“We Lie to Our Daughters”. A good friend and colleague told me this a few years ago, when I was sharing a painful story about being judged by another woman for the choices I made in my life. I had a faint idea of what she meant then, but the more I venture into my research and subsequent work, and the older my boys and daughter get, the deeper this sentence resonates. We lie to our daughters, and our sons pay the price as well.
Maybe I was lucky to have a mother who, despite my resistance and anger, told me over and over that once you have kids you can’t work as hard, and encouraged me to become a teacher (I didn’t…). At least I had that inner voice telling me this might happen. And I guess I believed her on some level, because I still remember thinking that one day I might have to choose, and having discussions with my partner about which one of us will take time off if we choose to have kids. You see, when I was working hard to excel at school so I can get a higher education and pursue my passion, I knew that my ambition had an expiration date related to becoming a mother. So what is the lie here? I guess it depends on your perspective:
Ambition does not die when you become a mother, I know that first hand now. Instead, for some of us, frustration is born out of having ambitions in a work world that [mostly*] does not accommodate the ambitions of a working parent. Motherhood and work should not be dichotomous, or mutually exclusive for that matter. WE make them this way by splitting work life and family life as if they do not influence each other. But if we zoom out and look at our lives the reality we’ll see is that the work we do creates the world we and our families live in, and our families, our children, are creating the future of that world.
At some point in our lives, the glass slipper is replaced by the glass ceiling in the narratives of what a girl dreams about. It’s hard to shatter glass ceilings while walking in glass pumps. The lesson learned for me was that perhaps being feminine can come in my way of being successful. The lie here is that we equate femininity with weakness, while at the same time limiting femininity to very specific realms. The tales we have to fall back on are those of the biblical seductresses who used their feminine charms to bring down mighty men. The narrative – a woman’s power lies in her sexuality. For women of my generation, the alternative narratives formed by the Hilary Clintons and Sheryl Sandbergs of today come a little too late, but bring with them hope. A hope that their generation and my generation is at least trail-blazing the way for our daughters.
I know that for some, the lie begins with encouraging our daughters to pursue a career path to begin with. In my opinion, the alternative is much worse. I would prefer to be pushed to live up to my potential with the frustrations and challenges that come with it than to be denied the opportunity to do so. At least this way I have a fighting chance. There are two important points to be made here:
- The alternative suggests acceptance of a skewed status quo that has lingered for decades, mostly unphased by the acknowledgment of its shortcomings.
- Many many women live in a reality that denies them even the basic right of attending school, learning how to read and write, and participating in any type of education that does not fall within the narrow frame of how those cultures define a woman’s place in the world. So I feel extremely privileged to even be having this discussion. I get to be able to struggle and advocate for self-fulfillment while other women struggle for their survival. This privilege is not lost on me.
And, perhaps the lie is not of our making, and not a lie at all. Perhaps it’s a part of the mythical “having it all” that we take on diligently and measure our life against? Perhaps when we allow such external dogmas to dictate how we define our lives we create the lie?
At this moment, as I am writing these lines, my daughter is snuggled against me in bed, watching me type with one hand while I tickle her back with the other. And it strikes me that while this debate goes on within my head and in these lines, it is the reality of having one hand typing while the other caresses, that is the most powerful image to convey what it is ACTUALLY like. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
* I say “mostly” because I know that some work places are parent friendly, and offer solutions such as flex time, in-house daycare, work from home options and more.