For a 48-year-old woman without a clanking-balls sort of career, it is hard to find role models; someone who emanates what J.K. Rowling called "the aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman".
My go-to girls have tended to be the eccentric old trouts: Iris Murdoch and Doris Lessing - the chefs from Two Fat Ladies - and even J.K. Rowling herself.
But recently, I rather shocked myself by thinking maybe I rather admire Bronagh Key. I know! Wacky! But please keep reading. She's not an immediate contender, I'll grant you.
But she has her own kind of cool. In the Stand out! Fit in! Stand out! Fit in! world, Bronagh Key seems pretty happy in her own skin, even quietly bad-ass.
Despite being in the public eye she doesn't seem to have succumbed to pressure to change. She may never have had botox. Mostly I am intrigued by her as a mother.
She seems splendidly insouciant, and I detect some covert non-conformity. Neither of her kids have felt obliged to become corporate lawyers. They appear to feel accepted and supported to explore who they are, even if that means taking unflattering pictures of oneself wearing nothing but sushi. I imagine Bronagh must mix in those old Parnell circles with excellent canapes - "Oh darling, it's such a bore since Rufus became a Rhodes Scholar" - yet she doesn't seem aggrieved that her offspring are engaged in some zany, creative endeavours rather than on track to become partner. That's good mothering. Children are not there to serve your ego.
Speaking of ego, Bronagh doesn't seem to feel the need to create a cult around herself.
She's rich but not grandiose " I doubt she has a tapestry saying "A woman cannot survive on champagne alone, she also needs shoes."
She doesn't seem to feel the need to show off how clever she is. She doesn't seem to think of herself as a superior product that will draw many customers. What I covet in Bronagh is the quality of being relaxed that not everyone needs to think you're great. I doubt she even reads her press, including this.
What I covet ... is the quality of being relaxed that not everyone needs to think you're great.
She has apparently managed to have a stable marriage. You can only do that if you are real. People who rely heavily on idealisation have a difficult time accepting the reality of dependent relationships where frustration and disappointment are inevitable. So, she's authentic.
She wears nice clothes but doesn't seem to feel the need for avant garde glasses or statement jewellery: hey everyone, look at me I'm wearing a hubcap around my neck. She sells her second-hand Trelise Cooper frocks at a recycle boutique. (I know this as I almost bought one.)
She doesn't create drama; she's no Claire Underwood. In all the years of her husband's time as Prime Minister, there has never been a scandalous Bronagh story. Oh, except she supports guide dogs. That takes restraint. With people endlessly being praised and admired for their talents and achievements, I find myself increasingly venerating those who are self-assured just for being themselves, possibly without anything considered a great accomplishment. You have to seek these people out - they're not the ones who go on reality TV or write a book about themselves with a softly lit self-portrait on the cover.
I am a little suspicious of that super-human drive to achieve. Sometimes it's a sign of inner wreckage. When shame and despair about our internal damage are too profound we may feel so hopeless we deny the truth and create an ideal self image - superwoman - as a kind of disguise.
Anne-Marie Slaughter was one of those - Harvard law professor, US State Department director of policy - but she gave up her high-powered job to spend more time with her family.
In her very honest book Unfinished Business, Slaughter compiles a scholarly dossier of evidence for the importance of caring work as opposed to being in the C-Suite (sounds grisly, I know, but is a Yank expression for being CEO-level.)
Unlike Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg, who still seems to feel all women should aspire to be in the boardroom, Slaughter acknowledges we are not in control of the messiness of life and high-powered gigs won't materialise for everyone.
Instead, she argues "caring" work should be given greater value. Slaughter challenges the lazy notion that caring work is undervalued because no particular qualifications or skills are needed. The real problem: outcomes are hard to measure, particularly in immediate monetary terms and our capitalist system finds it hard to assess other types of value. (Marilyn Waring: also a role model).
Women my age are not like our mothers. We may be feminists but we are not all aspiring to be CEOs either. Running dangerously short of role models, I'll be on Team Bronagh. Not that she would care, thankfully.
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