I quit a dream job to be at home, but I’m no surrendered wife
Too much of what passes for feminist commentary involves slagging off each other’s choices
US first lady Michelle Obama. Photograph: Getty
I've always liked Michelle Obama. She seems authentic; a woman’s woman – the kind you could open a bottle of wine with, and discuss books, the economy and whether that Liz Earle cleanser is really as good as they say.
So I’m sure I’m not alone in wishing she would now just drop the harridan-in-chief shtick.
Here she is, in Vogue , talking about the apartment her husband lived in when he first went to Washington: “Pizza boxes everywhere. That place caught on fire. And I was like, I told you it was a dump.”
And here, in the same interview, is her husband on his relationship with her: “What Michelle has done is to remind me every day of the virtues of order. Being on time. Hanging up your clothes.”
The Obamas are an exceptional case: in order to get him elected, she had to be soft-soaped from high-powered careerist to unthreatening mommy-in-chief. Now, they are bringing up two children in a goldfish bowl and she is, rightly, focused on keeping their lives as normal as possible.
But Obama won’t be running again: does she really need to keep reassuring the world that her chief preoccupation in life is ensuring his boxers never stay on the bathroom floor for a millisecond longer than necessary?
Michelle’s reinvention took place in some fairly extraordinary circumstances, but she seems to have become an accidental role model for what several other media outlets are now identifying as an aspirational new trend: the surrendered wife.
Alongside Vogue on the newsstands, for instance, is New York magazine, whose cover story is entitled the “The Retro Wife – feminists who say they’re having it all by choosing to stay home”.
The magazine features an interview with a former wealth adviser who “feels it’s a privilege to manage her children’s lives” and whose husband’s contribution is to “go to work and deposit his paycheck”; and another with a self-proclaimed feminist, “who keeps a list of [her husband’s] clothing sizes in her iPhone and, devoted to his cuteness, surprises him regularly with new items”.
The idea that I may be part of this rising tide of high-achieving women who are devoting themselves to shopping for their husband’s jeans and micromanaging their children’s social lives makes me feel slightly ill.
And yet, just under two years ago, I did give up a demanding position in the media, the kind of role that I might once have described as my dream job, because I wanted to spend more time with my children.
I now write from home three or four days a week, while my children are cared for by their childminder. My working days are regularly interrupted by the sound of little feet tramping up the stairs to my attic office; their afternoons are regularly interrupted by me popping downstairs to interrogate them about whether they’ve eaten their sandwiches. It’s not perfect, but it works for us.