Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My song remains the same

(On her website, writer Rona Maynard has written an interesting post in response to my reading of her book. I've responded there, but her ideas have brought to mind arguments I've made before. My song remains the same, and so why don't I reprint it? This post was first aired in 2004 on my early-twenties dirty-laundry angst blog which, thankfully, no longer exists.)

Longer than I've been alive, women have arguing for their superior lifestyles, zealously attempting to convert the masses in order to justify their own choices. This debate is not so much meandering as a run-around, and the fact of the matter is that it continues because cat fights sell papers. Those who balk at feminism are surely pleased by the civil war in the ranks, and their cause is furthered when the women inevitably fail to come to any conclusion or truce. This is by no means cause to stem debate, but perhaps a good reason to examine the debate more carefully.

The false dichotomy is the first issue. Women talking about choosing not to have children vs. mothers of many; working women vs. stay-at-home moms; women opting out of careers vs. women who never had one in the first place vs. women who choose not to have have children. There is a sense from every one that she is being let down by the others. We see already this is more than a two-sided issue, but then you have to realise also that all these women are talking about the very same thing. Women are not always free, do not always have the appropriate support, to make the same life choices that men can. This is not simply a natural burden of femininity, but rather an injustice that severely compromises the potential of half a nation's population, and thus the potential of the nation itself.

External forces have to change. Companies have to adopt more family-friendly policies- free childcare, flexible hours, parental leave and such. People who happen not to be women, or who are women without children have to not look upon these changes as a threat. Women have to stop throwing accusations of selfishness at each other, because making lifestyle choices is inherently selfish regardless of your choice. Further, the right to these choices is something no woman should abase or take for granted.

Women without children have to realise that someone has to have them, and that these women are altogether noble for instituting the next generation- surely a a necessary process? Women who have children but work are no less noble for this, and every family works differently and so there is no reason why their arrangement is inferior. Women who stay at home with their children have to understand that working women are doing them a service while they exercise their noble choice. Women who opt out of work in order to raise their families owe something to all of these women and their blazed trails which have allowed for their own choices, and the "opt-out women" themselves are blazing a trail no less important. Finally, women who are privileged enough to be making these choices at all have to realise how fortunate they are.

So the dichotomy looks just as two-sided as it ever was but now it's man versus woman and it's certainly easy to see it that way- a man will never be asked if he can handle the double burden of a family and a career. His choices will be made so much easier and without the layers of guilt most women wear like a girdle. However this polarity is equally false. No man benefits from a society in which half the population is underutilized and undervalued, and most men realise this. Most men today were raised in families where the mother's capabilities were not compromised as well, and in fact all sons and daughters have benefitted from that vantage point. So there is hope after all, more than there ever was.

Women need to stop being threatened by others who choose differently than they. It is paramount that they support each other, and understand the richness and importance of a wide range of lifestyles, in order that women in the future have such a wealth of options still available to them.