The Good Life

As a child of the 70s I have very strong memories of a TV program called The Good Life. It was Felicity Kendall’s breakthrough role, and she played an ordinary housewife, who, together with her bumbling but well-intentioned husband, set up a self-sustaining household in the midst of English suburbia. My memory of the show is that goats and vegetable patches and rain tanks replaced manicured shrubberies and tidy lawns, leading to “hilarious” consequences and a central conflict interest with the disapproving neighbour – Penelope Keith in her own breakthrough role.

The Good Life intrigued me in large part because it suggested that a couple of people with wide eyed enthusiasm (no children, some previous source of reasonable income) could opt out of the dreariness of middle class life and make their own choices about what was a reasonable way to live. The couple’s devotion to each other, and shared excitement about their plot of sustainable suburbia – was an attractive side benefit – particularly compared with the thinly veiled boredom of the more conventional relationship next door.

Looking now at my life in the early 2010s, I see that perhaps I now have developed my own version of The Good Life. I recycle my rubbish, use a shared car system, buy organic food, minimise my packaging, and tithe a proportion of my income to charity. I send my children to public schools (at the moment), but contemplate a move to private (in the best interests of my child of course). I worry about the state of the world, but focus my activities primarily on my little part of it – where I can see results and feel in control.

I spend a lot of time thinking about how to “ensure” that my children are going to have a good start in life – and not enough time thinking about how children in general are going to get the right sort of education. I spend a lot of time worrying about my own ecological footprint, and not enough time working out how to reduce the ecological footprint of the wider world around me. I feel (in the vernacular) dis-empowered in the world of politics – nothing that I do will surely make any impact of the decisions of politicians and business leaders – so why bother? Why not spend my time obsessing about drama classes and basketball lessons and whether my son will do well enough at HSC to get into a good university?

Judith Warner’s Perfect Madness – Motherhood in the age of anxiety makes the point that the last decades have seen a move in US society towards an greater focus on our own families, our own interests, our own advancement, and a lessening of interest in the wider world, the societal structures that support individual families.

She describes a frenzy of stress in the mothering experiences of today – resulting in more pressure on children to perform, to excel to live up to the expectations of their parents, and to justify the investments of middle class incomes in their education, health and well-being. She outlines an emerging hostility in American middle class towards people who are poorer or less able or effective.

Warner sees that the generation that is now in our middle ages “grew up with the greatest number of choices of any generation of women before and continues to enjoy that wealth in motherhood.” but then describes a mythology which places all women in a constant quandary over their inability to reconcile a high falutin’ career with the goal of perfect motherhood.

But, she says, there is “a more average kind of ambition” which can be combined with motherhood – so long as the institutional, political structures are in place to support this. Some countries – she suggests those in Western Europe – I don’t know – “believe that lessening the burdens that keep average women and their families from achieving balance in their lives is precisely what society can – and ought – to do.”

instead of worrying endlessly over how many first- year female associates at major law firms make it to the level of partner, how many women ascend to the Supreme Court, and how many grace the ranks of the House and Senate, those of us who care about these issues should instead find a way to demand policies that would permit most women – the great many, not the few – to improve their lives. We should articulate – and find politicians to promote – a Politics of Quality of Life. (p 263)

And I suppose this is the point. It might be time to take a step back from such an intimate focus on ourselves, our families, our immediate environment, and take a step forward towards a greater level of political activism about global and national issues of importance to a broader group of people. A movement from The Good Life to A Better Life perhaps.

More next time… But in the meantime, my first steps in emerging from my domestic cocoon, I’m going to do one political act per week. (Starting with something small and not too scary.)

This week’s action:

I’m writing to one of the new Independents in the Federal Parliament – Tony Windsor – and praising him for raising climate change policies as a factor he considered in making a decision about which of the major parties to support in government. I’m going to ignore the fact that he seems to think Labor had a better record on the issue – and I’ll tell him that I’ll be very pleased if he takes this issue and runs with it.

I’m reading:

Judith Warner Perfect Madness – Motherhood in the age of anxiety. Riverhead books (Penguin) New York 2005.

About Jane Elix

I don't have enough bandwidth to deal with this
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8 Responses to The Good Life

  1. Anni says:

    Super first blog – looking forward to following your progress.

  2. KA says:

    Go Jane. Fabulous and reflective. Let us know how young Tony responds.

  3. Judy says:

    Blogs don’t grab me, but I’m sure many others read them and engage with the thoughts.
    Hopefully this thoughtful piece will activate many others who are wondering ‘what next’ they can do to change our challenged world. Look forward to both the next piece and your response from Tony W.

  4. Margaret says:

    Excellent! My theme for a while has been that whenever someone does a practical action they should match it with something political, political being very broadly defined. e.g. talking to the neighbours. So you are several steps up the ladder already by writing to Tony Windsor.

    It’s amazing how quickly things can change — a month ago we were immersed in that bleak election campaign. Now — the Greens have some real sway in the new government, Gunns is going to exit native forests, there’ll be a climate committee starting afresh to design policies, and the drought’s broken! Indeed it’s raining again now. How wonderful.

  5. Jann Zintgraff says:

    Good One Jane. It is time we took to the streets again , or at least put pen to paper .I grew up in the 40’s and 50’s It was obvious by the 60’s that we had to take to the streets. The Vietnam War was on, “they” were pulling down our beautiful old buildings ruining our beautiful city …eg, the railway at Circular Quay ,and the indigenous population did not even have the vote . Now as you say the issues are much bigger .The wellbeing of the planet is threatened in so many ways and we are hardly hearing a squeak from the people whose grandchildren,s quality of life will be diminished.
    Let the billionaire bully boys in the mining business pay a little of their enormous profits in tax to help turn around the destruction of our environment.How dare such a few people have all this power ,how dare our politicians allow it .OUR land OUR minerals .What has the indigenous population from these areas gained??? Both Whitlam and Rudd have lost their jobs by standing up to these greedy bullies and we all stand by and say “sweet f… all” .Yes it is time to write to people in power and express our disatisfaction. I will be interested in hearing Tony Winsor’s response .Cheers Jann

  6. Maree says:

    Thank you Jane for your blog. With our recent move from Canberra to the beautiful Blue Mountains, we have come to realise that not only have we shifted physically, but are in a place in ourselves where we are really reflecting on about how we choose to live in our home, local community and as citizens of the world. We too have been quite dis-enchanted with the recent political events, frustrated by the lack of attention to indigenous issues in the recent election and the cop out on other significant issues such as the environment, social justice issues such as refugees….the list goes on.
    In creating a new life in the mountains, we are making conscious choices about how we spend our money – supporting local shops and producers as opposed to Coles etc, and seeking ways to fit into our local community in a meaningful way. I have had the numbers for the local Greens, Refugee Support Group and Conservation Society for a while now and have not got around to making the call – will make these calls in the next week or so to begin the process of engaging with issues in a more meaningful way.
    Thanks again, looking forward to next weeks blog.

  7. marg hogan says:

    Hope I am not disappointing you but I always thought of you as more like Penelope Keith than Felicity Kendall. “Perfect Mandness- Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety” sounds like my kind of book- if only I can tear myself away from ferrying my wannabe perfect kids to activities and “assisting” with their homework.
    Loved your letter

  8. nina harding says:

    I can read anything you have written Jane. From seemingly dry and dull statistical reports to blogs on personal responsibility. Thank you for making me think beyond my small world.


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