Can Women Have It All
Five tiny words that on the face of it are supposed to allude to the incredible capabilities of womankind but are in fact dragging us down to a place of doubt and a stressful existence.
Pre-motherhood I had never considered how utterly ridiculous the statement is – and make no mistake, whatever your outlook (and lets face it, it’s rarely positive) those five words are a position, not a question. Having a working class background and coming from a family who have taught me that anything is possible as long as you are loved and you love, has created both a work ethic and a confidence which fuels me. Like so many of my generation from northern-English mining towns, I have carved out many firsts. The first to leave my hometown, my region, my country for a new life. The first to go to university. The first to get a degree.
On paper, I look incredibly ambitious. It’s true I am, but in the context of the debate about whether women can have it all the word ‘ambition’ has become so narrow and limited. My ambition originated as an enthusiasm and a zest for life. It was all encompassing, exciting, limitless. It pushed me to want to hear every song, read every book, celebrate life with my family and friends, travel to every place on the map, be successful in my career, be healthy of mind and body, be an active part of society and watch crap tele. I was enthusiastic and I was driven to squeeze every drop of life out of life.
Then I left university. I suddenly became aware of the concept of having it all, and truth to be told, I bought in to it. Who wouldn’t want to have it all? In four years I went from Marketing Assistant to Chief Executive. I am proud of my career so far – both the voluntary positions and those with a salary attached – and I don’t think I would change a thing. That is, except for the wild goose chase I was in with regards to ensuring that I worked myself stupidly hard whilst I could, so that I could take a few months off to have a child and then jump back on the merry-go-round, I mean, career ladder.
When I got pregnant I felt the rug being pulled away from under me so fast. I felt stuck. Who would have me – in professional terms – now that I was with child? Everywhere I turned there were headlines about maternity discrimination, phone-ins about women’s inability to have it all, the battle between children and career, and how women can’t earn as much once they become mothers.
I was a successful woman living some of my dreams whilst dreaming up some more, and yet everywhere I turned I was being told that my value in the workplace was diminishing with each trimester. And I believed it.
That is, until I was home from hospital with my son. I’ve discovered many things since becoming a mother. I don’t accept the idea that my value has suddenly gone down just because I gave birth.
The message I was being force-fed was that I couldn’t continue to climb the ladder (spoiler: I’ve discovered that the most fortunate lives aren’t ladder-shaped), to develop my career or to earn the same as I did before I had my son simply because I had had my son.
I don’t accept that.
Society is telling women that their value depreciates between checking in to the labour ward and walking back in to our workplace. What I have discovered is that the opposite is true.
Society is telling women that having it all amounts to a career and children. Is that it? Two things? In 2014, is this the best we can come up with? We deserve so much more than to think about our lives in these narrow and restrictive terms.
If we spent more time looking out over the horizon, the white noise that is the question ‘can women have it all’ will eventually disappear. Women must ignore the question, it’s connotations and the crippling doubt that it creates. For those women who live in a free, democratic and peaceful society who are blessed with opportunities and chances that some will never get to experience, it is a sad truth that their chances of a different life are being taken away from them. Following maternity leave women are often being released in to an unfulfilling life of trying to first find it all, and then keep it.
I urge every parent to be as ambitious for themselves as they are for their children, to recognise their own rebirth which occurs during the transition of becoming a parent, and to focus not on what’s above but what’s beyond. Beyond the bullshit, beyond the horizon, beyond our wildest hopes.