Saturday, July 14, 2012

Choices within structures and not ‘having it all’.

For the past twelve years I’ve been a stay at home mum. As a woman who identified as feminist before leaving school, it was never part of my plan to be financially dependent on a man, but I have been for long time, and that man has been a ‘good provider’.

Recently my partner has had to find another job. During that transition time, my old job, that I was happy doing before I had children, was advertised. I thought about it. I liked that job and I know I can do it. It like the people I worked with and it is a job that is worth doing - in a non-profit educational area. Of course, my partner could run the household and look after the kids while I work full time, but we would expect him to find full time work sooner or later, and then what?

When we considered me working full time, as well as my partner, through school holidays, and all the implications of that for the family, it just wouldn’t be worth it. The consequences include the children's’ before and after school activities being squashed into the weekend and the expense of transferring to more expensive forms of instruction. The expense of before and after school care. The expense of vacation care, in whatever form that may take, as we don’t have any family members who could help us. The expense of transport to and from work. The expense of a work wardrobe. It would mean other people would need to be found to replace the jobs I do now, paid and voluntary. It would mean I’m removed from my community. And it would mean less time. Less time to cook cheap meals and ensure that clothes are clean. Less time with the children. Less time for the children to relax. Less time for me to relax. We would live in a mad panic and everyone would be unhappy.

So we decided to stick to the current plan. I become a teacher. It really is the only job I could do that fits with our family.

So, what about ‘having it all?’

Well, it’s a phrase in regard to feminism that I wish we would retire. Of course, no-one can have ‘it all’ all the time, and what is ‘it all’ anyway? Is it just greed? Here’s Rebecca Traister.

Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with "having it all": It's a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women's ability to "have it all" recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.

What does "having it all" even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff  in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?

It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the "have it all" formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it's feminism - as opposed to persistent gender inequity - that's to blame.

We know that most mothers move in and out of phases in regard to work and caring for children. Anne-Marie Slaughter has agreed to stop saying ‘having it all’ and also suggests were retire ‘mommy wars’, and ’mommy track’. She’s rewritten the title of the piece as Why Working Mothers Need Better Choices to Be Able to Stay in the Pool and Make It to the Top. What she has learned following the debate she sparked is here:

The good part of the recent attention to the issues raised by the article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter is the focus on structures. Of course, people make decisions within structures. Structures around gender expectations, work and care responsibilities, structures around communities and economies. These structures are socially and politically created and can be changed.

Amy Walburn has written a piece saying we need to realise that the educated career women in western societies outsource domestic and care tasks to poorer women, who have fewer choices, and in developing countries many women leave their families to work for rich families. For many women it isn’t a question of ‘having it all’, but mere survival.

As part of my study I’ve been reading the speeches set for study in HSC English. Included is the piece by Jessie Street, made on radio in 1944, where she argues that women shouldn’t be forced back to the kitchen after the war. That fighting for freedom includes the freedom for women to work if they want to. She argues that we need to make family life less hard for women. And that we need equal pay for equal work.

The world moves very slowly.

1 comment:

sister outlaws said...

You are very wise to make these choices I think. Seeing the big picture of family life and what is required for everyone to thrive is what a parent should do.