Telling women the most effective way for them to be beat the patriarchy is to bullishly drive their careers forward is based on outdated ideas of success, and is fundamentally misguided in the quest for equality. Elle Ayres discusses why the narrative must change.
Modern Feminism champions the working woman.
With the one bed shabby-chic city flat and promotion on the horizon, it raises her up as a beacon for girls to be inspired by; a leading example to help young women envisage themselves at the top of their game.
Why? Because at its core, without women in positions of power slaying their proverbial game, the work place dialogue and perception of women as subordinate to their male peers isn’t going to change.
But whilst women’s working rights and financial independence are clearly crucial, it’s naïve to think that this pillar of feminism —and increasingly female identity— is untarnished by the external forces of a deeply unequal society. After all, the image of the equal woman is still one crafted in a patriarchal power structure. It’s an ideal that requires checking – constantly and considerately.
Billie Walker, in her article Rest as Resistance explains that this focus on careers has made it easy for capitalism to position feminism’s embodiment as the glamorous working women – gliding over the meat of the problem and attempting to solve it with a shiny, glossy image.
“They wear ‘sensible’ heels and strike the perfect balance of smart/casual in their suit jackets and culottes […] They go to the gym, they eat fresh salads every day and whilst freelancing have inordinate amounts of time for luxurious “self-care” rituals. They demonstrate how they broke through the glass ceiling, reinforced it with rose gold and now send waves of self-doubt to you for not being the successful twenty something you’re supposed to be now.”
This pressure can be found sitting quietly on the phone line between a long distance couple arguing, within a cramped and lonely London flat, it can be found with the young mother who chooses to stay home and not return to work and also amongst suits and ties in tense conference rooms.
Putting your career first as a women has morphed into an expectation which if you don’t fulfil you’re somehow letting the side down. We’ll put strain on our relationships, live in places where we feel we don’t belong, and work 15 hour days just to ensure we know we’re doing all we can in the name of our careers. We’re told to choose love over career is naive and to quit work after having a child is old-fashioned.
By no means either am I ignoring the immense over-masculine ‘boys club’ pressures that are pushed upon men to be successful, to be rich, to get on. But whilst men run alongside these ideals and have done for millennia, for women it has only recently become part of their story – and rather than tell women they must live up to these standards, perhaps some of the focus should be placed on re-assessing our standards of success for both men and women. They’re unlikely to be flawless, and they’re certainly dated. Is there not something equally dangerous in telling women that if they want equality and to rise in the workplace, they must be exactly like the men that so often fill senior positions?
“Man is defined as a human being and a woman as a female – whenever she behaves as a human being she is said to imitate the male” – Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex
The pressure for women to smash the glass cieling mean that when she chooses to abstain from a career it’s not just about her, the person making the choice, it’s subconsciously about a history which denied women university education, the vote and the opportunity to rise to the top on their own merit.
But the idea that we don’t have to live a life of domesticity anymore (despite the all too often spotted Internet Troll’s tweets) or that we don’t have to stay in the kitchen (unless we want to be a chef) doesn’t mean that being a feminist requires that we play moneyball. And, really, putting pressure on women to live up to the dreams of centuries of women before her is something we’d never ask a man to do.
In a world where it’s imperative that we’re all a #GirlBoss, that we’re slaying it, that we know how to own the room, the pressure to ensure you’re getting on and making waves is immense. The glamorous working women is as much a symbol for this pressure as she is an inspiration for female capability – she is a double edged sword, and the sheer iconisation of her, emblazened by brands on t-shirts and caps and pins, over the last few years serves only to cast her as exceptional, as a token rather than part of a larger narrative of women forging their own paths, and having autonomy over those paths.
The language of inadequacy follows the female experience. We don’t need it to sully the water of female ambition as well. Success and ambition mean different things for different people.
Not being career driven doesn’t make us bad feminists, just like choosing not to have children doesn’t make us any less of a woman. Feminism is the freedom to choose a life for ourselves, and whilst we’ll never be able to know what our decisions would be without the backdrop of the patriarchy, that doesn’t mean everything we do has to be a revolting reaction.
The world needs to make space for women committed to their careers, to rule the roost, to be leaders in their field. But it also needs to accept that the paths we forge for ourselves need to be driven by our inner motivations for what we want our lives to look like. The crux of feminism is creating a world where women can live up to their own idea of their best self, not society’s.
Basically, you do you boo.
Words: Elle Ayes
Illustration: Izzy Ayres