Freedom from myth of the superwoman

Sydney Morning Herald
21 March 2005

Young women don't want to have it all, says a new survey. Allison Pearson fears they just want to stay home with the children.

If it's true that superwoman is dead, who killed her? Clue: a man who wears his underpants on the outside of his trousers because he can't find the drawer where they're kept. To universal cries of told-you-so, the Young Women's Lifestyle survey by New Woman magazine reveals that women in their late 20s don't want the lives their mums had. They want to stay home with their babies and be happy.
Happy? What has made them conclude a 24/7 existence with an infant offers the highest hope of fulfilment? Even more outrageously, how can two-thirds of sober young women say "a man should be the main provider for his family if possible"? Girls, girls, have we really fought so bravely and bitterly to come to this?
The key word here is "happy". The "don't want it all" generation has seen the toll juggling has taken on their mums, a group we could call the Sisters of Sisyphus, so inexorable is their daily struggle. The daughters have concluded someone else can roll the sodding rock up the hill. And who can blame them?
Not long ago I got a letter from Helen, who works in one of those London law firms that eats foetuses for breakfast: "I am 27 and I feel like a bad mother already and I don't even have children. We have an office myth about the career women who are 39, wear Patrick Cox shoes, are unmarried, work 14 hours a day and have sex with other people's husbands. At 45 they have a breakdown, overcome by the lack of kids, home, etc. The other kind are the 'jugglers' - racing about, experiencing terminal guilt, never enough time for kids, work, self or partner, leaking money on child care. I don't see a way that I can possibly be financially independent, a good mother, a loving partner and have a stimulating career. Please advise."
What Helen is describing is a world where the price of success is still to act like a man. It is an act you can pull off as well as any bloke until you bring a new life into the world; that's the moment when even the steeliest careerist may be struck by the fact that they have become the bottomless source of love and comfort we call mother. The struggle to honour that precious responsibility, to keep pleasing your boss, filling the fridge and making sure the eight-year-old has a Dumbledore costume for World Book Week, well, that's what they call "having it all". And keen-eyed girls who have spotted that it's actually "doing it all" are reverting to "a more traditional social model in which men are the breadwinners while women have responsibility for raising children".
They are going back, not forward, to a situation where women make the world work so men can run it. Is that what we want for our daughters, our girls who are doing so much better than boys at school, who are storming the professions in record numbers, only to drop out in their 30s when they can't face pretending to be a man for one day longer? Courtrooms that will never know the subtle good sense of a woman judge, boardrooms of people who speak the international language of golf, a Parliament stuffed with recumbent throwbacks who act as if they haven't got homes to go to because the little woman takes care of everything: that is what we want? How quickly the memory fades and gratitude for opportunity turns to disillusion. Desperate '60s housewives popping Valium to keep disappointment at bay; wives too scared to spend "my husband's money", with nothing to fall back on when he scarpers with the secretary. Centuries of female potential buried under the needs of children and men.
The survey shows only one in 10 young women want to work full-time and put a child into a nursery. As a working mother of two small children I understand that. Yet this is not the time to admit defeat. That's what they want us to do. Most women would like to work part-time while their children are small, and have the chance to reach the top when they're older: it's not beyond the wit of an advanced society to figure that out. Superwoman isn't dead. She never existed.
The Guardian

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