“The day that I’ll be able to nag at you the same way you nag at me, will be when women and men are truly equal.” This is a joke my husband sometimes throws at me to make me stand back a bit.
Women’s rights and gender equality are old news. Old in the sense that those of us who are 35 and above have heard about this from the day we started university, at least if you did so in northern Europe or in the US.
We know that the salary development for men and women is not the same, we know that household chores and child minding are still tasks mainly carried out by women. We also read Sheryl Sandberg, or at least I do which is one of the reasons I am now blogging away at Herring and Crisp Bread (more about that another time), and we know that women can be just as good leaders as men. Only there are less women than men “at the top”.
When a friend of mine expected her first son, it soon became clear that she and her husband who were both working a lot, would have to get organised differently compared to the “pre-children era”. It also became obvious that at work, it was assumed that she, as a mother, would be distracted by the fact that she had a child. She even had a boss who congratulated her on the pregnancy and then matter of factly said that her priorities would change and he might have to consider hiring extra staff. She did not quite realize the enormity of what he had said, at least not at the time. Of course her priorities would change, children do become the most important thing for most parents. That in itself is not a problem. But that didn’t mean that she would become less motivated, or available, at work. Unless people suddenly assumed her to be out of the picture as someone who would stop putting in a lot of effort at work. Then of course, it becomes much harder to, one-sidedly, keep the motivation and grit going.
But again, this is pretty old news. Many people will have been in the same situation, and there’s not really much to say about it. Except that it sucks…
In spite of such, it seems pretty wide spread, views, France is close if not equal to northern European countries in female presence in the boardroom. (This is another question I’ll have to dig into…)
But what about the men? It feels more and more as if movements for women’s equality at work are a good thing, but that there is something missing to the debate. [I’ll just make a slight deviation here: I am only talking about “developed” countries, or parts of countries. Not places where women still do not have the same access to education or work as men. In some cases, there is still such a long way to go that just making sure that the population can read and get access to basic health care is a challenge. That is a completely different ball game, that is where admirable work by people like Malala Yousafzai and others comes in. End of deviation.]
While our son has been growing up, my husband has repeatedly pointed out that the world is not equal for men either. How right he is.
Funnily enough, if you want to call it funny, is that the assumption made by my friend’s boss above was, or is, not applied to future fathers. It is somehow assumed that their priorities will lie elsewhere than those of mothers, and therefore will not affect their work input. To add to this, those fathers who want to be more available for their children, and therefore might be inclined to be less available at work, say through a part-time position or by doing distance work to avoid endless morning and evening traffic, are sometimes not understood. “What? Why aren’t you available 24/7? Doesn’t your wife take care of the kids?”
Emma Watson spoke in the UN a while ago, about the He for She campaign. This is really something I hope will become BIG. She spoke about the importance of men standing up for women, not only women for women. And she spoke about an equality for men, not only for women. This, to me, is the core of the issue.
Even if women with a strong leadership stand up for women, create movements, blogs, associations, and mentorship programs, this is not good enough. I don’t want to be part of a women’s only group. Then we are no better than the men in their old clubs smoking cigars. Nor will we ever earn proper respect from the entire working community, men and women. Many men will joke and say “Oh, you girls go ahead”, or “That’s just another feminist thing”. Thanks a lot. Emma also spoke about Feminism having become an ugly word. I agree – languages evolve, and in this case many have done so very quickly. So no thanks.
I don’t know if the day will ever come when women and men are looked upon as being just as able to provide excellent work, with the same grit, capacity, and in the same quantities, in order to make sure we move through the corporate world on a level playing field. But if we start by letting the men enjoy the same rights as women, and not only letting women enjoy the same rights as men, maybe the chances increase. Again, I haven’t worked in the Scandinavian countries, nor have I worked in Canada, where I hear that co-workers are looked upon the same way whether they are men or women. It might be that’s already the case there. (But why then the boardroom similarities with France, I still wonder?)
So, the day that my husband can nag at me on the same terms as I can nag at him, I think we may have come a good way.