Danielle Firsich, Intern
A recent article from The Chicago Tribune interviewing a literary mother-daughter duo discusses career women’s endless pursuit for a perfect career and family life, and the impossibility of a real balance in a reality that doesn’t allow for both. While I appreciate the author’s brutal honesty, I believe the piece fails to address many important aspects of women’s lives that either support or hinder their ability to achieve balance and success in their private and public lives.
As an early-20’s woman without children, I can only imagine how difficult being a working mother can be, and I absolutely applaud the women who find success and fulfillment in pursuing both spheres of their lives. I believe that some women may not be prepared for the stress and complication of chasing their dreams and creating and nurturing a family of their own. But this balance, as many things, comes with growing as a woman and finding new life challenges. Difficult trade-offs will present themselves in the path of any woman balancing a career and family life. The unfortunate reality is that many women are forced to give up aspects of their career in order to cater more efficiently to building a family.
Yet this discussion of the often difficult juggle between women and their careers and families ignores the fact that Americans today are engaging in a huge and differing array of non-traditional family structures. The private lives of the American public do not exist on a single, shared plane. Women are living in non-heterosexual, unmarried or single living environments that are not conducive to the traditional lifestyles experienced by the women of the past. Not all women want to have children. Bearing children is not an obligation, but a privilege enjoyed by women around the world who find true fulfillment in establishing and caring for a family of their own.
As an unmarried lesbian woman living with her partner I grow tired of how often I am excluded from discussions of “women’s” experiences. As a feminist, I am sick of the constant assumption that heterosexual partnerships are expected to replicate the uneven power-sharing that has historically been pushed upon us by sexist cultural and political institutions. I will also never accept traditional heterosexual marriages as some “norm” that limits the discussion of women living differing lifestyles. This article has nearly zero relevance to the majority of the women who exist in the two communities that have become my chosen family over the years: feminists and the LGBT/Queer population. Their voices are silenced too often, and I hope to always challenge discussions or streams of thought that refuse to recognize the accomplishments, lifestyles and incredible determination and ferocity of these communities.
Educated, professional career women rightly expect and deserve a career and family environment that supports their personal ambition and provides them with supportive and plausible avenues through which to control and direct the various aspects of their lives. Those who are struggling to navigate their professional and familial pursuits are not being hindered by their own blind ambition, but by the failure of public and private institutions to support working mothers and ensure they are provided with the necessary systems to support their success.
Women are not naive in believing that, as the author says, the “grass is greener on the other side” when it comes to their careers. They are right. Women all over the country recognize or are recognizing the disparity between men and women in the workplace. They are recognizing the lack of equal pay, maternal leave, childcare services, inability to break the glass ceiling and access the positions of leadership they are qualified and determined to occupy, and absence of understanding and support in their decisions to either have or abstain from building a family. Women are demanding equality. They are demanding support from their partners in managing a family as they navigate a career path that both enhances their professional ability and fulfills them as a human being.
It’s forever important to challenge and question the “why” behind the problems women face. We are looking for real solutions, not limited discussion that perpetuates and supports the institutions that continue to keep women from successful positions of power. We need to be truly concerned with supporting women leaders with diverse voices and backgrounds, whose forward-looking policies can systematically change the workplace and eventually the culture that caters to backward and harmful policy. If women are given the support they deserve, they will someday truly have a choice about “having it all.”
The young women of my generation understand the obstacles ahead of us. We have witnessed and processed the barriers that have been erected against women who determinedly pursue positions that are or have been male-dominated or completely inaccessible to the women before us. We just refuse to accept it.
And to me, this is anything but naïveté. It’s revolutionary.