The work-place of the 1980s and ‘90s was characterized by a transition from a manufacturing to a service and information-base economy, or what some call the “post-industrial revolution”. It was replete with mergers, acquisitions, takeovers, and rapid expansion, with companies scrambling around trying to restructure, reorganize, streamline and adapt to a continually changing and chaotic environment.
These decades were also dominated by Wall Street “golden boys” (and a few “golden girls”), international financiers, deregulation of the financial sector, globalization of financial markets, “trickle-down” Reaganomics, jet-setters and cocaine parties, bank failures and scandals (Barings, Shearson Lehman, Credit Lyonnais, Banesto to name a few) – Bonfires of Vanity and Wolf of Wall Street are not just the figment of the imagination of Hollywood.
On top of what was happening on Wall Street, Washington, DC was increasingly dominated by a culture of party-politics, lobbying nepotism backed by big business and warmongering rhetoric of the right. Again, Hollywood did not miss its mark with the popular TV series House of Cards.
Against this back-drop, is it any wonder that the richer kept getting richer, and the poorer kept getting poorer? And, is it any wonder that the powers-that-be in DC led the world into a controversial war against Iraq, culminating in a more nebulous ‘War on Terror’ – a campaign to deviate national attention away from the true issues and problems of our time.
This is the “perfect storm” that I walked away from at the end of the ‘80’s; packing my bags in search of “greener pastures” on the other side of the Atlantic – only to find that their pastures aren’t necessarily any greener. These pastures while varying shades of green, are not really different from the American ones. The only difference is that their hills and valleys are in slightly different places. But, at the end of the day they are just as difficult to navigate as anywhere else in the world.
Whatever I found, or did not find, in those “other pastures”, I was lucky. I was lucky because my choice to opt-out of the rat race in the late 80’s, sent me down a “road less travelled” by giving me a different perspective of the world, and what is important in life. Perhaps because of this, I was never faced with the “identity theft” that seem to plague most career women who leave the workforce to become stay-at-home moms. And when I did come back to the workforce it was with a new sense of self and purpose.
As Pamela Stone, in Opting-Out? Why Women Really Quit Careers and Head Home, explains, “the challenges [stay-at-home] women confront in their new lives at home revolved primarily around identity, theirs [shifting] abruptly from working professional to stay-at-home mothers. [These] women spoke of their work as being a vital and valued part of who they were, and they struggled with its loss… Also [dealing] with the double whammy of transitioning to a new role that many perceived to be highly devalued, and that they themselves sometimes struggled to value...[becoming] the invisible woman… [and giving] up on their dreams and ambitions.”
Luckily, in my own case, since I was still trying to find myself when I became a stay-at-home mom, I never really faced with this loss of identity – at least not in the same context as these women. Instead, I embraced what Stone defines as professionalization to domesticity “which manifest[s] itself in two arenas: motherhood and voluntarism. Via professionalization, women translate various aspects of their professional routine and skills from the public, formal for-pay-workplace to the private, informal, and unpaid loci of family and community. By doing so, they [are] able to realize their professional investments and simultaneously to re-value caring and to imbue family and community roles with status, value, and meaning…”
As one mom’s testimony in Opting Out? so aptly paraphrases my own feelings and situation, “[I] didn’t need a career, [I] had one… and it's my children, it's my family.”