I was beyond thrilled the other day, when a woman came up to me in the playground, and said, "Your blog about going away for a month to write inspired me! I decided to ask for something at work, and now it's going to happen".
It transpired that she runs a dressmaking business, and an opportunity came up to run a dressmaking retreat in the south of France. Until now she would have longed wistfully to run it, then turned away to her domestic duties. This time she jumped at it.
"What was I worrying about? It's just a week!" she said. "But somehow I felt that if I wasn't there to do every single ballet class and school run…". She didn't even finish her sentence. She just mimicked rolling her eyes and pursing her lips in disapproving judgement.
I knew exactly what she meant – it's that continuous fear that we will be judged and found wanting by other women. That if we are not doing things 'perfectly', then we must be castigated, shunned, vilified. The trouble is that this 'perfection' is something cooked up by marinading age-old prejudices in a new jus of 'female emancipation', in which if woman want to have it all, they are expected to do it all, and do it without support. Even if you can see it for what it is, it is as hard to escape its clutches as it used to be to escape the wandering boss's hand in the office.
We looked at each other and laughed — for that moment, the demons of bullying social judgement fled to the corners of our self-perception. We both knew that this new corsetry is ridiculous. We both knew that this invisible but ever-present risk of judgement exists. We both knew that in order to live our lives, we have to fight to face it down. We both commiserated with each other at how hard that seemingly simple act is.
And then we were interrupted by another mother rushing up, wanting to ask about kittens, because this is the school playground, and we have all forgotten our social skills, and we leap upon one another shouting requests, reminders, tasks, advice, boasts, complaints, and all the rest of it, while small people at knee level clamour for snacks and attention.
But I was warmed to my very cockles by the thought of another mother doing what she needs to do to be happy.