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Saturday, April 27, 2013

The Feminist Lie

To anyone reading this, I apologise for the negativity in this post. I do try to blog about happy things, to remind myself appreciate the small things in life and to stay positive. However, I also see blogging as a tool of self discovery and that means I'll be writing about how I feel, and trying to sort out why. Lately I have been feeling quite sad, lost and unmotivated.

I also have a confession to make… I am incredibly clucky. Every time I see a photo of a baby I melt, and I really want one of my own. It doesn’t help that many of my friends are popping out kids at the moment and seem blissfully happy in the process. Every time I see a baby photo on facebook I am so incredibly jealous!

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on trying to get pregnant tomorrow. I don’t think my relationship with the boy is solid or developed enough. The next step for me is living with him, as we still live apart… and I have a lot of work to do to let him fully into my life.

Work is another story altogether. My choices are as follows:

1)      Go back to a job like my previous one that is intense but will accelerate my development. Work my ass off for at least 2 years there, and then transfer to a firm or company with a more manageable workload and accommodating environment. Work at this more relaxed firm/company for at least 2 more years before taking maternity leave. At this point I will probably be valuable enough to retain my job and be able to return part time if I choose to do so, on a good salary and with prospects for advancement if I am inclined to pursue them. This would give me options, and the prospect of having it all would not be totally out of reach. Whether or not that optimism is misplaced is another question.

2)      Stay in my current job (if I can tolerate the boredom) or move to a similarly relaxed (albeit less boring) job. Work for however long before having kids, but have no chance of solidifying my value to the extent necessary before taking maternity leave. I will no doubt have a job to come back to or be able to get another job, but it will be on a disappointing wage and I’ll be stuck doing grunt work and not really having any real responsibility or respectability. Once I have kids, it will be very difficult to put in the hours and effort required to work my way up the ladder from where I will have been at pre-kids. I will not shine.

Option (1) is depressing because it means having kids is so far out of reach, and I don’t know if I can survive 2+ years of hell to get where I want to. In my previous chaotic job, I could see myself changing as a person (for the worse...) and I was physically and mentally unhealthy due to the constant stress, exhaustion and struggle to have any sort of work-life balance.

Option (2) is equally depressing because it would be a waste of my potential, and I know I would be frustrated at the situation and disappointed at myself. I have always been competitive and wanted to achieve great things, I know that I am intelligent, robust, a natural leader and have great potential... but on the other hand my maternal instincts are tugging at my insides.

This situation epitomises what I believe to be THE question of my generation – can women really have it all? We were brought up being taught that unlike our predecessors in the pre-feminist era, we can now have both a stellar career and idyllic family life. The reality is, depressingly, quite different.

I just have to look around the legal profession and there are no examples of women having it all. You have a small number of female partners, but they are either childless or have children who were or are being brought up by nannies. You have female senior associates but many are part time once they have kids, and then their career progression halts or goes backwards. Hell, even I would invest in their male competition – he’s there more often, more likely to stick around without prolonged maternity leave absences or to give up his career altogether, he can put in the long hours, he can without any notice work until midnight and all weekend… and over time, when he is there and she is not, he gains experience, he accumulates knowledge, he networks, he gains clients… and he becomes partner material. It makes commercial sense to favour him, regardless of whether she is a better lawyer NOW or whether she has greater potential due to her intellect, interpersonal skills or acumen for the law.
Law is a crappy profession for women, but I don’t know if anything else would be much better. Medicine gives women a better earning potential from the get go (this is presumably why my Grandfather pressured me to study medicine rather than law) but the potential to specialise and climb to great heights seems similarly limited. If a women is not satisfied by money (and most human beings are not), but wants the satisfaction derived from challenging herself and leading others, or maybe even commanding widespread respect or admiration, she is setting herself up for disappointment unless she gives up the idea of being involved in her kids’ lives too.  I know that not everyone wants these things, but unfortunately I think they're the things that drive me. I need to be intellectually stimulated but that is not enough, I also like having responsibility, control and being respected. I have always admired and practiced efficiency, and that means I am more suited to a fast paced environment.

There are women who may be an exception to the rule. I won’t name one who comes to mind, because I don’t know or care enough about her private life, nor do I think it is appropriate or respectful to speculate on it. What I do know is that we all have different conceptions of how much is enough time to spend with our children and families, and how much we want to be involved in our children's upbringing. I don’t think that heavy involvement with the kids and a stellar career are compatible. They just don’t add up, as a matter of logic. There are only 24 hours in a day.

Where you have a really successful career woman whose children aren’t brought up by nannies, the only other option in my eyes is that they have a super-supportive like-a-stay-at-home partner. I wouldn’t want this either… and therein lays the dilemma. I want it all, I have been told that I can have it all, and suddenly the reality is hitting me. What I believed and what I have worked towards was all a crock of shit.

It’s a very depressing revelation. It makes me want to throw in the towel on one level, have kids and just hope that my priorities change and I find another reason to live and find meaning through motherhood. My Mum says this is a copout, but what is it a copout from? There’s nothing to copout from if I am not able to achieve what I perceive to be worthwhile anyway. There is a small difference in my eyes between giving up, and working for a few more years, finding my work unsatisfying (because my expectations of myself are unrealistic, and I want to be stellar) and gaining a meagre few thousand on my salary every year.

I want to be able to change what satisfies and drives me, but I don’t know how. I think that a large part of it is in my personality - I have always been stubborn, driven, bossy and intense. Another part of it is a result of what my generation has been taught and what I have until now believed. Every endeavour I have participated in has fostered that belief – even where I wasn’t the best, I was solid at academics and sports and there was always the potential for me to work hard, improve and shine. In sport my physique and injuries were self-limiting, but on the academic and leadership front I always had the option of reaching for great heights. School and university studies came easily to me, and I wasn't the best not because I wasn't capable, but because I was more focused on an efficient use of my time and what I wanted to do other than study. Now, the rational view seems to be that the option of succeeding is no longer there, unless I am willing to sacrifice something that my genetic instincts are guiding me towards.

Either option seems hopeless, and I don't know what to do or how to change my hopes, dreams and expectations.


  1. After 3 years of uni to become a nurse there were several moments of doubt last year while working full time in a hospital setting. I often thought that this job wasn't for me and that i'd wasted years of studying to have a job that was stressful, full-on and at times i felt not appreciated and unsupported.
    then this year after a couple of failed job applications more doubt set in.
    But starting my new job, part-time and in a doctors practice i am really enjoying nursing.
    I still can't picture myself nursing forever though.
    i would love to do something creative to make a living. my list of possibilities goes on and on- a farmstay, giftware shop, market stall selling homemade crafts and fresh produce, hosting cooking and permaculture classes, floristry, shop window design.
    Where does your passion lie? a business venture? something creative? i know these ideas often dont mean lots of money but if it was something you were passionate and determined about it would be worth it.

    1. Hi Zara,
      You are definitely more creative than me! LOL. I think I would like to start my own business, and I really enjoy working with kids. It's a big step though and will probably be financially stressful at first, which is something I can't contemplate right now with a new mortgage and all. I really hope I have the guts to carve my own path, perhaps a unique one as you suggest.

  2. Hi Lisa, your post resonated with me a lot! I have just been offered a new job which could for all intentions and purposes turn out to be my dream job, and unless my potential new employer is willing to give me some flexibility on starting and finishing times so my husband and I can manage home commitments then I will probably have to knock it back.

    Your situation is a tough one to be in. And coming from someone who's been there done that, I can tell you that trying to change what satisfies and drives you can be almost impossible because they're things that are very much ingrained into every fibre of your being. When I had my first son, I was fortunate enough to be able to choose to not work, so I naively agreed to become a SAHM, I lasted 8 months before I had to return to work for my own sanity and for me to be able to be a good mother, because it is true what they say about a good mother being a happy mother. Like you I need to be challenged, I crave the mental stimulus that my job provides me and unfortunately for me, my industry (engineering building and construction) can be just as bad as law when it comes to work-home balance. Personally, I think the whole "you can have it all" is a load of crock, and in the end it comes down to what our priorities are, what you are willing to sacrifice and/or where you are willing to compromise and how strong your support network is. For me I've given up my dreams of being in upper management, middle works just fine for me if it means I get to spend more time with my boys. I have just about removed myself from a lot of the field work, my husband shares the household duties 50/50 (when he isn't traveling, the same applies to me), and of course my Mum looks after our kids when we are working. There is still a fair bit of struggling to get everything to balance but this is what works for us.

    I wish you luck in trying to find a way to make things work for you.

    1. Thanks for your reply, it makes me feel better to know that others feel the same or similar. I don't think I could be a SAHM either for a long period, I can only hope that working parttime in the legal industry will satisfy me or that I find something else to do.

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