When I got home from the office the other day, there was, among the usual deluge of junk mail, an invitation for me to join the Gaslight Club.
Back in the good old days, when I was a housewife -- before I joined the "labor force" and became an executive female with my own credit card -- I never received an invitation such as this. Indeed, I never received any of the countless offers that now arrive as fast as I can clear the letter slot:
Notices of seminars that will teach me to be agressive (or, better yet, to be assertive without being aggressive), or how to juggle million-dollar budgets without really trying; urgent invitations from exclusive clubs that can give me relaxed, trouble-free weekends while brainstorming with other top-level minds in some remote beauty spot; special offers that promise VIP secretarial service on a part-time basis; hints of the secrets of networking -- a surefire route to the "top."
Of course, I'm flattered that (1) I have been received into the ranks of the faithful, on a par with male executives (how else explain the Gaslight Club?) and that (2) special attention is being paid to me as a female executive. It's nice to know I'm a power to reckon with in the corporate world. But I can't help wondering why none of this manna ever fell into my eager hands back in the days when I really needed it.
Back when I was "just" a housewife.
Take those seminars. One could argue that any housewife worth her salt has had all the assertiveness training she needs, fighting her way through department store sales. But some of the business management sessions or intensified short courses in accounting would be invaluable when she deals with grocey and gasoline prices in today's inflationary market.
And what of the workshops on how to handle a difficult boss or supervise subordinates? Surely these would have direct application to breaking the news of the latest telephone bill to one's husband. (I'm speaking of the bill that records the call made by one's teen-age daughter to the manager of her favorite rock group in California; the one that lasted under an hour.)
The offers of relaxing weekends in remote locations, surrounded by travelogue scenery and the stiumlating conversation of top-level executives, are sadly misdirected when they're sent to me. The executive conversations which impact (sic) my mind at the office every day ("Who won the pool?" "I don't know. Did you know that Jerry's leaving? He's got another job.") are sufficiently exhausting to render me insensitive to the most breathtaking beauty spots.
But consider the usual housewife. She spends her days discussing the weighty implications of afternoon naps with her 3-year-old. Her evenings consisted of witty repartee with her own executive breadwinner: "How was your day, dear?" "Not too bad. I won the pool."
Her everyday surroundings tend toward grimy highchairs and fingerprinted walls. This is the woman who could truly appreciate highbrow talk fests amid views of mountain lakes.
As for other appurtenances of the executive life -- special secretarial service for busy times, and networking -- what housewife hasn't longed for assistance with her multitude of management responsibilities? Someone to make out the grocery list, type the weekly newsletter to mother and mother-in-law, prepare the speech to be delivered at the school board meeting? A housewife's uses for a secretary, occasional or fulltime, are limitless.
Networking, the female executive's answer to the Old Boy System, could solve countless problems for the American housewife. Suppose for example, you are a housewife who knows someone who happens to know someone who is a best friend of the manager of the meat department at the supermarket.
The techniques for acquiring such valuable contacts can be learned. For instance, a housewife can volunteer to prepare the membership directory for the P-TA and take the opportunity to acquaint herself with the useful professions of members (dentists, opticians, shoe repairmen, etc.) and subsequently make friends with these families.
The possibilities for networking among housewives, organized on a national scale, boggle the mind.
Nearly every peice of mail directed to me as a female executive has important applications for the housewife, if promoters would but realize it. The only invitation that leaves me puzzled -- with its glossy brochure photos of smiling ladies in black net stockings and frothy pink tights -- is from the Gaslight Club.
It is here where we, executive housewives and otherwise, part company with our male coleagues.