“Bloody feminism! Where has it got you exactly?!” This intriguing statement came from an 87-year-old aunt a few weeks back. The first reaction was “Well, she’s old”… but the words have stuck ever since, with her sentiments ringing particularly true this week.
This week has been somewhat of a mixed bag. Without seeking pathos from anywhere, the following is merely being recounted to see if I’m alone, or are there others out there thinking WTF IS GOING ON??!!
So, there I was on Wednesday morning, barrelling into the local Social Welfare office – baby buggy in hand – sweating profusely (on account of being five minutes late thanks to the shite parking scenario / the all-consuming lung infection I was trying to ignore as GP visits cost too much), coughing like a dying badger and – let’s be honest – suffering several “Tena Moments” in the process. Racing up to the assigned desk, reams of required documents in sweaty palm, I was greeted with an “Oh, HELLLLLOOOOOOO“, complete with disappointed sneer. “You’re too late. I’m just about to call the next person. You need to go to the desk at the end there to arrange another appointment.”
(Indeed I will be reusing stock photos; I’m running out of space on this blog and can’t afford to upgrade¯\_(ツ)_/¯)
Too deflated to argue, I slumped into a spare chair near “the desk at the end” and tried not to sob too much in front of the 1-year-old. Five minutes later, “the desk at the end” was still busy, all while the dude who refused to see me at desk 4 just sat there, shuffling papers. He didn’t call the next person. He did, however, call me back over.
“Here, give me what you have and we’ll see if you have everything you need for your next appointment.” Whether he took pity or was playing a power game out of sheer boredom was irrelevant to me at the time. The prevailing thought at that point was “Oh, joy, another appointment, while I start to sell the belongings I hoped to pass down to the daughters and scrounge about the murky depths of the freezer to see if we’d all survive leathery chicken breasts with a Best Before of December 2016.”
To clarify, this would be the fourth appointment to see if I qualified for Jobseekers Benefit. That’s what they’re calling The Dole nowadays. You must be “actively seeking full-time work”, attend frequent “activation meetings” and “be available to start the full-time (it must be full-time) work as soon as it’s offered.” When it was pointed out at meeting number one that I’d never drawn the dole and have worked solidly for twenty years, paying tax all the while, the answer was “The government has brought in new sanctions.” When I said I’d been working part-time from home for the last four years since the birth of the first child, so wasn’t intending on seeking “full-time work” thanks to A) PND and B) the ludicrous childcare costs in this country, the answer was “You should seek illness benefit instead. You just need to go to your Doctor every week and get them to sign this form until you’re well again.”
Not wanting to defraud the state because, while depressed and anxious, working from home is usually perfectly feasible, and it’s been what I’ve been doing for the last four years. Therefore, I went into the Social Welfare office a second time a few months later. The two kids had to come with me as A) there aren’t any grandparents around to look after them B) I can’t afford to pay for childcare. “Have you been seeking full-time work?” “Bit of a tricky chicken and egg situation there – you can’t actively seek work, attend interviews and meetings at the drop of a hat if you don’t have childcare, and how do you pay for childcare when you don’t have any money? There is little/no government subsidised childcare here. Have you heard what they have in Germany?!”
Ever-lengthening story short; it was deduced that the best option, despite working my hole off for two decades straight, was to register as self-employed; quite a bit of freelance contracts have been coming in, it’s just sporadic in nature. But, low and behold, after coming across with both myself and my husband’s bank statements and his last three paychecks, Mr. HEEEEEELLLLOOOO from Desk 4 said:
“I can tell already by his paycheck that you’re over the limit to qualify for Jobseeker’s Allowance (that’s different to Jobseeker’s Benefit; you have to be self-employed and therefore screwed on the tax front), but come back next week with all your documents again and we’ll see what can be done.” I replied, “But all his paycheck goes towards paying the mortgage, most of the bills, and everything else that comes with owning a house – like property tax, house insurance…” To which he responded: “Yeah, we only look at the money coming in, not the money going out.”
I laughed. The guffaw was so ferocious that it instigated an almighty coughing fit and I weed myself right there in the chair. Thankfully, as I can’t afford the luxury of Tena towels at the moment, I’d already armed myself with one of the baby’s nappies… Wednesday was indeed a high point.
Thursday wasn’t much better. Having woken up several times during the night feeling like the lungs were drowning in an ever-expanding sea of mucous, I managed to transfer some money from my overdrawn credit card (next month’s payment should be fun) into my overdrawn overdraft. Went to the doctor, paid €60 to be told it was a lung infection – knew that – and to be prescribed half the fecking pharmacy ’cause I’d left it too long to go, which cost another €84 quid.
That’s €144 we literally don’t have. I managed to magic more out of the overdrawn credit card – just so the bank can have a field day next month. Because, surprise surprise, the husband apparently “earns too much” for us to qualify for a GP Card or a Medical Card, and let’s not even get started on the price of medication in this country. One of the inhalers prescribed was €42. You can probably get the same one in Portugal over the counter for less than a tenner… We’re not the “squeezed” middle, we’re the royally “buggered sideways and screwed in the” middle.
Why are we in this position? Why am I, a mother of two, having to go to the social welfare office four times in the first place?? Why am I seeing a load of women, my age, buggies in hand, going into the Social Welfare office every time? “Bloody feminism.”
There she was. Sitting in the hospital bed, gleefully declaring “Bloody feminism! Where has it got you exactly?! You all wanted to go to work, so you got to go to work, and now most of you have got to do everything. You’ve got to manage the job and the family – the childcare, the after-school activities, and the playdates, and the dinners, GOD it’s endless. And then all the elderly have to try to find places in overpriced nursing homes because this generation is too busy working to pay all the bills – they’ve hiked the prices up of everything because of dual income families.”
It didn’t end there… “We knew everyone on our street. If you were sick, there would be an army of neighbours or family bustling about, giving a dig out because not everyone was working. You’re all so isolated now. All little islands, constantly swimming. Pretending everything is OK when really, you’re drowning in a sea of your own creation… Well, what does it matter… I had a great life. I cooked dinners, played golf, and enjoyed lots of holidays.”
At the time, I thought, “Jaysis, what an insular life with no choices apart from housewifery.” But, in the last few weeks, just “being a housewife” sounds pretty fucking amazing. Ridicule, berate, pity me, tell me I shouldn’t have had kids, I don’t care. Maybe it’s the drugs (and the brandy) talking, but until the kids are half reared and letting me sleep more than two hours in succession, just “being a housewife” would suit just fine right about now.
Is this relatable? Or have you simply got your shit together?