Twenty-six years ago, Emma Bridgewater started a business selling pretty pottery to line the shelves of the middle classes’ country homes, and very successfully at that. With the company turning over £11m last year it would seem that all is going swimmingly for Emma and her husband, Matthew Rice, who co-owns the company. However, the article lurking at the back of the Sunday Times, on the 20th February 2011, would suggest otherwise. The woman might seem like the feminist ideal (devoted husband, four children, beautiful country home, and wealthy as a result of her own ingenuity rather than her husband’s), but she is unafraid to admit that she was unhappy as a result of her demanding work schedule. As such she has done a ‘life-swap’ with her husband and now stays at home and does the school run, the dishes and the laundry. Does this make her a failure, or, does this make her more of a feminist heroine?
One might say that Emma Bridgewater has merely admitted defeat. Things got tough; she missed a couple of school concerts as a result of the long commute and lost no time crying over the spilt maternal-milk. Not only does she let the life she built for herself shatter around her but, horror of horrors, she turns to a man to pick up the pottery pieces and stick them back together. Perhaps Emma Bridgewater is just one of the many women who dared to try their hand in the male-dominated workplace only to get their fingers burnt. Perhaps she learnt that the proverbial hand really was better protected with a marigold on. A derailed feminist then, one who thought she could do it, and, to give her credit, did do it successfully for many years but then snapped under too much pressure and retreated back to the home; a woman’s rightful place.
Or maybe Emma Bridgewater remains on her pedestal for women country-wide. After all, was it not her own choice that she return home to look after the children? By handing over the more dominant role of running the company to her husband Emma is clearly able to admit her own unhappiness and failings. Not only this but, to appease the raving feminists among us, psychologists would say that by making the decision to give up work herself Emma maintains control over her own life, and, it would seem, her husband’s. And it’s not as if housewifery is an easy ride, Emma admits that what she does now is ‘a lot of domestic mismanagement’ but also maintains that along with the endless dog-walks and vacuuming her new found role brings with it she will also be working on doing up the ruins of Bampton Castle, a property she and her husband have just bought. So now she has the best of both worlds, she is at home to read bed-time stories rather than sitting in traffic-jams on the M1 but her business and creative talents are far from wasted.
Emma’s recent decision encapsulates the modern-day woman’s dilemma perfectly: she had to choose. She had to choose whether she was to be more devoted to her work or her family because she found it impossible to do both. And this is just the way the working world has been constructed, apparently men don’t need to choose and as a result women must. And personally I think she made the right decision, fathers don’t make great mothers but mothers make great multi-taskers and can therefore make business decisions just as well over an Aga as over a desk. Emma Bridgewater proves that women can bake own their cake, and eat it too.