Tuesday, November 6, 2007

We Can Do It?

Yesterday, ScienceMama wrote a provocative piece on feminism. It was an incredibly well-written piece, and as I read it, all sorts of different emotions started welling up in me.

My freshman year of college, I declared a science major. The program was small, but the female population was even smaller. In my class, there were only seven female students. My dad had always framed going into science as somewhat of a "feminist issue." There were too few women in science, and thus, as a good feminist, I felt like I needed to do my part to rectify this.

Except, I hated it. Science. I wasn't terribly good at it, and I certainly had no passion for it. And ultimately, I realized that I couldn't sacrifice my happiness for the feminist movement. So, after some agonizing about "betraying" my fellow female science majors, I switched majors. And I know now, that that was 100% the right decision for me. So, like ScienceMama, I have struggled with being a "traitor" to the cause, and like her, I have ultimately realized that I cannot sacrifice my personal happiness for the sake of the women's movement.

But, I am also keenly aware that I wouldn't be where I am now, were it not for the tireless sacrifices of iconic feminists such as Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. It seems completely shocking now, but in the 1960s and early 1970s, a woman could not even own her own credit card. So I think it was natural that women focused on the workplace. Because in our capitalist society, money equals power.

And now, many of the older generation of feminists think we younger feminists are a disappointment. They don't understand why they fought so hard for us to be able to succeed in the workplace, and yet so many women would rather stay home.

I do not blame them per se. But I also don't think they completely understand the situation. You see, this is not your mother's workplace anymore. I think when Betty Friedan was contemplating women working, she was envisioning women working full-time, you know, 35-40 hours a week. Nine to five. The problem is, that now, full time often means 50-80 hours a week. And it means that time at home is interrupted with cell phone calls and emails on the blackberry.

So, I can't blame feminists for not forseeing that globalization and the technological revolution would permanently alter the landscape of the workplace. But I also think old-school feminists who exhort us to "get to work" are not entirely knowledgeable of what they are asking either. Because I know many women who would love to continue to work, but realized that even a 35-40 hour work week would never be possible in their field, and ended up quitting their jobs.

I think, what we have here, is not a feminist problem, as such, but a humanist one. Most of the men I know don't want to work 60 hours a week either. They don't want to miss out on raising their children, or spending time with their friends and family, or ... living life. And yet, this is the culture we live in.

This is something I struggle with daily. I know I need, that we all need, a work-life balance, and yet it seems impossible. But I am hopeful, that someday soon, men and women will both realize that we have become a people who live to work, and that we should be working to live. Because I don't see change happening until men AND women start realizing we all need some work-life balance.

2 comments:

ScienceMama said...

i agree. it's not just a feminist problem. daddies and mommies and non-breeders are all spending too much time at work. but i also feel like there's an inherent need for at least one parent to have flexible work hours, and for the first year of life that should be mom. because pumping sucks, yo.

arduous said...

Though THAT would not be such a huge problem if the US would just legislate decent maternity leave like EVERY OTHER FIRST WORLD COUNTRY. The UK now offers one year maternity leave. Bulgaria, weirdly offers two. BULGARIA.

Now I'm just mad.