I am nowhere near finished my latest read, Wilkie Collins’ No Name, of which I am having the enormous pleasure of reading alongside the lovely Darlene, and so I can offer no book review as such today. Time to read seems to be a rarity these days; I seem to be out most evenings doing various things, and if I am at home, by the time I get in, make dinner, do the washing up, put on a load of washing, faff around doing boring responsible adult things like paying bills or going to Tesco, it’s time to go to bed. Now the nights are drawing in the days just seem so much shorter and I can’t seem to fit in all the things I mean to do with my days. Hence why it is taking me so long to read books.
However, I do read on the train to and from work, and one of my favourite new additions to my commute is Stylist magazine, which is distributed free in London midweek and is a very good quality read aimed at the intelligent, professional woman with a bit of disposable income. The clothes pages advertise lovely clothes that are a bit beyond my means but other than that I find it very relevant and thought provoking. Tonight in particular my attention was arrested by a very interesting article on women’s attitudes towards careers and home. I’m going to go out on a limb tonight and use this article as a prompt to attempt to discuss my attitude towards feminism and how I feel about being a woman today. It might be a bit controversial; it might be a bit simplistic; it might annoy some of you; it might even anger some of you. I will warn you; I am no feminist. I am actually rather pro men; all they get is abuse these days and I think they are wonderful and should be celebrated more. Hopefully we can get quite a good discussion going. What I fear is that I will get no response at all and become a blogging pariah! So if you do have an opinion on this topic, do chime in. I’d love to hear what other women, and men, think of this modern issue of gender identity.
So, according to this aformentioned article, apparently 19% of all women; not specifically mothers, but women in general, would rather not work at all, and only 12% of mothers would willingly work full time. According to a report entitled What Women Want by sociologist Cristina Odone, many modern women would happily opt out of careers altogether. They have been told that self realisation, fulfilment and success can only be achieved through work, and have succumbed to the guilt inducing belief that wanting anything else is a betrayal of the struggle for equality that their mothers, grandmothers and greatgrandmothers had to suffer through.
The article also discussed the ‘Domestic Goddess’ ideal and the fantasy version of the 1950s housewife made so popular by the likes of Cath Kidston. Many young women long for lives where they can potter about at home, making cakes and sewing quilts and generally creating a warm, beautiful and harmonious environment in which to live. Cath Kidston has made a fortune out of this, and sewing, knitting and baking classes are growing rapidly in popularity, especially amongst young women in their twenties. Are woman today regressing to a time before feminism, when success was about how many children you had and how good your canapes were? And if they are, where did this ideal of the wonderful life of the perfect fifties housewife come from? Has no one read the harrowing stories of thwarted dreams, crushing boredom and depression inducing frustration in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, I wonder? They were trapped in their houses, because they had no opportunity to get outside of them. In a time when most women were married straight out of school, education was minimal and jobs were limited to a very narrow amount of professions. They had no choice but to be wives and mothers. Our idyll of the fifties housewife appears to forget this fact; we are embracing a fantasy that never was, and at the same time, in all of our selfish ‘I want it all’ angst, forgetting just how lucky we are.
I am no feminist and neither am I a career woman; I am not ashamed to admit that I look forward to a day when I can be at home, bringing up my children and making my house pretty and having the time to bake cakes and do crafty things and plant flowers and so on. However, I also am fully aware that I will probably find this unbearably dull at times, and no matter how pretty my bedspreads are, or how springy my sponge cakes, I will still desire achievements of my own. I will still want to read, and to write, and to study, and to create. And this is the joy of womanhood today; we have the choice to do this. I can spend my twenties working, enjoying the challenges, opportunities, variety and personal growth that come with making my way up the career ladder and learning my craft in an environment that is dynamic and interesting and gives me a sense of achievement at the end of the day. When my time comes to be a mother, I can then choose to leave this life behind, stay at home, nest, indulge my feminine desire to make a beautiful home and create a nurturing and warm environment for my children and husband. And then, when that time is over, I can go back to work again, if I so desire, or I could go back into study, and so on and so forth. The world is my oyster. What a victory my predecessors have won for us! We, as women (albeit middle class ones), actually have more choice than men; consider the reaction a man would receive if he decided to chuck in his job, don a pinny and start making cushions from scratch. It’s not really a socially acceptable option for a man. Their role is still very much that of provider; alpha male, working hard for the wife and kids at home. Life is no different for them now than it was for Lester in the wonderful The Home Maker; he had to pretend to be disabled to make his choice of being a house husband acceptable. You don’t find many articles detailing how men are struggling to ‘have it all’; they accepted a long time ago that they can’t, and they just get on with it. However, I can’t open a magazine or paper nowadays without reading one moan after another by women complaining that juggling life is so hard and they never get enough me time and they want to stay at home with their children but they also want to have a career and so on. What they seem to forget is that they have the luxury of choice to be all of these women in the first place. In fighting for equality and freedom, perhaps we’ve given ourselves too many choices; are our opportunities now so many and varied that we are doomed to never be content with what we have, always striving for more, and destroying ourselves in the process?
I believe in the feminism with a small ‘f’ that Persephone promotes. The feminism that says I can get a degree, have a job, then chuck it in to look after my children and not feel an ounce of guilt about it. The feminism that says looking after children can be mind numbingly dull, and that it’s perfectly within the bounds of normality to find it so. The feminism that says I can come home after a demanding day at the office and enjoy making a quilt or baking a cake. The feminism that says I am a woman of many facets, and I won’t be bullied into fitting an ideal. The feminism that says I have the right to do what I want with my life, regardless of what others may expect of me. This choice, this freedom to be the woman I want to be, no matter where that takes me, is the freedom I am thankful my predecessors fought for. I am not thankful for the man hating attitude and judgementalness towards women who choose to stay at home that militant feminism seems to have engendered.
I believe, perhaps, controversially, that women are equal to men; equal, but different. We want different things, we have different desires. Perhaps the reason why there aren’t as many female CEOs as there are male is because women just don’t want to spend their entire waking lives welded to a Blackberry. Maybe women are innately more drawn to being at home, to being nurturers, and men to the workplace and to provide. Is it nature or nurture? I just don’t know. All I know is that the only people I have ever truly felt judged and criticised and discriminated against are other women; I think we are our own worst enemies. Being a woman is, for me, not about how I measure up to men, or about how I measure up to other women. It’s about being free to be true to who I am. Whether that means I spend my life in a house, or in a boardroom, it doesn’t matter; what matters is, I have the choice to decide. That’s certainly something many of our favourite Persephone heroines never had.
ps. I am trying out using a slightly larger font – I am aware that the one I usually use is quite small and may be difficult to read. Please do let me know if you prefer it, and if so, I’ll stick to this size in future.