Feminism circa 2000


Feminism – does it still exist?

Now, she says rubbing her hands with glee, a topic that I (along with at least 50% of the population) am extremely well qualified to discuss. Actually, I am probably even more qualified than most, winding my lonely path through a masculine world … I live with three males, I work with three males, I regularly email (emale?) at least three males (a bohemian, a philanthropist and a teller of jokes in bad taste) and I am a member of the generation that grew up with feminism and ‘having it all’. This will necessarily get a bit personal.

I am definitely a feminist. I left school at 16 with every intention of being independent, particularly in the workplace. I’ve been in permanent employment ever since, have always had financial independence and owned a car. It has always been as natural as breathing that I stand on my own two feet. So let me go on to tell you what is good about feminism and what I’ve discovered in recent years to be the very significant downside … leading to the conclusion that we may have won the battle but we’ve yet to win the war …

During my early career era (my twenties to early thirties, my ‘yuppy’ days) I was working in the graphic design/advertising industry – one that has always been more progressive than most about women in the workplace. Certainly I had the responsibilities, the opportunities and the trappings of success (if you can call a Suzuki jeep a trapping … more like a death trap the way I took corners in it) and I loved it! Before meeting Tim when I was 24, I’d go clubbing and out on the town just as much as the guys and generally had a ball. Even once I’d settled for married life, there was no question of my giving up my independence as Tim has never had a problem in this respect.  So this is what is good about feminism – women can genuinely do whatever they want in life, the opportunities are there and the sky’s the limit. It’s just getting the guys to wholeheartedly accept this which is the problem.

I can give you no end of examples in everyday life where this still just does not happen. The chaps I work with are all young, on the face of it believe in equality of the sexes but … despite my glorified job title, I still make the coffee, answer the phone and wear my Claire Rayner (as opposed to my Debbie Rainer) hat when they have a little problem they want to discuss. A few months ago I went to a printers to pass a job on press and the man who greeted me actually said (and I kid you not!) “Oh, I was expecting a man”. Just two weeks ago some guy canvassing for the local elections phoned up and, when I answered, asked me to find out from my husband who he was planning to vote for! What about my vote?!!! (He got neither). And I know my big battle in the New Year will be holding onto my part time working hours, as my colleagues resent my leaving at 3pm (because once I’ve gone, THEY have to make the coffee and answer the phone …)

So why do I think we’ve lost the war? Children. We give birth, men do not. And, the biggest disservice to feminism was dealt by Germaine Greer and her sisters, the ‘having it all’ brigade. Certainly we’ve ended up having it all – the job, the kids, the juggling, the breakdown …

It would be wrong for me to generalise, but most women I’ve met with children and a career (and I know many) will say the same. You cannot have it all. In my experience, once you give birth everything becomes a compromise. The career is no longer the be all and end all – there’s this little living being who you’re desperate to see at the end of the day, and who you can’t help worrying about whilst you’re at work. No matter how good the childcare (and we’ve always been very fortunate in this respect), in your heart of heart you feel YOU should be there and the hormones play supporting havoc. So motherhood becomes a compromise.  Work becomes a compromise.  Your colleagues look out for the signs (or so it seems to a sensitive soul such as me) … the leaking breast pads, the surreptitious call to the childminder, the sick on the shoulder … As time goes by, the working mother perfects the art of disguise – the phone call is made on the mobile from the ladies loo; Tim is instructed to phone in if he’s rained off and state that he can pick up the kids, without me having to ask it out loud for all to hear; you diligently offer to deliver something to a client safe in the secret knowledge that it gives you a chance to take a sick child to the doctor en route; you visit a client who’s involved in computers for education and take along your 9 year old, introducing him as ‘primary school consultant’ (I did this last week!), etc, etc. Everything is a compromise because with motherhood feminism becomes just another word for GUILT.

Overcoming GUILT takes a lot of energy, believe you me. You put in extra hours at work and don’t ask for more money. You feel you have to devote every spare second to the kids, dreaming up happy memories (tiny tin lanterns to see in the New Millennium and things like that). You need to be ON TOP of everything at all times and must never, EVER be ill. Obviously life must be very different if you’re married to someone who can make fish terraine, but most men still won’t do the ironing, think Christmas is something that just happens, forget which day is clarinet lesson and won’t take the cat to be put down …

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