What do we want? Um….
It’s a funny time for women right now. Not funny ha ha, although it’s that too – nice to see women on television being funny and irreverant instead of just looking great and smiling a lot. No, I mean it’s a strange and complicated time. On the one hand we’ve just had International Women’s Day; on the other hand we’ve had appalling sexual attacks in India (apparently just the tip of the iceberg), and some countries still refuse to let women be seen at all, hidden in women’s quarters, denied education, denied the basic freedoms that we in the West take for granted. On one side we have Sheryl Sandberg of google telling women that they can reach the top of any business, and on the other we have Vicky Pryce, a woman who reached the top and then cited marital coercion when she was prosecuted for taking her husband’s speeding points. And yesterday I listened to the founder of a new party, Rights for men and boys, talking passionately about how women didn’t like work, were better off at home, and should leave the important stuff to men.
I would dismiss him as a ludicrous throw back to the sixties who was just feeling frustrated and decided to blame women for all his woes (just as men in that decade fought the idea of women ‘stealing their jobs’). But I don’t think he’s alone, and on the other side of the coin, research shows that fewer and fewer girls/women are willing to say that they are feminists. So are we going forwards, or are we edging backwards? Are we going to retreat back to the home, let men take care of the important stuff and, hey, give them back our votes while we’re at it?
I thought about this last Sunday, mother’s day. I looked at my mother, who worked throughout our childhood, worked herself to the bone actually, and who now takes out my children or their cousins most days of the week, through wind, sleet and snow. She’s a hero, even though she doesn’t think of herself as one, but her influence has rubbed off on her three daughters, made us always reach to the top and to roll our sleeves up when the going gets tough.
Then I looked at my daughter, aged 3, her life all ahead of her. And I wondered what it is I want for her.
And what I want for her is pretty simple, really; it’s what I want for my boys, too. I want her to be confident and happy in herself, enough to deflect any meanness, thoughtlessness or cruelty that comes her way. I want her to have every opportunity, to have no roads closed to her. And I want her, ultimately, to choose the path that fulfils her, that makes her happy. That could mean being a high court judge; it could mean setting up her own craft business in a cottage somewhere; it could mean raising a huge brood of children. Perhaps it could involve all three – we’re living so much longer these days and the idea of doing the same thing for our entire working lives is surely going to be outdated soon.
What I don’t want is anyone telling her what she wants, or what she should do, because of their own insecurities, because of dogma, extreme politics or religion. These things try to impose control over us, and we need to fight it, whether those controlling impulses are directed at women, men, children, other nationalities or anyone else.
So maybe that’s where feminism needs to direct its energies these days. Not at men, who were never the enemy, but at dogma, at control, at barriers, whoever they are imposed on. Even if they are directed at the man behind Rights for Men and Boys. Actually, particularly if they are directed at him. Perhaps then he might realise that we’re all in this together. Perhaps then he might let us all make our own minds up about what we want to do with our lives.