The purpose of this piece is to reflect a little on the results of a survey I did recently on women and work: the family/work/life balance.
The reason I embarked upon this – my very first experience of a Monkey Survey- was to understand and perhaps ‘test’ to an extent, the issues which are discussed in a book of essays which is to be released at the beginning of next month.
The issues concern the ways in which women, and particularly mothers, manage the work/life balance. As women continue to gain ground in areas such as equal pay and flexible working hours, albeit slowly, I wanted to try to pinpoint exactly the level at which we currently operate, since of course my writing is unapologetically subjective.
Part of my book deals with my ideas on feminism which is often a highly charged topic, mostly it seems and as confirmed by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because it has long been associated with the most extreme versions of it: the idea of a feminist being ‘a crazy woman who hits men and doesn’t shave’ as she responded recently to Trevor Noah in a TV interview.
Adichie is a critically acclaimed Nigerian novelist who is also a superb spokeswomen for the feminist cause. She is as eloquent as she is physically beautiful and her thoughts on this topic are well worth reading.
So why don’t you call yourself a humanist or an equalist? He asks, and her response was that we must name the thing that causes us harm. Since women are constantly fighting to be included and receive equal treatment means we have to name this thing. Feminism.
Women have historically been excluded and remain side-lined which is why it deserves its own name. And isn’t it about just wanting justice for everyone, she asks?
This is one of the themes in my book too.
Here is her succinct little book, written in response to an email from a friend on how to raise a feminist daughter.
So the answers I was looking for are really, how many of us mothers are working full time or flexi time? How many in senior positions? Who does most of the child care when we work, who is earning more and who finds balance?
Here is a brief analysis of answers to ten questions:
There were 61 respondents of which all were mothers, aged roughly between 40 – 55.
1. 62% were married with one or two children. (19% married with more than two though we don’t know numbers of more than 3. I am particularly interested in this aspect as I have 4 and wondered how this impacts on life. Quite a lot I would suspect.
2. 48% worked 8 hours a day.
3. In exact proportions, 29% these women work in corporate structures reporting to a male boss, while another 29% work from home or coffee shops and control their own hours, ie work flexi-time. 14% ran their own business or were ‘the boss’ in a corporate environment.
4. 60% of women reported husbands contributed more than 75% of income.
5. 55% of women’s motivations for work were the need to earn, 35% loved the stimulation but didn’t earn sufficiently.
6. In exact equal proportions, 44,4% of women loved their work and want to become leaders in their field. 44,4% also said they would leave work in in order to find more flexible work to be with their children.
7. What else would you do if you could choose? Here the responses were interesting and most women desired to undertake a teaching role of sorts or study further. Write a novel, complete their degree or further degree. Pursuing life coaching, counselling, psychology or some other training in a different field, (even wildlife was an example). One wanted a coffee shop, another a yoga studio or healing centre, anotheran NGO. So pursuing the arts or simply wanting less pressure, a little more income and more time with their children. Some loved their jobs- we don’t know which!
This to me was indicative of a general spirit of nurturing or wanting to do better, either for themselves or for future generations. Not one of them cited material gains or unbridled or selfish success as something to aspire to. But you can see the responses and decide.
8. 20% said that child care was a joint effort while 51% of women said that their partner ‘helped’ with the household but that they still found they did most of home/child care.
Both Adichie and I have spoken of this concept of ‘helping’, from slightly different perspectives. She is much younger and has a one child.
9. The highest percentage of any question, i.e 67%, revealed that they had not found the perfect work/family balance.
10. Finally, there was a close correlation between those who identified as ‘feminist’ ,believing that more women should aspire to leadership roles (31% ) and 29% who said they don’t care for feminism and it doesn’t help them in finding balance.
Here’s the full survey.
The point about a survey like this is that there are no definitive conclusions but merely observations.
One of the points that interested me though, when reading Dear Ijeawela, was the point Adichie made about the ‘doing it all’ debate (which she says she’s not interested in) and that relates to the premise of the debate. While our culture celebrates the idea of women doing it all, she says, no one questions the premise, namely that the debate is premised upon the assumption that caregiving and domestic work are singularly female domains and they should in fact be gender neutral.
And this is one of the issues I talk about in my book, Somewhere in Between.
Care giving should be gender neutral but at the moment it isn’t.
So, as a woman and mother, on #womensday, I challenge you to ask yourself how you raise your daughter and what your message will be to her about ‘having it all?’
I don’t have the answers and I’m not the expert but I am interested in understanding how we prepare our girl children for the future so that the world can become the place they want to be in and where they feel treasured and equal.
But more importantly I agree with Adichie when she says that raising a feminist is not only relevant for girls because that’s only half the story. We all share the world and therefore we need the other half of the world to be on board too. The men.
And that means that feminism must be styled in such a way that men don’t feel that they are constantly being targeted but included in the challenges that lie ahead so that we all feel justly included and justly relevant.
So let’s involve all our children. Our girl children and our boy children.
Her advice to Trevor was to ‘get cracking’ and join the ranks of good role models, like Barack Obama who is cool AND feminist.
Her best observation though, was about the fact that it was Trevor Noah’s mother who was to be given the credit for whatever ‘goodness’ he (Trevor) had.
And I’ll leave it at that!
Here’s a piece from one of my greatest sources of inspiration, The School of Life.
On Balancing Work and Family
‘We have formed ever higher expectations about what it means to be a good parent, and what family life should ideally be like. But we’ve done this in the same historical epoch in which the importance of work has equally been stressed and required of both parents. We cannot be perfect parents and perfect workers. Something always has to give – and that is not our fault.’
Quote from The Joys and Sorrows of Parenting: (Taken from the School of Life’s collection of Books)