Cathy describes herself as ‘lucky to enjoy enough financial stability to be able to dedicate her time to family care’, but she understands how nowadays most women need, and actually want, to work outside their homes, to guarantee the much-coveted double income to their families, but primarily to pursue their own career in a century when – finally! – being a good wife and a good mother is no longer the only profession advertised for respectable women.
However, she draws attention to the fact that gender inequality in the workplace is still a thing, and in her opinion men have it easier with higher salaries and broader career opportunities, while women are still tied down to stereotypes. However, a new mentality is spreading and heading in the right direction with paternity leave and more fathers taking up, for various reasons, the role of main ‘parental unit’. While thirty years ago or less, nappy-changing fathers were virtually sci-fi material, nowadays there are baby-changing facilities in most public gents’ as much as ladies’, and if there aren’t yet, surely there is a pressure group lobbying to set the record straight!
Of course, Cathy has been, and still is when the occasion arises, very vocal and determined within the Gibraltar Women’s Association: “I joined almost thirty years ago, and soon I was part of the committee. My bone of contention was the state of local playgrounds. When my fourth child was born, I realised how filthy, inadequate and insufficient they were and lobbied for better maintenance at existing ones, like the Trinity roundabout, and for new ones to be built. Today, most estates have their private playground, and government has provided several public ones at key locations.”
Indeed she is pleased with the outcome of a lengthy battle started as a young mum and continued as committee member and chairwoman, a nine-year spell during which Cathy worked hard to improve the day-to-day life of Gibraltarian families in their plight to care for the more vulnerable members of society. “When former chairwoman Rosemary Peach stepped down to pursue her political career, I was the most obvious choice as her successor, because I had more time on my hands than working women, and was already in the loop, and because the membership reckoned I had the cheek to pursue an issue until I was satisfied with the response, no matter what.” No matter if her heart still flutters when she has to speak before an audience, no matter the bullying she has to endure for expressing an opinion or standing up for herself or to give a voice to those who don’t have one.
Family structure has evolved light-years in a couple of generations, from extended to nuclear first and foremost, but most significantly from large and living from paycheck to paycheck, to contained and enjoying a disposable income: “Couples have fewer children so that they can afford them a richer lifestyle. My family has always lived comfortably, but sacrifices were made. For example we seldom eat out unless it is a big celebration. I am used to budgeting on small and big things alike, like homemade sandwiches for picnics and holidaying at resorts with home-cooking facilities.” Materialism may be rationed within reason in the Earle household, but love isn’t; motherly love surely grows exponentially with the number of offspring! “I believe that children must be taught how to be responsible, and how to contribute their fair share to the smooth running of the household. This must not be confused with neglect or carelessness – I would never leave my eleven-year old home alone,” she adds, “or let her roam around the Alameda after dark, and I strongly disagree with parents trusting babies in the care of teenage siblings.”
So how old is old enough to look after babies? According to Cathy and her well known, well fought, and undoubtedly controversial, firm stance on the legal age of consent, eighteen and not one day younger ought to be old enough for teenagers to lawfully have sex with each other or adults. “The same minimum age required for voting, smoking and drinking.” In fact, she wonders whether a teenager can really enter a full relationship in full awareness of all consequences and implications, physical and emotional. Her argument goes well beyond moral grounds and, decency aside, she claims that minors should be sheltered from the heartaches, bellyaches and other aches that inevitably come with adult relationships, such as the STD risk connected to misinformed promiscuity, a more widespread plague than teenage pregnancies. In addition, syphilis is just one of the STDs that may cause dry skin. Poor hygiene is another factor. Like many other pressure groups, she calls for the holistic approach to ‘sex ed’ in order to include not just the biological side of the story, but the emotional one, preparing children for what lies ahead after holding hands and living happily ever after. “In my younger days, smoking was cool, while nowadays it’s widely accepted it isn’t, so one hopes the same will soon apply to ‘performing’ for teens…”
Wishful thinking indeed from Cathy, well aware of the risks of peer pressure in person or on social media, a blessing and a curse for youngsters as well as less young. She does take to social media when it can help a cause, but she is aware of the perils of its abuse, especially for young minds when they haven’t yet developed skills to enable independent criticism, filter verbal and non-verbal communication, and self-awareness in protection from the abuse of trolls and predators.
Like many fellow middle-aged women, Cathy is caught in the middle of multigenerational care: she looks after her mother, three children who still live with her, and helps one of her daughters with her own baby. Does this take its toll on her sanity? Of course not, as busier is never busiest for a resourceful homemaker, but she does appreciate that full-time working women may find themselves with the weight of the world on their shoulders when faced with aging and ailing parents, or parents-in-law, on one plate of the scale and newborn grandchildren on the other. Hence she calls for more part-time positions to be offered in the public sector, like in the private one or, as she describes it, ‘job sharing’, acknowledging this isn’t a solution targeted at women only, and men would benefit from it too.
If the twenty-first century woman is no longer achieving status through whom she marries, the number of children they have, and if they manage to keep it together ‘til death does them apart’, she is defined by her profession, with no bonus points for having or not having a ring on her finger and babes pulling at her skirts. Yet the value of a mother’s job in practical terms of child minding, nursing, housekeeping and so on is often not fully recognized, not only economically, but also sociologically, and those who choose to be full-time mums are sometimes sidelined and not taken seriously as active contributors to society at large.
Therefore, Mothering Sunday is going to be a busy affair indeed across three generations within the Earle clan, but Cathy upholds the need of marking Women’s Day on 8th March to remind women and men that the equality caravan has travelled a long way but, if the destination is in sight, so far we’re still half way there.