There's been a bit of a surge in girl-power (or perhaps I should say woman-power) recently. We've got our second female Prime Minister, and over in America there's every chance they'll have their first female President by the end of the year. Women are in charge of the Trades Union Congress and the International Monetary Fund; they are bishops and entrepreneurs and run FTSE-100 companies.
But it's telling that all this is still newsworthy. It's telling that when women are in contention for top jobs and public office, we want to know that they makes cakes and watch rom coms. It's telling that there are regularly articles in the press about female surgeons being mistaken for nurses. (Don't get me wrong: I spent enough time in hospital medicine to have a deep respect for nurses, but surely it's high time we understood that women can be doctors too?)
And for many women, it's still the case that having a job - especially a big, important job - comes at a price. What women wear at work, for example, is scrutinised far more than men, with high heels and make up still de rigueur in many workplaces. People don't tend to ask how men juggle marriages and families with their careers: indeed, if men ever come in late or leave early on account of a child's illness or to attend a school play, they're more likely to be applauded than criticised. Their wives will be envied for having such a devoted father for a husband, while tongues will click when the wives themselves are in a tight corner over childcare - or even the needs of ageing parents, the practicalities of plumbers or a health crisis in a pet.
If there's still inequality in the workplace, there's even more, I think, at home. I know plenty of women who work long hours in demanding jobs but still carry the can in terms of filling the fridge and feeding their families. I know women who are more at ease discussing their husband's successes than their own, who blame every failing of their children on themselves, who find it hard to sleep because they have so much on their minds all the time. I know women who bend over backwards to make a success of their marriages, because they are so grateful to have a a partner who supports their career: because a little part of them feels they don't deserve it. Marriages of compromise are more common, I think, than we'd like to admit.
In my novel 'The Things You Do For Love' I wanted to explore all this, and to ask: what price do women pay for their careers - especially a successful surgeon like my character Flora, working in one of the most male-dominated spheres around? What if a woman like that had a husband who admired her achievements and was happy to support her - but at a price?
I was interested, too, in what might happen to a woman like Flora when her career was over and her children grown up - all those things she's juggled for so many years. But what if her marriage, her complicated, compromising marriage, came to an end at the same time, not through divorce but widowhood? What might she regret, looking back on her life? What might she wish she could change about the past, and how might she face the future?
Flora's story is fictional, but I hope it will ring true for any woman who has had to make tough choices, or keep lots of balls afloat, or who has felt, sometimes, that she just wasn't getting anything right. In the end it was an uplifting story to write - not because of where I took Flora during the course of it (taking care to avoid spoilers here!), but because it left me with a powerful sense of women's strength, resilience and capacity for love. It left me feeling hopeful that in the next generation, or the next, we'll manage the sharing out of power and responsibility a bit better, and there will be a little less compromising for women to do.