reply from your readers.
Who would have thought that a column about the trials and tribulations of being a working mother would have generated such a vitriolic response?
To use the Derry venacular I’ll take my oil. At the end of the day if people take the time to pick up a pen and write a letter expressing their views on what I’ve written then I’m doing my job properly. But the other side of the story is that if people want to write and express those views they have to, at some level, expect me to express mine back. The writer, you see, has the same right of reply as the reader.
So first of all, can I address the ‘Co. Tyrone Female’ who told me that if she could, she would rid her department of all working mothers? The lady in question went on to describe us as unreliable, moaners and (the piece de resistance) ‘users’.
To top it all off she suggested that I simply give up my work if I’m unhappy. I think she may just have missed the point. I doubt there are many working women out there (regardless of marital or parental status) who can just wake up in the morning and say “Feck this for a game of soldiers, I’m packing in the day job.”
Secondly, in the article I stated very clearly that working mothers work hard and do a great job. I’ve been a single person. I’ve been an employee before I was a mother. I’ve worked in workplaces where other colleagues had children and I never looked down on them for it.
With the power of hindsight, I can see it’s a bit like when you were at school and you thought life was never going to get tougher than studying for your GCSEs or A Levels and that the trauma of whether or not that wee lad from St. Columb’s fancied you back. And then you went out in the big, bad world and realised your school days really were the best days of your life.
That’s not to say I would change my life. I have a gorgeous son, a job which gives me a decent degree of satisfaction and I have to say I’m very blessed to work within a supportive company. Unlike the staff of the Co. Tyrone Female, I’m not working under the added pressure of knowing my boss would gladly sack me tomorrow and sees me as a liability.
I was not born a mother- so I have seen this debate from both sides of the fence and I still stand by my comments that discrimination against us working parents must stop. If anything the letter from this particular reader re-inforced that belief.
The second letter I received made me think a little more. From a reader calling her ‘Unstressed Woman’, she said that my focus in this column on working mothers excluded those women out there who are single, or who don’t work, or who don’t have children.
To be honest, while I write this column hoping to resonate with other women out there I will admit my column does hold a certain bias towards women in similar positions to myself.
The reason for that is that I always endeavour to be as honest as possible (sometimes brutally so) because there is no point in me patronising readers by pretending to know what they are going through if I don’t.
What it does not mean, and this is a charge I will refute entirely, is that I think the only ‘worthy’ women out there are those who have completed an education, got married and work their socks off.
I would have hoped a recurrent theme of this column is that we women should not be expected any more to ‘have it all’ if we don’t want it all. I would go as far as to say that, as someone who has it all on paper, that having it all is not all it’s cracked up to be. (Have I used the word ‘all’ too much in that sentence?)
It is my firm belief that women out there make a difference every day. (In fact just several weeks ago I wrote a column highlighting unsung heroes in our society- only one of whom had children and I seriously don’t know or care which of them had a university education. It was completely and utterly irrelevant to the story.)
I’ve come from a family of strong women- women who have been single parents, who have been unemployed, who have raised their families on a diet of custard and bread because there was no money in the pot for ‘proper food’. I come from a family of women who have raised children with disabilities without grumbling or complaining. I come from a family of women who face illness on a daily basis.
All of them- each and everyone of them- is a high achiever and a hero in my eyes.
My final point on this issue is that there is no way one columnist can address all of the issues women face in their lives. It’s a little along the lines of you can’t please all of the people all of the time.
So you’ll forgive my self indulgence this week with this right of reply. I hope no one can accuse me of ‘shirking the issue’ after this.

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