TO HAVE IT ALL OR TO DO IT ALL?

Introducing Carrie Thain, a working mother who wanted to shed some light on the reality of the glass ceiling that women are still inevitably facing...

NB. We wanted a picture to go along with this article of a working-mum, unfortunately they were all beyond perfect and unrealistic representations of what a real woman looks like. Although they do prove the point nicely.

A few weeks ago, lots of sensible, intelligent and thoughtful people got very cross when a headmistress stuck her head above the parapet and said that girls should accept that they could either be mothers or have careers. How could someone who had responsibility for developing our daughters or younger sisters believe that, let alone have said it out loud, everyone thought?

 I agree with all those who railed against Ms Durham.  We need teachers, and especially women teachers, to teach girls that they can achieve whatever they set their minds to, that they can have a fulfilling career, where they have the power to break with their high heels any glass ceilings they encounter, and that if they choose to, they can do this alongside being a mother.

But might that head-teacher have had a point? There are many, many women who successfully combine a career with motherhood.  They will, I’m sure, tell you it’s possible to have it all, and keep flying the feminist flag, juggling suit, laptop and nursery run with a willing partner on side doing housework and cooking. A true equality. These women are portrayed in the media as immaculate, stylish and capable.  But I am not one of them.  These women unwittingly perpetuate the myth that we can have it all, the media reinforces it, and yet in my experience that just means that rather than having it all, I am doing it all. And I am shattered.

Juggling work, parenting, housekeeping, finances and a marriage is exhausting, if I am to do any of it well.  If I devote sufficient time to one to feel that I am achieving something to be proud of, something else inevitably suffers.  And this is not because I have a particularly unhelpful husband; we both work extremely hard and he pulls his weight.  Although obviously don’t tell him that; I do still get the occasional “I did the washing up for you,” which always incites rage, and he needs to be kept on his toes!

I have retrained to find a career that fits around my family commitments, and so gone back down the ladder in both status and income. Despite it being a valuable job that I love, no one’s impressed if you tell them you’re a teacher in FE.  With everything else that needs to be done to keep the Thain family running smoothly, I am not sure where there is any time for me.  I feel guilty for taking time out for a run or a Pilates class, and I rarely have time to meet with friends. I don’t have the smooth hair and toned figure of those women having it all in the media, I don’t have a tidy house or cook nutritious, delicious, daily meals that no one complains about – ever -, and I feel guilt not pride in my work.  

I have a friend who regularly gets overlooked for promotions and training despite her skills and experience because as a mum she is now part time, and another graduate friend with lots to offer who can’t work because she has a poorly son and no employer would put up with the time she needs off to care for him.  So, the sad truth is that the myth of having it all is not necessarily what pretty normal women experience.

And what impact does this myth have on us pretty normal women? Well, it makes us feel inadequate.  It makes us feel like failures, which is ridiculous when you think of how much we squeeze out of our daily lives.  And this feeling is not what we want for girls starting their adult lives; think about it, no one ever says a man should be both a brilliant barrister and a ground-breaking surgeon to be a successful man.

 In fact very few men are judged as parents at all.  As sportsmen, politicians, musicians, actors, professionals, yes.  As fathers? Rarely.   So why must a woman be a perfect mother and high-achieving professional to be a successful woman? 

So maybe Ms. Durham is right, and girls should be given the opportunity to make an informed choice, not be given yet another unrealistic ideal to judge themselves against and be found lacking.