The Problem With Feminism
Before you think I am about to promote some ideal of the 1950s housewife who should be happy when her husband doesn’t cheat on her or beat her, relax. I’m not.
I’m also not going to pretend that I am able to fully comprehend how much life has changed for women in the west over the past 40 years.
I know and admire the women (and men) who decided that things needed to change, and who set about advocating for and creating that change often at great personal cost. Their stories are inspiring and I am grateful that we live in a society that is much more amenable to the concepts of equality (but I’m not going to pretend that they have been totally achieved as yet).
Feminism advocates for equal opportunity, and political, economic and social rights.
One practical implication of this has been the belief that women should be able to pursue their dreams and goals just as much as a men and that a mother who wants to have a successful career, should be able to pursue that – she is no long expected to be tied to the kitchen stove.
And that’s the problem I have with feminism – the message that our individual needs are more important than the corporate.
What would our society look like if the message had been: Family and children matter, they are worthy of our time and personal investment and doing this comes with sacrifice from both women and men.
What would it look like if instead of moving women into a “man’s world”, we had advocated moving men back into the home as active and engaged fathers and husbands? And I don’t just mean making them change some nappies, but I mean a radical upturning of the way men think about and are expected to operate in family life.
Most men don’t think they can “have it all” - they are taught that their role in life is not just to be breadwinners, but to have successful careers.
From the moment these little girls toddled into nursery school, we’ve been teaching them that their ambitions should have no limits.
We’ve told them there’s absolutely nothing that men can do that they can’t do at least as well. And they’ve proved it – girls now outperform boys at every academic stage.
We’ve told our daughters that nothing need stand in their way – not relationships, not marriage and certainly not children.
And, being ambitious, hard-working girls, they’ve learned the lesson only too well.
The young women we are sending out into the world believe they can have it all – and, if they don’t, they will have failed.
And what a tragedy that is, because the truth is that modern women can’t have it all. They may succeed in their careers and they may succeed as mothers, but to do both at the same time? No, that is not possible without making huge sacrifices which many will find simply too much.
My first reaction to that speech is a resounding yes. It is entirely unhelpful to proclaim to women that they can have it all, all the time.
My second reaction is that why is this still a woman’s problem?
It seems to me that the gap in the “equality movement” has been in how to better involve men in the life of family between the weekday hours of 7am-7pm. Western culture still largely requires that in order to get to the top, men and women must work long hours. Western Culture still largely advocates “getting to the top” as a priority. And so it is that large numbers of parents are spending their years as parents to young children, putting in the long hours to move up the ranks. That is, unless that have put off having children until they are in their late 30s, early 40s and then they experience a different raft of pressures and challenges
This issue isn’t easily overcome.
I live in a part of Melbourne that challenges me about this a lot. I’m just down the road from Reservoir Dad and I regularly see Dads out with their kids mid-week. It’s not uncommon for me to go to Mother’s Group and for one of the Dad’s to be there, many of the families in our mother’s group job-share, both working part-time and looking after the kids part-time. It’s normal over here to do that and that’s one of the values we love about this area that influenced our decision to move here. This is a very controversial statement but I’m going to put it out there – there are parts of Melbourne and Sydney and probably every other city in the world who talk a lot about “family values”, all while working 80hour weeks and living in beautiful houses having wonderful holidays. Then there are people, like the people I see around here every day, who never talk about “family values” – they just live them.
Can’t tell you how challenging this is for me (and us).
What do you think? How do you do it in your family?