By Bianca Banchetti
NCWQ Youth Adviser
“Women can’t have it all,” says Ann-Marie Slaughter, an international lawyer, foreign policy expert and passionate women’s advocate. At first, the feminist in me pulls out my lighter and prepares to burn my bra in protest … yet I can’t help hear the inevitable truth echoing in her words. In her 2012 article, ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have it all,’ Ann-Marie shocked and challenged the feminist narrative, but exposed the true hidden dialogue I share with many young women through out the world.
“There has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited.” Sadly, I agree with her.
I find myself thinking: in a male-dominated society, do I really have to wear the pants to be a woman in the modern world?
The 21st century has presented a stark challenge for young women wanting to join the leagues of success and affluence heralded by women like Oprah, Gloria Steinberg and Arianna Huffington. Spurred on by the brave suffrages of our past that have paved the way for us, we are told and believe we can and should ‘have it all’.
Statistics would point to a different ideal. In Australia, women will earn between $17,000 and $27,000 less a year than a man for the same work, with little over 15% of CEO positions and 27% of key management roles held by women. And change is only “inching” forward, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency found.
As a young woman, it’s difficult to comprehend that the realities of the workplace still erode the values of equality and empowerment I hold so dear. As a fourth year Law and Journalism student, facing that truth is not far away.
In our goodhearted optimism, it is often forgotten that men wrote our economic, political and social structure long before the feminism movement emerged. Those structures are still in place and women are caught under the capitalist wheel, where the male narrative has become the norm.
At present, our economic structure doesn’t support woman’s responsibility to her home and her family. The workplace does not lend itself well to maternity leave, to flexible hours, to childcare and the like. And the competitive nature of the corporate world does not readily accept the compromise, kindness and empathy that women offer – although that adversarial environment desperately needs it.
While women have been given the power to vote, to participate and to choose, I find myself weighed down by the responsibility of that choice. The feminist movement gave us the opportunity to have both a work-life and a home-life, for which I am eternally grateful. But nothing changed for men. Their traditional role, as the breadwinner, remained the same. But women added to theirs and took on both the work responsibilities AND the home responsibilities.
For me it seems, with the current social stigma we have around men being ‘homemakers’ or stay-at-home dads, I have seriously contemplated not having children to pursue a career, or by some miracle find a man who would be willing to forfeit the macho stereotype and stay with our kids, so that I may be able to ‘have it all’.
The pledge for parity raises an all-too familiar conversation: women are not represented equally in the workforce either in leadership roles or salary. It’s undeniably a concern, but I believe it is a symptom of a much deeper societal issue that challenges the structure on which our economy stands; an issue that affects both women and men.
All of us need to make a pledge for equality, to advocate for a system that allows both genders to flourish. In policy terms, real equality means recognising that the work that women have traditionally done is just as important as the work that men have traditionally done, no matter who does it.
For our future, I hope I can do something today to see a world where women don’t have to make the choice between a suit or a skirt, but can wear whatever they choose and not have to be fighting the ranks in a ‘mans’ world, but simply be a human being asking for opportunity in ‘our’ world.
We spend a lot of time labelling the sexes in the female equality debate, creating a me versus you mentality. The conversation needs to be reframed in a broader context, in terms of ‘us’, ‘we’ and ‘our’: Our work, our career, our home, our family, our happiness and that we can do it together.
Ann-Marie Slaughter said something that truly resonated with me, and is what caused me to put away my lighter and not reach for the clasp on my bra. She said, “Let’s make the feminist revolution a humanist revolution.”
My pledge for parity is to open up the equality debate and challenge the traditional stereotypes around both women and men. To achieve this, I want to insist on changing social policies and prevent women bending their career tracks so that our choices can be accommodated, too. We have the power to do this, and I believe there are many men standing alongside us.