“Having it all means having the same work and family choices that men do. It doesn’t mean having everything you want. No one has that.” – Anne Marie Slaughter. *
While I understand the sentiment of the above quote and am sympathetic to people who agree, for me it’s based on a false premise – that the choices men currently have are what women actually want. They aren’t what I want – let me explain why.
Firstly, I think the word “choices” is key, but often in terms of feminism or any marginalized group, in practice it often boils down to, “We want what they have.” But what if what they have isn’t actually all that hot?
This year it was reported, “In 1981, 63% of UK suicides were male, but in 2013 the figure was 78%. The proportion of male to female deaths by suicide has increased steadily since 1981.” http://www.theguardian.com/society/2015/feb/19/number-of-suicides-uk-increases-2013-male-rate-highest-2001 Suicide is not a step taken by people happy with their lot in life and, although reported rates of depression are higher for women, it’s clear that men are much more likely to end it all. Why?
I recently attended an event run by Stonewall to give educators the skills to train colleagues to combat homophobic bullying and raise awareness of LGBT issues in schools. It seems to me that much of what we consider homophobic, sexist and related issues are actually rooted in rigid ideas about what it is to be male or female in our society. Currently what it means to be male seems to involve a stoic and repressed attitude. In terms of work, yes men earn more and have many advantages, but they’re often still defined by their careers and expected to put them above all else. Theoretically men have choices but, in practice, these are acceptable only if they fit with society’s narrow view of what it is to be masculine.
My second reason for questioning the desire to have what men have is that most societies are patriarchal in structure and have sexism built into their very fabric. Does wanting what men have mean we will need to find a new sub group to oppress?
On a personal level, within my own relationship at least, I kind of already have what men have. I earn more than my partner and we agreed that she would work part time so she can look after our children. I am in a senior leadership position and would be unable to conduct my life in the way I have until now without her support. Does this mean my life is perfect?
So what’s the point of this post? Maybe our horizons need to be wider? Maybe it’s not about having what other people already have. I’d argue that what they have is built on a flawed system. Maybe it’s about creating a new system and better choices for everyone.
*I originally came across this quote in ‘Having it all’ by Hannah Wilson