There is a strange phenomenon taking place around me the last couple of months. A lot of my female friends are quitting their jobs and becoming what is known in Cantonese as ‘tai-tais’.
I found this handy definition of ‘tai tai’, for those of you who don’t speak Cantonese…
According to website Hello Tai Tai.com, a ‘tai tai’ is defined as “noun: A term used in Chinese circles for supreme wife (implying situation where a man is wealthy enough to have several “wives’) but no longer strictly interpreted. … A Tai Tai is a privileged lady of means.”
The website Stuff Asian People Like simply defines them as ‘Ladies who Lunch’ and enjoy buying expensive brand names, such as Louis Vouitton.
In Hong Kong where people without a doubt work far too hard, people tend to label women as tai-tais with a hint of jealousy, as in, ‘Man check out those tai-tais having high tea in the Peninsula,’ or ‘The only people who can afford to shop in The Landmark are the tai-tais’.
I can admit, I too am a little bit jealous of some ladies who, thanks to their husbands’ jobs, don’t need to work and have all the time in the world: play tennis on Mondays, go to yoga class on Tuesdays, attend a book meeting on Wednesday, try out cooking a new recipe on Thursday, and on Friday go out with their friends. I do sometimes wonder if it gets boring, but I suppose it’s all up to you. You can either sit at home and do nothing, or you can do everything you ever wanted to do.
What surprises me, though, is that all of my friends who are leaving their high-flying big-salary jobs and opting out of the working world are all highly educated and previously very hard working women. They all have degrees — many have their masters — so it kind of makes me wonder… why do so many women choose to be a tai-tai? Has the job lost meaning for them? Or perhaps the job never had meaning for them at all, and they had just been pressured by their families to go study accounting and work for a big company?
I also see the trend in women who have babies. I know lots of ‘successful’ women who, after giving birth, say, ‘To tell you the truth… I don’t particularly care if I ever go back to that job. It’s just a job. But this is my child. All I want to do is stay at home and raise my child the best I can.’
Now that hardly sounds like the words of someone who is lazy or self indulgent. The thing is, they all say their confession with a hint of embarrassment, with a flush of shame, as though saying you want to be a stay at home mom means you are selfish, you are backwards, all you do is leech off your husband, you are a waste of all that money your family spent on years of university, you are a disgrace to working women everywhere. And it’s a fact — many women look down on women who don’t work. Thus the jealousy towards tai-tais.
The whole situation has got me wondering whether there might be some fundamental differences between what men and women consider to be ‘worthwhile work’. Or what the world considers to be ‘worthwhile work’. It often seems like today’s woman has been forced into a corner. You’re expected to go to school, get a big job, fight your way up the ladder, and somehow find the time to squeeze in a family and be a good mother and a good wife. How on earth is it all possible?
Is today’s woman trying to do two completely different — but two completely valuable — jobs at the same time? Is this why many women simply decide one day to drop out, and walk away from the supposed ‘big job’? And why is it that even today, women’s work at home is still not regarded as ‘real work’?
The reason I’m blogging about this is because I’ve been thinking a lot these days about work, why we work, and whether there are differences between men and women when it comes to work. Sometimes writing helps me sort out my thoughts. I’d be interested in hearing other’s peoples thoughts on the topic so please feel free to drop me a comment.