Modern women are put under a lot of pressure and expected to behave in certain, often contradictory, ways – they have to be sexy, innocent, educated, unassuming, well travelled, home maker, the list goes on. We are expected to look perfect for each occasion – just look at the tabloids and weekly magazines, that slag off celebrities who may pop to the shop for a pint of milk not looking perfect, that they must be feeling under the weather. Men don’t get the same treatment.
The biggest way women have an impossible pressure put on them is the career vs family discussion. Men never have to have a conversation about how they are juggling both, nor do they get questioned if they choose their career over a family. Yet women are expected to stop their career to give birth to children, and then go back to that career, which in a lot of cases has been adversely affected by the break. When they work hard to try and regain some ground and actually progress in their career, that may involve longer hours. Their husband/mother/father/nanny may need to help out with childcare but then, of course, the poor woman is accused of being a bad mother. Men don’t have the same judgment – they can work late and their children’s care is not even mentioned. I’m not even going to start on the salary issue – after all, I don’t want to scare off readers so early in this blog’s life!
Before I go any further, I just want to say that opinions expressed are simply my opinions. I don’t pretend to know what is best for anyone; the only person I have any idea of what is best, is for me and my life. Everyone – man and woman – has the right to decide what they want, without judgment from anyone. I am certainly not judging any woman, or man for that matter, who thinks differently to me.
I described above the scenario of the working mother who has pressures on her from all sides. It’s because women are expected to “have it all”. If us pesky women want careers then the least we can do is raise (and raise well) the kids as well. For me, personally, I don’t want to have children. Medically, I have conditions which affect fertility, especially as I get older, but that doesn’t bother me as I really have no desire to raise a family. And this leads to so much judgment and questioning and general confusion.
When I was in my twenties, I was told that once I hit my thirties and at a better place in my career, I would change my mind and my body clock would start ticking. As my thirtieth birthday approached, I was asked if I had started dating seriously yet, as I should really start looking. Now, as I approach my mid thirties, I am viewed with suspicion by some friends – men and women – who wonder what is wrong with me. I have lost a lot of male friends over the last few years who have met girls (I am happy that they are happy btw), who find it suspicious that I am still single. One even assumed that I was single because I really liked my friend/her boyfriend and seemed to take great pleasure in telling me he was off the market. Some friends who have had kids hardly meet up with me, because I “haven’t grown up yet”.
My male friends of a similar age, and older, who are still single aren’t viewed with as much suspicion or judgment, though of course they are still judged by some.
I was asked by a colleague why I don’t want it all. “Your career is in a great place and you could easily come back to it,” she said, “You’re so organised, I can see you being a super mum and not worrying about all the balls you need to juggle.” Maybe she’s right, maybe she’s wrong, it really doesn’t matter. It may be that I would be the best mum in the world, but I don’t want that. And having seen how my friends with kids have to juggle everything , I don’t feel like I am missing out. Yet I am somehow made out to feel like a failure, like I’m not reaching my full potential, for choosing not to have kids.
On the other side of it, when women choose to be stay at home mums, they are looked at with pity. They had such potential in their career and they are giving it all up to have kids. There are a variety of reasons by women choose family over kids, but that is for them and their partner to decide. Some women would love to but just can’t afford to. I certainly don’t judge women who become stay-at-home mums, because it’s their life and their choice. But just as I am made to feel like a failure for not wanting to bear children, the women who choose the opposite are also made to feel like a failure.
Maybe it would be better to re-define the phrase “having it all”. Conventionally, it means having a career and kids and succeeding at both. I work with a couple of women who certainly have achieved this, and I couldn’t be happier for them. But it’s not easy and not everyone wants it all or, and I mean this in the kindest way, they may not have the means to “have it all”.
In my life, if I define “having it all” as having achieved goals that I wanted to achieve by my thirties, then I’d say yes I have. Successful career – tick. I own my flat in a city – tick. Close friends – tick. Regular holidays – tick. As a teenager, these are the things I fantasised about, not finding the perfect man, getting married, having kids.
Going forward, by the time I reach 40, my major goal is to finally feel like I am in control of my anxiety disorder. If I reach 40 and I haven’t found a long term way to manage my mental health, or if my career has gone down the drain, then I may change my mind and think that I don’t have it all, by my own standards.
But if I judge myself by conventional standards, then to the outside world, I currently don’t have it all. My colleague, who I mentioned above, remains extremely concerned about me. I did once, in the pub after a few G&Ts, pose the question – “What if I don’t want it all, will the world end?” and she wondered why I was being so defensive, but didn’t actually say what will happen. Because that’s the thing – nothing bad will happen solely because I (or any other woman) have decided not to juggle a family and a career.
I realise that the world isn’t going to change just because I have written this blog post. There is still going to be pressure on women to be “super” and to juggle all the balls without breaking a sweat. Men will still have far less pressure put on them. This won’t change until there is true gender equality. In the meantime, I’m just going to focus on my goals and judge myself by my standards, not anyone else’s.