For many Hungarian mothers, a career is an option frowned upon…
A woman’s duty is to look after her husband. That simple, unwritten rule has been enforced throughout history. But in the twentieth century things changed.
Women around the world fought for the right to work, to contribute more to society than they had previously been allowed, and they largely have. And while suffrage came in dribs and drabs throughout Europe, for many women in Eastern Europe, things did not change, even with Communism.
With this in mind we come to a story which has often been told. How easy is it for a modern day, successful woman to buck this trend and life her own life the way she wants to live it?
A woman may believe in the traditional lifestyle, one which sees her looking after the household and the children, but just because she has this belief, it does not mean that she wishes to be restricted by it. Why can’t a modern day professional lady move between traditional stereotypes and our contemporary society, where everyone should be seen as equal?
So what is the typical male view of a woman’s work and "duties"? This is a hard question to answer and I believe I should answer it by stating, for the record, that I don’t believe there is a "typical male view" nowadays. Just remnants of it: the stereotypical family structure of days gone by, man going out to work, woman staying at home and looking after the children, for many Hungarian men this is still the ideal standard.
But is this stereotype acceptable? What many people do not realise about stereotypes is that a stereotyped view is not necessarily a bad one. Stereotypes are formed when we are missing knowledge. Essentially it is a gap in our knowledge which we fill with an idea, albeit a scant and poorly thought out one. Everyone stereotypes, it is part of nature. A stereotype is a strategy we use to fill in gaps. The problems arise when enough information comes to us and we ignore that, prefering to stick with our stereotype. The stereotype then informs us against knowledge and reality. This is the problem in society today.
I shall now share something of my own life, my daily struggle to be recognised both in a male dominated workplace and in my own home.
I don’t mind a man having a stereotyped view of a woman’s duties. The man may have grown up in a family where the man did go out to work and the woman did indeed stay at home and looked after the house and the children. I have no problem with that.
What I do have a problem with is a man I am with insisting that I fit that stereotype, that I have to fulfil the same role (and expectations) as his mother. I am not that man’s mother. I am an independent woman and I have my own ideas of what I want and need in life. If a man I am with can handle that, then I am happy. Expectations then change to suit the reality that I want a choice in my role. If his stereotype stops me from fulfilling my career then that is a problem. It is his problem, yet it affects me.
I like the traditional lifestyle, I like being the one to care for my daughter, I enjoy looking after her and being home with her. If she is ill. then I’m there for her, if she is sad then I don’t need to rely on a stranger to wipe her tears. I am my child’s mother and I am the one who will care for her. Yet, care involves more than preparing food, wiping noses, changing nappies and drying tears. It also involves providing for her. And this is where my problems started.
I am a qualified lawyer, it is a skill I worked hard to master and something which I take seriously. It is a noble profession and it is one which I am proud to be a part of. Yet this pride was not shared by everyone I am close to. What should I have to do if my partner wants me at home? If I also wished to be at home then that’s fine, but I wanted, no, needed, to have a professional life as well.
Bringing a child into the world is an act which requires two people, and this does not change after the child is born. So why can’t a man simply be as flexible as I? Why can’t they be fair?
But life is neither simple, nor fair. It’s complicated and messy. In my first job I had an affair with my boss. These things can often be misunderstood, so I will say for the record that this was not some sordid office game, it was love. He loved me, I loved him. We even lived together for a while but it did not work out. But we were in love.
This cast a shadow over my professional career which has been hard to come out from. My future boyfriends have all been very wary of me going out to work. I can understand that they may have been worried about something similar happening but this is unfair. What happened happened.
It occurred because two adults fell in love. It was not about a young woman being at work. The setting was not important, yet my boyfriends never see that once they know my truth. They see the danger as me going out to work, me working with men, me being with men when my boyfriends were not there.
I look back on this period now and realise just how unhappy it was making me. I assured my partner that I was true and faithful to him but he didn’t ever really believe this, neither did his successor, or his successor. I was caught between a job and untrusting men. It wore me down. I can say now that I am out of it, that it was one of the unhappiest periods of my life.
But I’ve turned it around, I’m back to being my own person. No one can tell me how to lead my life. Now I follow my career dreams AND being the best mother I can for my daughter and I’m loving it. Isn’t that what a woman’s duty should really be? To be happy and fulfilled? I think the answer is simply “yes”!