Monday, August 20, 2007

It's not academic

Today my friend Sue caught me up on the lives of a group of women with who I shared my uni years. That email made me sad and angry. We are all in the crunch years: early thirties (okay, early-mid), early career, early parenthood. Our lives can be summed up by a list of struggles: debt, housing stress, alcohol abuse, social isolation, marginalisation and small cruelties at work, unsympathetic parents, relationship breakdowns, depression, illness, anxiety, sleeplessness and a general desperation, experienced in varying degrees on different days.

We are women who have benefited from the social structures within which we were born and within which we have worked. We're tertiary educated to the nth degree, we've got well paying jobs and go-ahead careers (albeit some temporarily suspended). Most of us met in law school and through a misogynist debating society - we know how to argue. We're trained up in the theoretical bases and practical applications of feminism. We've subverted, deconstructed and stormed the barricades. In short, if you wanted a group of women to embody structural privilege, you could take our photo: Structural privilege, Class of 2007. Also, we are tough, we work really hard, and we take limited amounts of sh*t. Plus, we all have really great hair. And we're funny.

So, I don't really want to hear another person tell me that women bring career stagnation/ anxiety/ illness/ financial difficulties/ loneliness upon themselves because we don't work hard enough/ work too hard/ put our children in childcare or alternatively, don't look after ourselves/ aren't careful with money or alternatively, spend it all on childcare when it would make more financial sense to stay at home or alternatively, choose to stay home and thus need to suck up the financial implications of that choice/ don't make an effort to keep up with friends or alternatively, bore our friend because all we do is talk about our kids and would it kill us to see a movie with subtitles once in a while because it sure would make us more interesting. Because between us we have tried every variation of the options available and motherhood is still damn hard. Women do not bring 'it' - whatever 'it' might be - upon themselves. And given how hard it is for women who have vast personal, social and financial resources available to them, I can't comprehend what it must be like for those who have so much less.

Now I could provide a very elegant and theoretically informed discourse on why this is the case. But I don't really want to do that today. I just want to say, it makes me sad to know the sparkling and brilliant girls of my youth are being squeezed on all sides, and I feel so powerless, finally knowing for sure we can't change the system from without or within. And I'm also really proud that we are all really, really good mums and good people despite and because of the ways we deal with the love and sadness of being a mother. I would also like to say to any teenage girl who tells me feminism has gone to far, "Sweetheart, just you wait".

7 comments:

Susan said...

You've tackled a tricky one here Kris. Do you think these women have some happiness and humour in their lives in spite of being caught between a rock and a hard place half the time. A very eloquent post.

Glen said...

Arthur Schopenhauer wrote,"We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness... Human existence must be a kind of error... It is bad today and every day it will get worse until the worst of all happens". I suggest he's best left on the shelf. The pages of life can be coloured much more pleasantly.

Kris said...

Yes, I didn't mean to be totally Schopenhauer. Every one of these women, myself included, has loads of happiness and good things. More that a lot of the struggles we face are the result of social structures that enable and limit particular options and behaviours - of fathers as well as mothers - and that this isn't just an issue of personal choice. I guess, motherhood is hard, and we should be sensitive to that, not that it is unremittingly bleak.

Kate said...

Well said, Kris. The sad thing is that it is so often women who criticise other women's choices, rather than simply supporting each other with compassion, and a shoulder to lean on (or cry on)when necessary.

traceyleigh said...

Well said. Mother guilt...it's a force to be reckoned with.It pervades our sense of who we are or who we think we might be or once was.

blue milk said...

What a fantastic post!! I'm really enjoying exploring your blog.

Marjorie said...

Wow--you really nailed it perfectly here. It's as if there's this idea out there that there's a foolproof way to mother, work, stay home with kids, make financial decisions, etc. that none of us are figuring out.

And I wonder all the time about this: "And given how hard it is for women who have vast personal, social and financial resources available to them, I can't comprehend what it must be like for those who have so much less." I think my idea of "things I would never do" would change drastically if I were desperate to care for my children.