Sunday, January 31, 2010

The name of my blog says it all

Why are we still having this conversation?

The subject matter - balancing life and work and kids and leisure and all the rest of it - is a universal issue, which affects men and women alike. The article itself admits,
According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 47 per cent of women and 43 per cent of men often or always feel rushed or pressed for time. It's even higher for two-parent families with young children; 67 per cent of mothers and 61 per cent of fathers feel frequently or constantly rushed, though the bureau doesn't specify whether they're working or not.
The difference is under ten percent, which one might even believe surprisingly even, given that women still generally bear the lion's share of the homekeeping and childrearing burden, regardless of their employment status.

And yet, the lead for the article says,
Job plus kids plus house plus spouse - is the modern woman's dream of having it all really a nightmare?
The article then goes on to describe some women in very family-unfriendly employment who found themselves unable to balance what they felt they needed to do with their families, and their careers. Meetings, holidays, out of hours demands... it made it impossible for them to feel happy and they felt that they weren't performing either role well.

Here's a surprise - when you work in a job that is unfriendly to family dynamics, where days are long, holidays are few and interruptions to private life are endemic, it is going to impact on how you parent your children. This applies to fathers and mothers, pretty much equally.

So why is this framed as a maternal issue, so fraught for the women who "want it all"?

I'll tell you why.

It's because we as a society have fetishised our fantasy of ideal Motherhood to the detriment of fatherhood and the mother's personhood. When a woman becomes a mother, society demands that she shed her unique qualities as an individual and begin to fit a narrow stereotype. From the first time you are called "Mum" by your pre-natal healthcare provider, you assume this mantle of Mother, and it will never leave you. (I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing.)

And what Mothers are required to be is: self sacrificing; self effacing; focused on their children; prepared to settle; lacking ambition. Fathers are expected to be these things too - but not to the exclusion of their individuality and the lives (generally) that they were living prior to having children.

So, in the article, we have Jane, and Tim, both of whom were initially stay at home parents, but who both decided in their individual families that it didn't suit them. Now they both work part time.

Tim and his partner Kate are both working part time and caring for the children together. Tim is described as "helping" with childcare.

But Jane, who works part time, is described as "juggling". Tim's quote is about how his colleagues at work perceive him. Jane's entails the impact of her lifestyle on her child - albeit a relatively positive one regarding how well traveled he is.

The article talks about the next generation of girls who will be mothers in years to come:
''Teenage girls … (are) telling us everything is becoming more important,'' researcher Betsey Stevenson told CNN. ''They're telling us that being a good child, being a good parent when they grow up, being a leader in their community, being a good employee, all of these things have become more important and what it's costing them is time for leisure.''
So just whose expectations are we dealing with, here? Generations of women with an entitlement problem, who are selfishly aiming to stuff their lives full of everything they want, and hang the consequences.... or are we looking at generations of women who are consistently being asked to clear a bar that men are rarely even asked to take a run at? Are women really trying to have it all, or seeking some kind of ever-retreating acceptance for whatever activities they have in their lives, be it motherhood, work, hobbies or as a spouse?

And how are these ridiculous expectations and uneven burdens supposed to lead to anything but guilt?

1 comment:

Ms. Burrows said...

Goodness, it's so true, and frustrating. When I was reading the numbers you were presenting, I was thinking about how close they were. Given how much is expected of the average woman in a home, I was a little surprised how close they were.