Increasingly we live in a society that tells women that not only can they ‘have it all’ but that they absolutely should. It has almost become an expectation that young women today should aspire to have a high power career, a fantastic relationship with a romantic partner, a large social circle and active social life, a string of hobbies and interests, to be attractive, fit and in shape, a clean and tidy house and to juggle all of this with having children. I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
As much as society seems to be telling women they should be ‘having it all’, it doesn’t seem to be making it any easier for women to achieve this. Currently female unemployment in the UK is at a 25 year high and increasingly middle aged women are the first to be made redundant, and the last to be hired. Women still do the majority of the domestic labour and on average the amount of cooking, cleaning and childcare done by men has changed little since the 80s. The cost of childcare continues to rise even though wages do not. This isn’t just about facts and statistics; it’s about real life experiences.
This week at work one of my male colleagues finished at 3 on Friday (our office hours are until 5.30) to go and pick his daughter up from school because he wanted to spend some time with her and take her to the park and he was widely praised for being a fantastic dad. Now I’m by no means saying that he isn’t a great parent as I’m sure he is, but there are lots of women in the company who work flexible hours so they can do the school run every day and to spend time with their children when they finish school and to my knowledge no one has ever called them a fantastic parent because they pick their children up from the school gates. It’s because it is expected from women, in a way it isn’t from men. I’m in no way saying that this is true for everyone, I know many men are stay at home dads, and many do the most of the childcare, but this isn’t the case for the majority of people. We need to stop expecting women to be superheroes, and to expect more from men when it comes to childcare.
I’ve also experienced women who choose not to have children being called selfish. Whether a woman decides she doesn’t want a baby because of her career, because she values her sleep or because she’d rather not be tied down, I can’t see how this is a selfish decision. Again, I’ve never heard a man be called selfish if he doesn’t have children and doesn’t want to. If anything, having lots of children when the planet has such overpopulation issues can be considered a selfish decision, but it’s very rarely that this will be brought up. Society believes that all women want, and should have children, and any that don’t aren’t ‘normal’.
As a feminist I strongly believe in choice. If a woman wants to and is able to be a stay at home mum, then she should completely do so, and her contribution to society should be valued much higher as raising children is incredibly difficult. If a woman wants to have children and a career, then society should be structured in a way that no only allows this to happen, but actually makes it easier to combine both. If a woman doesn’t want children then she should never be criticised, and she should never be seen as less of a woman because of it, I know plenty of people who believe that having a child is the mark of womanhood, and this is wrong. There are lots of amazing things in life, and having children is only one of them.
It shouldn’t just be a question of having it all and how to achieve that, but also a question of “is having it all right for everyone?” I think for a lot of women, it isn’t, and that is okay. Feminism is about having the freedom to choose, and being supported in that decision.
What about you? How do you feel about having it all?