It is not the critic who counts; not the woman who points out how the strong woman stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the woman who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends herself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that her place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. (Adapted from Theodore Roosevelt.)
You may notice I’ve feminised this quotation, which I picked up from Brené Brown’s descriptively titled Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. For me, the book addresses the courage we need to have to be truly ourselves, to overcome shame about who we are and dare to live beyond the expectations of others. Apparently one of the main regrets expressed by people on their deathbed is: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. I believe this is something women today particularly need to hear.
Just in the last few days, the blogosphere has been rife with posts promoting, attacking, defending and reviling different visions of what a woman today should be. A certain Amy Glass had a good rant fetchingly entitled I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry, which brought forth a raving of sensitively named copycat rebuttals, like I Think People Without Kids Have Empty Lives And I’m Not Sorry About It and I Feel Sorry For Amy Glass And I’m Not Ashamed.
What was strange was that at the same time I was working on research into childcare in Ireland where the economic imperative to help women get back to work has led to the gender equality agenda promoting a certain vision of, yet again, what a woman should be. So many of the figures on percentages of Irish mothers in the work force in the early noughties were disapprovingly labelled as “below the OECD average,” while at the peak of the boom we had finally made it and were working outside the home in sufficient numbers to keep the EU happy.
Here’s how a report on labour market activation puts it: Parenthood is one of the main factors underlying the gender employment gaps…. the employment rate for women who have children is much lower than for women without children in most Member States…. That’s pressure in one direction.
Well known Irish researcher, Professor Noirín Hayes, puts it like this: However, there is another driver – the tension between Ireland’s traditional ideology, which places a strong value on the place of women in the home, and the policy driver that encourages increased female labour market participation.
And so, you can read articles about how guilty many young Mums in the UK feel about going back to work – as many as 4/5, according to a recent survey there. That’s pressure from another direction, be it internal, innately coming from the bond they feel with their young child, or it could be the result of traditional family values in their community, which make them feel they should stay home or their child will suffer irreparable damage. In some church circles in the US, you should not only stay home with baby, you should also home school your kids if you really want what’s best for them. Pressure!
All the while, at the same time in the same great nation of the USA, I read about high flying women, who come under fire from their feminist sisters, for leaving the big job to be able to care more for their children. Women like Anne Marie Slaughter, who has worked for the Obama administration; she wrote an article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All! In it, she described the outraged response she got to the idea that she’d leave her post for the sake of her son, and even consider writing such a tellingly entitled piece. She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women.
You see, the modern woman should be able to have it all!
Views are heartfelt on this one; feelings run high. But funnily, it all reminds me of a phrase of scripture in Romans 12:2 Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould is how the Phillips translation puts it. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. says the NIV. And as always, I love how Eugene Peterson puts it in the Message: Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
The world – be it traditional, liberal, conservative, feminist, marxist, academic, political or ecclesiastical – really has only one trick. Shame you into conformity. Get you to buy into one should or another, or even a case of the shoulds.
From all these shoulds, O Lord, deliver us!
P.S. This is worth a read, if you have time. http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/