Last week, I heard the news that a friend of mine had got engaged to her boyfriend. For the sake of this blog, let’s call her Tara. I can’t quite recall how long she and her boyfriend have been together, but the news reminded me of a conversation I had some months ago with her and two of other friends.
It was coming up to exam time so the four of us were discussing our hopes and plans for the future. This is when Tara said that her dream in life was to get married, have children and be a housewife. On hearing this one of my other friends, Yasmin, launched into a rant about why on Earth would she choose not to make use of her intelligence and skills (Tara is currently studying at university), and resign herself to a boring life well confined under the glass ceiling. “HAVEN’T YOU HEARD OF FEMINISM???!!??” she cried, exasperated.
It was then that my third friend in this small circle of conversation, Daisy, interjected, and she said one of the wisest things I’ve ever heard her say – and she is extremely prone to saying wise things. “But,” she said, “isn’t that the whole point of feminism? Tara has the choice to be a housewife if she wants to, whereas before she would have been forced into it, whether that’s the life she wanted or not.”
This is something I completely agree with – women’s rights and role in society with regard to marriage and children has certainly changed dramatically for the better. I discovered in a lesson the other day that the women’s version of the verb ‘to marry’ in the millennia old Russian language, выйти замуж, literally means ‘to go out behind the husband’. The men’s version on the other hand, жениться, means ‘to wife’. For me this makes the progress of women’s rights in the last 50 years even more fantastic , as it really shows the massive leaps and bounds which have been achieved.
However I still feel there’s more to do. As I anxiously await replies from universities after sending off my UCAS application, I’ve been thinking about the future and I realise that women still have to make many decisions within their working lives which men simply don’t have to make. Consider the fact that many women have to plan their marriages and when they have children in coordination with the progress of their career, as employers are still less likely to employ newly married women or recent first time mothers, due to the risk of them taking maternity leave in the near future. It’s also still the unshakable social norm that when a baby is born to parents who both work, it’s the mother who will stop work or go part time to take care of it; there’s never any conversation about this. This fact is what can stop young women from using their skills and talents properly, from having an unblinkered view of the opportunities that lie ahead of them. Some young women feel as though they need to choose between having a family and having an important, high profile job, such as one in diplomacy or politics.
This massive life choice that many women feel they have to make shouldn’t exist, and we need to be encouraged by the massive progress we’ve made so that we can press forward and eradicate this aspect of gender equality.