As a successful playwright this woman should have the world at her feet. So why, at 36, does she feel bitterly unfulfilled?
My mother - a film-maker had books by Germaine Greer and Erica Jong by her bedside. (Like every good feminist, she didn't see why she should do all the cleaning.)
She imbued me with the great values of choice, equality and sexual liberation.
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But, at nearly 37, those same values leave me feeling cold. Now, I want love and children,
but they are nowhere to be seen.
When I was growing up, I was led to believe by my mother and other women of her generation
that women could 'have it all', and, more to the point, that we wanted it all.
To that end, I have spent 20 years ruthlessly pursuing my dream of being a successful
playwright. I have sacrificed all my womanly duties and laid it all at the altar of a
career. And was it worth it? The answer has to be a resounding no.
She religiously follows her icon through the years, as Madonna sells her the
ultimate dream - 'You can do anything, be anything, Go girl!'.
Lesley discovers, along with Madonna, that trying to 'have it all' is a massive gamble.
I wrote the play because so many of my girlfriends were inspired by this independent
woman who allowed us to feel we could be strong and feminists and have careers and
still be sexy.
I still adore Madonna, and always will, but she has turned out not to be able to
'have it all'. The same goes for those of us who idolised her - and it's a huge disappointment.
My views may not represent those of other women of my
generation. Perhaps I am just a spoilt middle-class girl who had a career and
who has now changed her mind about what she wants from life. But I don't think so.
I would argue that women's libbers of the Sixties and Seventies put careerism at the
forefront of women's lives and, as a result, the traditional role of women was
trampled underneath their crusading Doc Martens.
I wish a more balanced view of womanhood had been available to me. I wish that being
a housewife or a mother hadn't been such a toxic idea to middle-class liberals of
those formative decades.
Increasing numbers of my strongly feminist contemporaries are giving up their
careers and opting for love and children and baking instead. Now, I wish I'd had
kids ten years ago, when time was on my side. But the essence of the problem,
I can see in retrospect, is not so much time as mentality.
It's about understanding what is important in life, and from what I see and feel
deep down, loving relationships and children bring more happiness than work ever can.
Natasha Hidvegi, 37, who recently left her job as a surgeon in order to look after
her son, told me: 'I don't want to judge other women in similar jobs, but I found
it impossible to be both a good surgeon and a good mother. Giving up my career
was a terribly hard decision, but I don't regret it.'
It's one thing to give up your career and have children before it's too late with
the right man, but it's another issue altogether if you haven't yet found that man.
Because, as my generation have discovered to their cost, men don't appear to
like strong women very much.
They are programmed to like their women soft and feminine. It's not their fault -
it's in the genes.
Holly Kendrick, 34, who holds a high-status job in theatre, agrees: 'Men tend to
be freaked out if you work as hard as them,' she says. 'It's like being the
smart kid in the class: no one likes them.'
This is why many of my girlfriends are still alone. Perhaps men haven't accepted
women's modernity. (By modernity, I mean being the strong alpha woman who never
questions her entitlement to the same jobs, fun and sexual gratification as men.)
And this is the crux of the problem. Modernity has made women stronger, and that
consequently means that we have higher standards; we want more.
I am extremely capable, I really don't need a man. Seriously - it scares me how
much I don't need a man. But that doesn't mean I don't want one. I am lonely,
and terrified of being alone.
I have tried everything to stop the clocks, to stall time and find my ideal partner.
I've considered the whole 'Let's adopt a baby from an African orphanage' thing.
I have even had my eggs frozen (yes, really!) in the hope that if I do meet
the right man, I will be in a position to have the children I now long for.
I feel a great pressure from other women of my generation who have husbands
and children to join their club. In their eyes, I am not the trailblazer but the failure.
My friend Rita Arnold, who's 36, works in marketing, says: 'It's not men who judge
me for being a careerist - I find they are more accommodating of "modernity" -
it's other women. The claws come out.'
This leaves a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. We are letting each other down,
but there is a worse betrayal even than that. Apparently, I am a failure in my own eyes.
Somewhere deep inside lurks a women I cannot control, and she is in the kitchen
with a baby on her hip and a ball of dough in her hand, staring me down.
She is saying to me: 'This is happiness. You can't deny it, this is what it's all about.'
It's an instinct that makes me a woman; an instinct that I can't ignore, even if
I've tried to for 15 years.
Had I had this understanding of my inner psyche in my 20s, I would have mentally
demoted my writing (and hedonism) and pursued a relationship with vigour.
There were plenty of men and even a marriage offer from someone with whom I would
have happily settled down. But no, I wasn't prepared to give up my dreams, the life
I had been told was the right and proper one for a modern woman.
No one told me having fun isn't as much fun as I thought.'
As I write this, I feel sad, as if the feminist principles my mother brought me
up to have are being trashed. Am I betraying womanhood? No, I am revealing a shameful
Women are often the worst enemies of feminism because of our genetic make-up.
We only have a finite time to be mothers, and when that biological clock starts ticking,
we receive the most enormous reality check. That's why we suddenly abandon all our
strength, forget all talk of deadlines and Powerpoint presentations, and start
keeping ovulation diaries.
Of course, not all women want children. But I challenge any woman to say they
don't want loving relationships.
I wish I had been given the advice that I am now giving to my sister, who is 22.
If you find a great guy, don't be afraid to settle down and have kids because
there isn't anything to miss out on that you can't go back and do later - apart from having kids.
In the future, I hope there can be a better understanding of women by women.
The past 25 years has been confusing for our sex, and I can't help feeling I've
been caught in the crossfire.
As women, we should accept each other full stop, rather than only appreciating
professional 'success'. I have always felt an immense pressure to be successful,
to show men I am their equal. What a waste of time that was. The traditional role
of wife and mother should be given parity with the careerist role in the minds of
feminists as well as men.
My mother has managed to juggle a career as a film-maker and being a great mother.
She was part of the generation that overlapped in the sense that they had
feminist values, but still had children early. She hasn't had the career
opportunities that my generation of women have had because she had to make
sacrifices and take lesser jobs so she could be there at parents' evenings.
That is not a clash of priorities that I or most of my friends have ever faced.
Before the sisterhood rise up in fury, I would say this: I am not betraying
feminism at all. Choice and careers are vital, of course, but they shouldn't
be held up as a Holy Grail and pursued relentlessly. I love being a writer,
but my career hasn't made me feel as fulfilled as I had imagined it would.
So, now I am facing facts. The thing that has made me feel best in life was
being in love with my ex-boyfriend - whom I was with for five years from
the age of 30 - and the thing that makes me feel the most centred is being
in the country with other people's children and dogs, and, yes, maybe in the kitchen.
Of course, I still have time to find a man and have children, but it doesn't often
work like that, does it?
I don't want to be an old mother whose arthritic knees don't allow her to run in
the park with her little ones. It's all about now, now, now. And sod's law says
that every day, minute, hour that goes by makes you older and more desperate.
It might as well be tattooed on my forehead.