Wednesday, March 09, 2011

International Women's Day: A Dad's-Eye View

I just wanted to write some words about International Women's Day. These would be those words.

I'm not qualified to write on the plethora of issues that have been raised throughout the day, but I understand some very interesting facts and figures can be found on the We Are Equals and the UN International Women's Day websites.

This morning, as I was driving into work, there seemed to be a fair bit of scepticism/cynicism about the whole concept of International Women's Day. Typical questions included:
  • What do they (i.e. women) need it for?
  • Is it really relevant now, in the West?
  • Why isn't there a men's day?
  • You have to accept biological differences, this is PC gone mad! 
So, what is International Women's Day for? In the West (our great enlightened concordance of ideas), I suppose it is for men like me. Up until about 3 years ago, I fell in with those arguments listed above (except "why don't men have a day?"; that feels to me like arguing against a perceived victim mentality by claiming one). Women seemed suitably represented. Our president (and previous president) were both women. I worked for a while for Yahoo! whose CFO was a woman.  I knew at least 3 women who either owned their own business, or were their own boss. Outside of the guys I was working for at that time, and 2 short term contracts, every boss I had was a woman. My wife earned considerably more money than me at the time too.

Then, we had a girl. Then, we had another. Then, in the courses of various conversations, I wondered what would become of them. It wasn't until then that I really considered it. I honestly believe if I had boys, I wouldn't have considered anything further than they can do what they want and be happy. For my kids, I had to go from this belief to they shall have to do what is required to be happy enough. My kids can't do what they want. Just the other day, someone talking on the radio said "It's a choice women have to make: have a career or have kids." (someone also said that this morning). Other people say women are happy with a restricted career so that they can have kids. The underlying assumption being that women have to take more time out during and after pregnancy to look after those kids, which means they aren't in the office as much as their male counterparts. This is all fairly logical. And, as already mentioned, biology determines these issues. There can be no "socialisation" of sexuality and reproduction. And nor should there be.

However, all these arguments are founded on the idea that business needs to grow exponentially and forever, like some kind of continually aroused phallus, growing and growing until it has screwed every one of us. We haven't stopped (or even paused) to think about this at all. Why must we continually work longer hours? Labour saving devices and technology were meant to give us better lives with more free time. To allow us to become more 'human' in the sense that we enjoyed our human lives; were protected to some extent from our human frailties, and could enhance our human experiences. Instead, we saw the efficiencies gained and thought - we could fit some more in there. Make a bit more money, develop a bit more stuff, sell a bit more crap. And we did that. Over and over again. We live in a time when - as they lay dying - people will wish they spent more time in the office. We're casualties of our own success, our ability to do the things we want to do and earn money doing them. We soon neglect, or forget our families, or have to prioritise work over our time with them (which is ironic, because we tell ourselves we are working to make things better for our families). Our lives facilitate our careers, rather than our careers facilitating our lives. We haven't considered the idea that we could slow down a little, spend a little more time with our children and families and enjoy life a little more. 

I'm not qualified to write on the issues that have been raised throughout the day, but I am qualified to write about my wishes for my children and the world in which I would like them to live. I would like them to be happy. I would like them to have children if they want to; but not feel they have to choose between having children and having a career. If they have children, I would like for them to give those children the love and care they'll want to give. I would like for them not to be told, or to decide that they 'have to choose' between being the best they can be both professionally and personally.  And I would like that this lifestyle is not achieved through sheer luck (because they are lucky enough to work for people who are sympathetic to the idea that employees have families). Rather, I would like them to be in this situation because that's just the way it is.