Does International Women’s Day Miss The Mark?

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3 min read

I started writing a piece about International Women’s Day right after the day itself. In March.

I wanted to write about how I felt a lack of energy, not just at the event I attended to mark the occasion, but around the day itself. But when I started writing, something just didn’t feel right.

Then I lost the courage of my convictions. You see, I used to be on a committee that helped organise International Women’s Day events. I have friends who continue to be highly involved in, and committed to, the day itself. So it’s taken me a few months to order my thoughts before putting pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – to get out what I want to say.

Is it just me who “isn’t feeling it” anymore? Have I just gotten a little older and lost the fire in my belly that I’d had in my 20s? Am I scared of blow-back from friends whose idea of ‘feminist’ does in theory, but maybe not in practice, extend to include women who, despite a tertiary education and cracking career, choose to stay at home after they have kids? Maybe.

The usual articles on the gender pay gap, equal labour in households, on empowerment and getting more women into leadership roles appeared in the newspaper. Instead of feeling fired up about it, like I would have in my 20s, I felt an increasingly familiar sense of disengagement, disappointment and confusion. I felt disconnected from the struggle and disheartened by the lack of progress. I also felt like a big piece of the puzzle was missing: men.

I felt disconnected from the struggle and disheartened by the lack of progress. I also felt like a big piece of the puzzle was missing: men.

What I’ve realised, however, is these feelings are not because I am getting old, cranky and conservative, they are because I’ve just widened my view. Not just on feminism, but on what constitutes a good life.

I’ve discovered I actually don’t want to have a high-level, high-stress career. And it took me a while to become OK with that.

Along with that personal revelation, I’ve had a chance to look around and realise that there are many women (yes, predominantly women) who will always prioritise their families over their careers. Social conditioning? Maybe. But far be it for me to continue judging other families – in the broad sense of the word – for how they prioritise, order, and organise their lives. We don’t all have the education to reach the c-suite. And guess what? We don’t all want to.

I’m not saying we ought to halt the initiatives that are ensuring women with families can continue to grow in their careers. We know the pace of change to get more women into the c-suite is glacial. We know there are not that many women in boards. We know more men called John than women run top Australian companies.

If you want an executive level job, you should have every chance to chase it without gender being a factor – obviously.

I’m just saying, it’s alright to not want all of that. It actually takes guts to admit to yourself you don’t want it all.

This applies equally to men too, yet for the most part, perversely, they will be the first ones penalised for not showing enough initiative at work if there’s so much of an utterance of “I want to work part-time because I want to be a good dad”.

I feel we’ve reached a bit of a stalemate. We need to find a way of engaging more men in the debate. We need to give credit to men who do promote women and we need to find a better way forward, together. In a world where, increasingly, roles are short-term or contract-based; where a geographical location doesn’t preclude you from being part of a team, women, who are often more practised at working part-time or from an external location are well-placed to be successful.

We need to find a way of engaging more men in the debate. We need to give credit to men who do promote women and we need to find a better way forward, together.

So where does that leave me with International Womens’ Day? It’s just too narrow. It excludes a large number of women who, despite not having that kind of career ambition, still want a good life that balances paid work and family. And it excludes men too. I want a conversation that includes everyone. A system set up to support all our choices and the freedom to pursue whatever domestic and work arrangements best suit each families individual needs. Is it too Utopian an idea? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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