We can have it all, that's what the feminists of the 1960s and 1970s said right? Well no actually, they didn't, but that's the most common reference point used by those who criticise feminism now; that women were told they could have it all and now they're finding out that they can't.
The "all" in the statement is frequently considered shorthand for children and career.* Don't many men get to have a family and a career, without anyone even thinking that the world might operate otherwise?
People say sometimes that the reason women can't have it all, however all is being defined, is because when you have children, and/or a partner, you have to make sacrifices. I agree that you do have to make sacrifices when you have a family. You have to make choices, often difficult ones, and you do have to put the needs of others, often vulnerable little ones, before your own on a regular basis. But our society seems to be explicit about the sacrifices the ewes make, yet not talk about sacrifices for the rams.
There are men who do make sacrifices for the sake of their children, or their partner. There are expectations still that men should be the earner and support their partner and children financially, and with this sometimes there are sacrifices about which job they do (e.g. something that earns more or has security, as opposed to what they actually want to do), the hours they work (e.g. lots of overtime, two jobs to bring in enough money), and more. I know a father who lost his job because he wasn't working the ridiculous extra hours his boss required, primarily because he wanted, and needed, to be an active dad engaged in his child's life.
Those sacrifices are under the radar, and sadly seem to go largely unexamined. Why do we have an economic system that requires more than one income to run a household, and particularly to raise children? Given that our political and economic system is supposed to help us achieve what we want as individuals and as a group, perhaps we should be doing something about that?
But I digress, a little.
I wonder if the reason that we tell women they have to make sacrifices for their kids, but we are silent about what men forfeit, is because we still think that really women want to constantly spend time with their children and men are happy to go to sports with the little tykes on the weekends, ruffle their hair occasionally, and generally be distant figures invoked for disciplinary purposes and on Fathers' Day once a year. Does anyone, man or woman, fit either of those stereotypes, really?
The sad reality for many families is that it is the woman (and sometimes more than one) who is expected to give up more of their time to support the household group. Doing the unpaid domestic work, the school run, the cooking, the childcare, the cleaning, running the family finances and ensuring the bills are paid (or juggling things if they cannot be), all of this involves spending time on others that you might otherwise spend on yourself. And this work is still predominantly done by women in our society. How many readers have lived in a family setting where the weekends involve the adult males doing what they like to do, mostly, and the adult females doing what they need to do, by and large?
If we could balance these sacrifices, share them if you will, then not only would women have more time for their stuff, but men would be more engaged with their families and more empowered in the home. Sounds good to me.
With thanks to Alison for sparking my thinking on this post in a brunch-fuelled conversation recently.
*While for me "all" is in fact a much bigger concept, let's go with that for the purposes of this rant.