By AMY FIENGA
According to some, woman was only an afterthought, and not created wholly and in her own right, but from a lousy, extra spare part in response to the realization of the need for an incubator for the continuation of mankind.
Regardless of what you believe as the origin of woman – or the human race for that matter – women and men have always enjoyed – and suffered, depending on your point of view – very different rôles and rights since the beginning of mankind.
Equality of men and women, and those in between, has made many strides during my own lifetime.
What do we mean, however, when we say “equality of men and women” ? Equal pay for equal work, equal human rights, equal opportunity – the holy trinity – would make the podium in most societies.
In my lifetime, I have had a front row seat to this evolution (revolution ?). Yet achieving change is a process. It goes through natural growing pains, phases of pubescent awkwardness, resistance, rebellion, followed by wild pendulum swings until, finally, stabilizing into a new norm where acceptance, opportunities and true balance find their place.
And women began their rightful journey into a new era of the sky’s-the-limit. Hello Partnership, Children, Career – Goodbye Heart, Hearth and Home. You could have it all, or any subset of the above – whatever strikes your fancy.
With the right dynamic, and honesty about what it entails, managing the ambitious undertaking of parenting, career and partnership is possible, and I am fortunate to know couples who have, through compromise, intelligence and prioritizing, succeeded in creating this balance very well. But these are the lucky and wise few. I for one gave up a solid career, financial independence and society’s approval of “having it all”, to give priority to my family. Lucky me to have had the choice to make a choice. Luckier me still to know that having it all means having what matters.
What I have noticed, however, is how society views the man in families in which the woman is the breadwinner, the financial backbone supporting the household, and he, the man, is not. Whether it be through choice, security of family money, failure or something else entirely, society still slightly raises its eyebrow and clearly has not embraced this type of equality between men and women. And from what I see, neither have most women, at least not honestly. Further, what I have also noticed is a fickle inconsistency as time goes on. When the household demands on time commitment becomes greater, a hands-on househusband will be celebrated. “Isn’t she lucky ?”. “He’s so supportive of her career !”. And if there are kids : “He’s so great with the kids !”. “What a great dad – he can even cook !”
But then the other shoe drops, the kids grow up, and society raises its eyebrow just a bit higher and the rhetoric shifts to “Does he work ?”. “What does he DO all day ?”. What is he contributing anyhow ?”. “What a shame he doesn’t find a job . . .”.
Often social convention, or perhaps a need for justification, takes the place of a truthful reply – as if a reply were needed – and, to save face, an ambiguous answer about consulting, writing or another artistic endeavor is muttered as an offering by the career-woman to smooth over any uncomfortable social situation in which we all know that the implications are he is NOT bringing home the bacon and she IS wearing the pants, and what’s intended to be inside them.
Is there equality between men and women in a society when a woman, who gives up her financial independence to run the household and raise a family, is celebrated – and a man who does so is scorned ?
Whose fault is this ? Those who pretend that you can have it all – and those who fool themselves into believing this is so – surely shoulder part of the blame.
For generations women served the needs of the man’s career, providing unconditional support and sound advice from the wings, later thanked by society that they missed the boat and that it was too late to have a career of their own or one which could allow them financial independence. That ship has long sailed.
Mind you – and I say this as a woman – women who in private are content with the closet-househusband managing everything, but who in public feel a superficial need to keep up appearances to meet more conventional norms, greatly share in the blame. To my mind, you can’t have it both ways; in my experience, when things go awry and the female breadwinner leaves the no-longer employable male, a bitter scent of comeuppance somehow lingers in the air.
And I would like to think that with the newfound and long overdue equalities we as women now enjoy, we would not reproduce the self-serving model of yore.
I do look forward to the pendulum finding its right and just position. Only then will we entertain the notion of true equality.
Having the freedom to make personal choices – following your heart, choosing your life partner, identifying the right priorities and remembering you can’t have it all – can guide us to a divinely simple life, wherein happiness is found.
Whether you be a man, a woman, or somewhere in between, remember “to thine own self be true” – and don’t bite off more than you can chew.