Musings of a modern woman who wants it all but finds the prospect of achieving it as daunting as pushing a pineapple through a pinhole…January 10, 2010 No Comments
It was with some awe that I, as a female child and then teenager growing up in a Western, democratic country, received news and associated gossip about women of my mother’s and grandmother’s generations who had ‘made it’. There were several after all: the thrice divorced and childless Queen’s Council; the UN Ambassador from India, again childless, blighted by a series of fruitless affairs with married menwho never followed up on their promise to leave their wives; the former Editor-in-Chief of an Australian Women’s magazine with one estranged son who lived alone with two ill-tempered Corgis in my mother’s street and who, long retired from her Editorial post, recently obtained at age 80 a PhD in Literature from the University of Sydney; and last but not least the highly-accomplished adventurer who upon either discovering or more likely accepting her husband’s wandering eye at age 50, subsequently successfully tackled second base at Mount Everest and the Inca trail that even I, as a relatively fit and healthy twenty-something had opted out of. Each of these women had been inspirational to me throughout my childhood years and early adolescence despite the pity and often loathing they inspired from more family oriented women like my grandmother. I dreamed of being like them, of overturning accepted social practices of sidelining a career for marriage and children. Until, that is, I got to my mid-twenties, and realized that I wanted so much more than they had ever had.
The women I had idolised for so long suddenly seemed unattractively human. No longer were they the brave feminist warriors who had defiantly worn a trail I hoped one day to tread myself: rather, they were simply women of their own generation, influenced as much by their own circumstances as the rest of us, trying to figure out how to have everything and, perhaps having fallen short of that mark, settling for achieving that which they could accomplish rather than pursuing in futility the dreams of having it all. Indeed, many of these women had made sacrifices in other areas of their lives that I am not prepared to make. As a modern woman of my time, I do not need to battle to get into a highly paid position (despite persisting inequities in the pay gap between men and women in the top jobs) or a mortgage, I will not be viewed as an unfit mother if I allow my spouse, or a nanny to raise my children part of the time whilst I work. Yet, how possible is the holy trinity that blights my generation of women: a career, a family and total freedom?
My generation of women, coming into our own during 1990s and 2000s, has a heavy burden to bear. Not only are we now able to join any profession we want without a sideways glance from our male companions, but we are free and indeed encouraged to roam the world alone with only our backpacks for company, date whomsoever we please (it’s usually considered quite healthy to have had a few rapscallions for good measure along the way) and to marry and have children whenever we like or not at all as the case may be.
These choices are precious and just. Yet also utterly overwhelming. Women are now, in theory at least, completely free to achieve all their goals. But how? This complete freedom comes with neither an instruction manual nor enough hours in the day.
As I enter my late twenties the enormity of this situation confounds me. Society’s demands on women, though undeniably still present, are hushed whispers in the background, yet oddly enough, I bear the weight of extreme pressure from the little voice inside my head to exercise each and every one of the liberties life has provided me with. I feel obliged to have bought my first apartment (box ticked), to have found Mr Right (box ticked, for now at least), to have secured my dream job (ouch, sensitive point, but working on it), to have traveled the world (getting there) and to be slowly getting ready to have that picture-perfect family of 2.4 kids, a dog and a white picket fence within the next few years (now that’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back). Sounds great in theory. Simultaneously climbing the career ladder, trekking the Andies, nurturing my relationship with my partner, decorating my dream home, spending quality time with my friends and pumping out those kids requires superwoman tendencies (especially if I’m still supposed to be cheerful at the end of it).
The woman who can do all this, however, does exist. She is a product new to the evolutionary market. She is elusive, but well documented in scientific journals, and she makes the whole deal harder for the rest of us. Indeed, I believe that I have met one such woman. She was a lecturer at my college, a former journalist turned uber-succesful lawyer in a top firm who chose to lecture part-time out of good-will to the next generation of lawyers after having completed her PhD on a scholarship to Oxford. She proudly announced one day that she’d have to leave early as it was her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary and the only thing she regretted about working such long hours was spending less quality time with her two daughters whom she was close to. She agreed to write me a reference for my Master’s application and when alone with her over a coffee, I asked her: ‘How do you manage to have it all?’. Her straight-forward and down to earth answer made me feel even more inadequate: ‘As long as you’re putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the right direction towards your goals, however slowly, you’ll get there’. I am unworthy.
I am, I believe, still plodding along, putting one foot in front of the other as I go, however unsteadily. As I approach thirty, I am not doing so badly, but I feel a world away from either the pioneering feminists of my mother’s generation who steadfastly clung to what they were able to achieve against the grain, and even further away from the woman who seems to manage it all, gracefully, with absolute poise and control, unplagued by that demon of chaos who points out you have so much choice, that you don’t know quite where to begin.
Whether you’re an optimist or a pessimist, there is no denying how much women (and humans in general) are capable of achieving, which brings us to the quintessentially female analogy of pushing a pineapple through a pinhole and the fact that women are, after all, biologically capable of doing what appears at first glance to be impossible. As such, I’m sure that the woman of the future is indeed the woman with flexibility and resilience enough to achieve and master all that she’s ever wanted. Nonetheless, as a member of the generation in-between I feel that this is a subject ripe for discussion so that more of us can find the best way forward to having it all.
By Reliable Joe, from the upcoming series “Twenty-something is the New Thirty” or “The 21st century woman user’s manual”