Have you ever come across a man ‘striving to have it all’? And by ‘all’ I mean the perfectly balanced family/home and career/business lives. Men just get on and do what they need to. His pot-belly is growing, he makes time for the gym. He needs to advance his career, he signs up for an MBA. He wants the two-door sports car, he buys it. This is obviously if the right personal and financial circumstances prevail.
The point is that there is no angst over competing interests. And let me say this upfront, those men who are doing their bit – making school lunches in the mornings / doing the school run, taking baby to the doctor when he/she is sick, doing night duty, please sit down. You’re still in the minority and really, there’s no need for congratulations. You’re just doing what you should.
I have yet to find a woman who does not have anxiety, on some level, of not ‘having it all’. Especially not having a husband and babies. We know why; that blasted ‘p’ word. But how can we change this? How do we enable women, especially young girls, to go out and find their passion; to live their purpose? Life is really that simple. But we’re caught up in constraints that aren’t even ours! Which, by the way, I strongly believe were created by men. They were never able to ‘have it all’ nor do they want it. And with good reason; it’s an unattainable pursuit that detracts from living a life at peace.
This thought was further triggered by a recent chat with #MyTribe. Some have young children approaching and/or in their teens. We consider ourselves to be fairly liberal, ready to parent as we may not have been; to nurture well-adjusted adults to live their truth, find their passion and respect all, in what feels like the ‘end of days’. It’s quite a harrowing challenge.
What stood out is that we all, myself included even though I don’t mother girls, are way more protective over our girl-children. The conversation arose around one’s teenage son’s foray into dating. Mom of said-son is understandably struggling with this diverted attention; mine are still young, so I can only empathise with no longer being their princess or queen. And I’m sure I will also need counselling at my turn. The point is that we all agreed, daughter’s entering the world of romance and coupling is far more traumatic. The tentacles of patriarchy are so deep-rooted; we struggle to break free.
I’m a firm believer that you can teach an old dog new tricks; all the dog needs is an eagerness to learn. To change. Now there’s the scary concept: change. Whenever I consider the fear of change, my beloved mother-in-law comes to mind. Her antithesis to change every day routine, like driving a different route to visit us, was a superficial indication of other more innate fears. Fear is a normal emotion induced by perceived danger or threat and enables us to make appropriate decisions which could be life-saving. It’s not meant to be a sustained state, as it becomes for many of us, and ultimately limits our full potential.
So, how do we change our understanding of common societal constructs? It starts with each of us questioning; we somehow lose that curiosity we’re born with. My 4-year-old recently asked if Jesus is a woman and when I responded that he’s a man, he retorted that he’d like Jesus “to be a she because I’m a he”. That definitely put a smile on my face as I answered, “that’s ok”. I wouldn’t go as far as saying he understands the need for diversity, but I do pray that the foundations are being laid.
We need to change our views and perceptions on girls and women, and more importantly, what it means to be a woman. Serena Williams, one of the greatest athletes of all times, is vilified over her masculine physique. She’s held to unattainable standards. At home, our national treasure, Caster Semenya can never find rest. Why? They give common held descriptions of femininity the middle finger. Those who choose not to have children or marry are considered spawn of Satan for rejecting ‘obligatory’ maternal roles. I won’t even enter the standard ‘portraits of beauty’ that we’re exposed to daily into this argument; that’s for another post.
To the mothers of daughters, actively question behaviour that ‘polices’ girls as fragile, weaker, lesser-than and as objects. Ask a simple question: if she was a boy, would I act/behave/question in the same way? Trucks and racing cars, soccer and climbing trees are not too dangerous or ‘out of their league’. If she doesn’t want to wear a dress and prefers a crop cut to ponytails and plaits, that is not a yardstick on being ‘girl enough’. She needs to learn self-acceptance, the foundations of equality, from kindergarten. That’s the only way she’ll own her rightful place in society.
To the mothers of sons, let your boys dance on their toes, have tea parties and play with dolls. They need to get in touch with their refined, nurturing side. How do we expect them to grow into loving, caring men, capable of engaging with women as equals, if they’ve never been exposed to some of the nuances of the other sex? When we don’t allow them to express their emotions as tender babes, can we be surprised that they grow into the archetype of masculinity we despise?
And while we’re at it, can we change the use of pink for girls and blue for boys at that elementary level? There’s a rainbow of colour, no shortage of options. Toys R Us, get a gender-neutral section or don’t label specific toys for girls or boys. How about banishing same-sex schools please? They perpetuate the stereotypes that girls and boys need to be educated differently and also scupper mutual understanding of the other sex at critical stages of young souls’ development. It may have worked in the last century, it’s certainly an outdated concept today.
Finally, to all my sisters, you are already more than enough. Today. Right now. You don’t need to fight to attain recognition in a society that’s skewed to favour men. The secret lies in finding your passion which will lead to purpose. And our passion is not housed in an external frame or another, it lives deep within; you are the only one to unlock it. Whether it’s to teach and develop our children, design homes and buildings, chart the next spaceship to unknown galaxies or be a homemaker, it’s yours to honour and pursue.
I love Mum Oprah; she says: “You can have it all. Just not at all at once”. Let’s teach our girl-children to chase what brings them joy, love and peace. The rest will follow.