Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England. This week: feminism
I have been writing this column for a while now. I am a mother of two little girls and a lawyer. Either of those two things would be enough, you might think, to have uttered the F word repeatedly by now, and yet I have not. I do it a lot at home.
So let us make a start. Unlike Dominic Raab I AM A FEMINIST. For those who need a reminder, a feminist is someone who 'tries to achieve change that helps women to get equal opportunities and treatment', according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Radical stuff.
Sometime before I was born, feminism became a dirty word. My parents wouldn’t describe themselves as feminists, despite having a daughter and a number of granddaughters that they have and will continue to push towards success with every fibre of their beings. They would probably prefer them to be lawyers or doctors or dancers rather than footballers or plumbers or scientists though. Interesting, isn’t it.
I don’t intend to cover the whole of feminism in this article because (you will, no doubt, be shocked to know) I have a lot to say.
What I want to talk about is Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus and a couple of other similar books I read at six form college about why women can’t read maps. At that time everyone was reading these books, and it is only recently that I have started thinking about them again. We were being encouraged, in these books, to believe that men and women are different and we should learn to live with the differences rather than change them. I went as far, recently, as to read Human Instinct by Robert Winston to have a really good think about these issues again. It is quite uncomfortable reading when he suggests (and I am very much paraphrasing) that women are hardwired to be attracted to rich men and men are naturally more promiscuous.
My girls climb trees, kick a ball around from time to time and do a bit of Lego. But if they have spent five per cent of their early years doing those things, they have spent the other 95 per cent looking after their dollies, having tea parties and playing mums and dads. Nurturing, nurturing and more nurturing. I know we can’t lump all girls or all boys into a particular category, but if my girls are averagely girly, their friend Eli is averagely boyish. His mum says 'if he gets a bit restless we shove him in the garden to run around a bit and dig a hole', like some kind of labrador.
The current thinking - which I feel much more comfortable with - seems to be that, in fact, men and women are both from Earth, and little boys and girls are the same until society starts whispering 'look at me I am a pretty little girl looking after my doll and I think you should ask your mum to get you one for your birthday' into our ears. Slogans on girls’ t shirts generally allude to them being pretty, sweet or fanciful, and boys’ t shirt slogans are more about being tough or naughty. I actually saw a little boy wearing a t shirt recently that said 'everyone is afraid of me', which those in the know will be aware is a quote from the Gruffalo, but still. Do his parents really expect him to sit nicely on the carpet when he starts school?
I have now seen two documentaries recently where the sample of young children have all believed, wrongly, the boys are stronger. In fact, the boys generally overestimate their abilities and the girls underestimate them. At each stage in my career I have seen fewer and fewer men in my cohort, and I don’t really have any doubt that this is because they are going to the bar or for the city jobs. On the other hand, many of my female colleagues have followed the CILEX route having started as secretaries.
So let’s say we are all from the same planet. Where does this leave us? Let’s take my husband. A committed feminist. But he cannot do two things at once. By which I mean he can’t pour a glass of water and listen to me speak at the same time. He can barely walk and talk at the same time. Recently, he was watching the new Star Wars trailer on loop and DALC2 accidentally smeared a large amount of ketchup onto his phone. We said 'there is ketchup on your phone' twenty-five times, louder and louder, before he, oblivious to our warnings, put it in his pocket, smearing ketchup all over his suit.
In comparison, and I don’t want to brag, I can literally do one hundred and thirty-five things at once. Does this come back to the nurturing- which simply does involve multitasking - that perhaps I have been doing since I was a small child whilst at the same time my husband was kicking one ball at one goal? And of course a long time before that he would have had the sole task of hunting for dinner whilst I would still have been multitasking at home with the wretched dustbin lids.
I am not necessarily saying multitasking is always a good thing. At work when I am overwhelmed I repeat the catchy mantra 'Do one thing at a time and then do another one thing and eventually you will have done all the things'. We all know the pressure from work coming at us via various different forms of communication these days, and I’m never convinced it helps to try to do three things at once.
But all the time women are expected to do the multi-tasking out of work- I know which month every kid in DALC1’s class has their birthday, to name one of a thousand weird things my husband has no need to know - we are putting ourselves in a particular box. A box that potentially prevents us from fulfilling our professional, social and extra-curricular potential.
DALC1 is incredibly intense. I can see she is at risk of being criticised at school for this, because sometimes she can’t hold her ideas in, and sometimes she feels she needs to impose her ideas of how things should be done on her classmates, she is competitive and she can’t be persuaded to do a half-job at anything if they are running out of time. But you know what? I bet Serena Williams is quite intense. I bet Bill Gates and Lady Gaga and Alexander Graham Bell and Philip Pullman and Jane Austen and Gina Miller have all been described as being a bit 'driven'. I will not be telling her to 'calm down, dear', dampen her spirit or her determination because they are not particularly feminine qualities.
As much as I want it to be my generation that solves the problem of a mother’s mental load, it still seems like a long way off. But if we use the right language in front of our children, and set as good an example as we can, maybe in twenty or thirty years’ time DALC1 will be able to pursue a career in engineering or IT - or in a city law firm - without such high expectations being placed on her at home.