I’ve recently been re-reading Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own”, her extended essay based on talks she delivered to the women at two all female Cambridge Colleges in the 1920’s. Her basic argument, to whittle down a piece full of compelling points, was that to be free to be a writer a woman had to have both financial independence and room of her own in which to write.
She calls up examples such as Jane Austen who had to write covertly because to be seen to or known to write was unacceptable for a woman (not exactly the vision Anne Hathaway conjured up of Miss Austen) hence the curious pseudonyms employed by the Bronte’s, and Shakespeare’s sister. Times have changed somewhat even to the benefit of J.K. Rowling who managed to juggle caring for her children while writing her first Potter book in an Edinburgh coffee shop on a shoe string.
The necessity for a woman to be financially independent was imbedded in me at school in one of those rare moments where you listen to a speech at assembly or founder’s day or end of term or whenever it was. We were told to aim to be financially independent for ourselves and any children. The basis for this argument no doubt that as wonderful as any man is we should never completely rely on him financially and always have the freedom to make choices probably because it is ultimately the woman who is left holding the baby.
The Girls’ School Association has previously stuck its head above the parapet in the women can’t “have it all” debate. It has perhaps correctly identified that girls feel the competition within themselves to do better for themselves. I suspect that is because women still have to work hard to prove themselves to be as capable as men. There is also the access to privilege argument of course.
Recently there was a piece in the news that I think sadly passed with little real notice in which the Girls’ Day School Trust had suggested that a woman needs to find a good man who will be her “cheerleader” to enable her to enjoy both career and children.
The latest article suggested that finding a husband was about making a career choice. Behind every successful woman there should be a supportive man. I paraphrase: career, marriage and motherhood should be possible for all women if they want it and to that end choose a supportive husband who does more than hoover and cook but understands and cares as much about your career as his own and will cheerlead you through the triumphs and setbacks.
Far from male-bashing I want to celebrate those men I’ve met who are as positive and supportive of their partner’s careers and interests as their own and split the day to day childcare tasks in a mature and uncomplaining way. Obviously there are very real financial pressures on any family so it pays to enable both in a relationship to earn more and maybe at some point the Government will do something about extortionate childcare costs, oh, and the gender pay gap...
A Trustlaw poll released ahead of the G20 summit showed thatCanadais the bestG20 country in which to be a woman in terms of policies that promote gender equality, safeguards against violence and exploitation and access to healthcare among the world’s biggest economies. Britaincame third which is good to see. I suspect it says something about the status of women worldwide that in 2012 such a poll is commissioned. Women are still sold as chattels inIndia, burned alive and abused as domestic slave labour, subjected to violence and poverty inMexicoand have their reproductive rights viciously taken away inChinadespite various laws and treaties.
Women still earn less, save less, and retire on average with about a third less than men. Even then women are still expected (or expect themselves) to take time out from their careers to raise their children or take on carer roles. Anne Marie Slaughter’s recent essay in theAtlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has stirred a lot of debate. She is partly right to argue that expectations around work and family will have to change to support women but also men I would argue. Supporting a family is incredibly stressful.
We should all be able to build financially and personally richer lives. The structure of the professional world is not flexible and yet even for men this is a real issue.