The Feminist Movement has a long and interesting history that has been written by many women who are greater than I will ever be. Partially because of that movement, I grew up understanding that my voice is as loud as my brother’s. I have never been told I am limited simply because of my gender. I have always had choices, and that is a beautiful thing.
However, there is another side to all this “choice” that warrants discussion.
Not that long ago, I ran into a friend of mine who has three gorgeous children as well as a demanding job as a lawyer. She is ebullient, smart, and ambitious, and I am certain she is capable of making partner at her firm if that’s the path she chooses.
Yet our conversation took a familiar turn when she acknowledged it is difficult to balance professional pursuits and parenting. The expectations that are put upon modern women to achieve that perfect balance can feel a bit crushing. Per the blurred roles many women now play, there is a tug that constantly pulls on a woman’s spirit, that can rip her apart if that pull becomes a tug-of-war on her time and emotional resources.
This brings me to the great lie ultra-feminists seem to have established as the gold standard for which we must all aspire. When we are young, we are told we can have everything, but how is this possible? Most of us are not wonder women. We cannot bend time. We must choose one stage on which we’ll star, or we must accept we will play supporting roles that don’t come with top billing.
Intellectually, I think women know this is truth. Emotionally they often feel that when they can’t do it all, they are less than everyone else. Forget the professional glass ceilings that are inevitable for women who in their prime earning years choose to interrupt careers with the duties of child rearing. Forget the men they say get in their way when they want to move forward. Women judge themselves much more harshly than men ever could, and they also judge other women.
As my lawyer friend pointed out to me, this is clearly evident at her Cobb County bus stop where women who work and women who don’t show up in their respective suits or slippers to send their children off to school most mornings. The suits stand on one side of the curb. The slippers stand on the other.
Perhaps in those wee morning hours, the working moms are dismissively thinking as Hillary Clinton once said, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession…”
At the same time, perhaps the stay-at-home moms feel superior as they know they will be back at the bus stop in the afternoon, and they will provide the snacks and supervision for some of those latchkey kids, who crave adult attention that they simply won’t get from their own parents,
Who is better? Suits or slippers?
Now that’s a loaded question.
Personally, I’ve been on both sides of the bus stop divide, and I know the choice to work outside the home or not, is never clear-cut. Sometimes finances determine this choice, especially in a downturned economy. Sometimes a special circumstance such as a special needs child makes pursuing a profession more difficult.
So when I asked friends this question—which choice is more valid--regardless of their household circumstances, I wasn’t surprised when many of them came clean about feeling judged for whichever life they’d chosen and resenting women in the opposite position.
One said, “I’m sick to death of hearing stay-at-home moms say they’re tired.” But another noted when she worked in an office, she felt she had more time to sit down and gather her thoughts, so working outside the house was easier in her opinion than the constant treadmill lifestyle of catering to kids, making contributions to her family that she felt were as valid as her husband’s paycheck.
This all brings me back to those feminists.
I understand mothers who work in and outside the home are the same in that both are working. Both must prioritize in their lives, and both are often left questioning whether or not what they are doing is the right thing for themselves or for their families.
Neither one can do it all.
Perhaps instead of staring quietly at each other across the bus stop divide as if suits or slippers signify different tribes, women should have more open and honest conversations about the implications of the choices we all must make and how these choices truly impact us and our society. Perhaps through mutual respect, we could even find a way to help each other.
After all, I believe we should embrace the choices feminism has opened up for us, but we should also understand that reality shows us choices are inevitable.
If we don’t accept this truth, we will never feel whole, as we will always be torn in two by none other than ourselves.
In the end, that’s far worse than being judged by someone else.