Never one to marginalise myself on the basis of gender I’m perplexed by the number of women in their thirties and forties who comment that their lot in the world is all the harder because of their sex; equality and motherhood are still pressing issues.
Over the last two weeks I have heard at least ten comments, reflected pretty accurately by: “I’d be taken more seriously if I wasn’t a woman / mother.”
What this boils down to is: “equality is based on the function of my reproductive organs.” It makes no sense and really, if aliens were to land and assess our inter-gender relations, I can’t imagine they’d be terribly impressed.
In our mature Western world, women should have as much chance of success and respect as our male counterparts. But a large number of us don’t, or maybe think we don’t, yet the fight for gender equality is generations old – although in the context of time, it seems it has hardly started. Maybe today’s female dismay is merely a collective breath being drawn before we march ahead to finish the battle our feminist forebears began?
The women I know are clever, accomplished, articulate and I would have imagined like me, simply wouldn’t accept gender as relevant. So I’m troubled to find that my generation and even younger, really do entertain the concept that their sex or maternal circumstance are a barrier to achievement. Assumption of parity is an implicit part of feminism that must gather strength from generation to generation until it is as much part of the female self as our ovaries – those marvellous organs that help to provide us with children.
The mother-career path will never be easily navigated but does not preclude equality. Although babies won’t exactly shoehorn us into the Boardroom, they don’t need to stop us if we’re prepared to employ conviction and let’s face it, see less of our progeny. The bald fact is that even the army of nannies employed by women like Nicola Horlick can’t ease the relentless plate spinning. I can’t see a way round it and perhaps the sexes would do better to focus on making the most of our worlds together and establish genuine mutual respect.
I don’t write this lightly. My children’s upbringing has been as peppered with career-guilt, missed school dates, rushed bedtime stories and absentee meals as the next working mother. Not to mention divorce. I’m not proud of some of it and for years, harboured guilt for the bad stuff; but like every other life episode, that wasn’t the whole story. Lest we forget, there are always really good bits to be proud of, too.
Giving birth is a very basic female phenomenon; using it to undermine us in society is a diversion. A more appropriate response is that every experience and skill brought to bear by parenthood can bring a maturity that translates into the rest of life.
If there’s any compensation for the responsibility women have in being, largely, the most accountable parent, it has to be that we’re the ones that actually make new people. I mean, really, you couldn’t make it up. Our bodies and minds have the capacity to craft another person, bring it into the world and create a unique individual. Forgive me for coming over all soppy, but of all the privileges shared out between the sexes, imagine how pissed off we’d be if men had that one.
On completing the era of practical parenthood, I find that my well-balanced, unfettered and beautiful daughters have observed first-hand and learned from my feminine struggles and hearty outlook. And, it seems they understand.
Instilled into them is the mantra “Don’t ask for equality, assume it,” which some say is unsympathetic to women who may be less able or less assertive; this is patronising flimflam and if women’s right to equality is to percolate through the generations and take hold, then it must become part of all children’s upbringing from birth.
At the start of their adult lives, my Girls are mentally and emotionally far better equipped than I ever was. Sanguine with post-rationalism I may be, but in that respect, in our own small way, we are perhaps part of feminism’s evolution because they will certainly pass it forward. This achievement gives me far more pride and pleasure than anything else.
In reality, the struggle for “assumption of equality” is woefully out of date. Women chained themselves to railings for this over 100 years ago for God’s sake. In terms of evolution, though, it seems that’s just not long enough.
© Giovanna Forte