I have just read an article on The Telegraph by Isabel Hardman about the obstacles women are still facing in the workforce. I don't disagree with anything Isabel Hardman has said, but I would like to add a few more dimensions to the argument.
The article asks why, nearly 100 years after the first female MPs were elected, there are still so few Angela Merkels and Theresa Mays. It then goes on to point a finger at the crippling cost of childcare in the UK, causing women to drop out of the workforce when they reach their childbearing years. The cost of childcare is, indeed, a serious factor to this, but I believe the problem is much deeper and more convoluted.
One must first ask the question, how feminine are Angela Merkel and Theresa May? I don't mean their look or their sexuality.... but how do they behave? Do they behave as women, or have they merely engaged with aplomb that ability all women possess? The ability to adapt. You see, I don't believe that the majority of the women who have risen to power have done so because of changing attitudes towards women but because of their own abilities to be one of the guys and function as men function.
I have spent most of my life in the music industry. When you take into consideration all of the behind-the-scenes activity, it is vastly made up of men. I was only the third woman to graduate from my university with a degree in music recording. I became a fixture in the music business, and I gained a lot of respect, but how? By being one of them. By laughing at crude jokes, by acting completely un-offended when a rap artist was recording yet another song derogatory to women and condoning domestic violence.... by even singing on such tracks when I was asked to do so. I was called a lot of names and very nearly sexually attacked on two different occasions. I suffered marital problems with my first husband who could not cope with my constantly spending time with "other men." Looking back, there is no other way to put it.... I went through a lot of shit, just because I was a woman! But that was ages ago, right? No. I'm 31 years old! How did I persevere? Honestly... I never found any of it daunting, because I was so completely focused on my goals. I adapted a "when in Rome" policy and rolled with the punches.
Another factor is Queen Bee Syndrome, where a woman in a position of authority views or treats subordinates more critically if they are female. This doesn't just happen with women in high places, but women in any place. We see successful women, and we react by tearing them down rather than aspiring to be like them. Whether this may be a biological or sociological reaction, I don't think it's without hope. Recognising that we - as women - have a tendency to do this is the first step towards not doing it and instead trying to help each other in a common struggle.
The cost of child care is a big factor for a young woman with a career who wishes to raise a family. But whilst everyone is trying to treat the symptom, they are completely overlooking the cause! Why - in a liberated equal society - is it only the women giving up their careers to look after children? There are lots of stay-at-home-dads these days, but they are not getting the respect they deserve. Parents should be treated as equals with equals rights to maternity/paternity leave and equal considerations for those times when children must come before work.
The other half of the symptom is a relentless work culture that has no time for parents or their "excuses." Sometimes your child is sick. Sometimes you are late, because your child spilled a bowl of cereal all over you, and you had to change your and their clothes last minute - then they needed a nappy change. Sometimes that meeting that wasn't scheduled yesterday is just going to have to go on without you, because your child's recital is today, and you need more notice than that in any case. As any parent knows, we - the parents of the world - have acquired a skill set that can be put to good use in our careers.... the abilities to multitask and delegate, to function under incredible pressure and "get on with it" no matter what the circumstances. Yet our status as parents seems to be overlooked as an asset and treated as a liability.
Last, but certainly not least, I would like to address the idea that mothers with careers only chose to abandon their careers, because childcare would be too cost prohibitive. Some do, but not all of us. In fact, I think if you thoroughly evaluated the women who sacrifice their careers for their children, you would find a bottomless well of leadership and potential.
I work part time, but I mostly stay at home with my son, and I become a fairly nasty specimen to anyone who suggests that I should have him in nursery care for his "social skills." Why? Because I am a leader, and I am raising a leader. You say "social skills;" I say "conformity."
My son marches to the beat of his own drum and is fiercely intelligent. Perhaps he would have been like this even if I had been shunting him off to nursery from the day he turned six months old. Having a strong belief in environmental factors, I tend to think not. Staying at home with him is not the only option... it is the best option! Not because I am a weak woman who has dropped out of the work force.... because I am a leader. A leader adamant about raising my own little leader.
TyLean Polley is an avant-garde recording artist. You can get a free download of her music at TyLeanPolley.com