I’ve spent much of the last few months thinking about gender.  I didn’t ever take a Women’s Studies class, something I really regret, so I’ve been trying to read some classic feminist texts.  So I’ve been working on a lengthy blog post about how I came to be comfortable with my feminism, and what it means to me. As I get older, my feminism feels more important in my life.   (something I’ll address in that blog post, which is long and emotional and will hopefully be done by the end of the week. It’s kind of fun to spend a long time writing something, and actually really thinking about how to write it).  Anyway,  I’ve been thinking a lot about gender and expectations. Which made it particularly interesting when I read this article on the Sydney Morning Herald website.

There is so very much wrong with the piece, I genuinely don’t know where to begin.  How is it ok, in a world where women earn substantially less than men, to tell women to EXPECT less, to ask for less, to encourage them to temper their expectations?  We should be demanding more.  We should be saying if there’s a world in which women have difficulty having a good job and being a mum, maybe we need to change some things to make it easier.

Jill Berry, president of the Girls’ School Association in the UK, justified her suggestion by saying that:

“Your priorities shift, but you’re not selling out – you are facing reality and trying to be realistic about what you can achieve and you should stop beating yourself up about it,”

But what REALLY bothers me about the article is that the only mention of the child’s father is in the line:

When my pupils try to wind me up by saying they plan to marry a rich man to support them, I ask them: ‘what if he runs off with the au pair?'”

Where’s the talk of partnership?  Where’s the talk of child-rearing being a two-person exercise?  Where’s the discussion of the even split of home duties?

These girls should be raising their expectations.  They should raise their expectations of their partners: they should only have children with someone who respects them enough to share these duties, make equal sacrifices.  We might not be able to have it all, but there’s no reason that women should lower their expectations.  We should be looking for ways to solve problems, not retreating to retrograde gender roles in order to make the problem go away.

Recent Comments


November 16, 2009 2:41 pm

Not just women! I’d also ask men to expect less because realistically, we’re simply never going to get the hoards of beautiful women catering to our every whim on a tropical island like we really want.

November 16, 2009 2:53 pm

“We should be looking for ways to solve problems, not retreating to retrograde gender roles in order to make the problem go away.”


I’d try and elaborate on it, but you’ve just said in that sentence pretty much everything I’d try to say. Made of awesome.

November 16, 2009 8:40 pm

I just read the SMH article. I wonder if the article is not saying: “Demand less of the world”, but “Expect less of yourself”.

Of course there’s still gender bias in the corporate world; of course there’s pay discrepancies and unequal treatment, and all the rest.

But I think the myth that’s sold is that Motherhood (Parenthood, for that matter) is easy: that it’s something that can be easily tacked onto a successful career.

But I think it’s telling that there are mothers who will go back to work because work is easier than full-time mothering.

What a lot of women (and 99% of men) don’t get is that being a full-time mother (or a full-time father) is one of the hardest jobs in the universe. It’s not 9-5. It’s not even 8-8. It’s 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no break in responsibilities, and a great deal of psychological pressure. When a dad’s looking after the kid, the mum is the fallback (“What time do I need to feed him? Where are the spare nappies you keep in the car? He’s just thrown up, what should I do?)… the mum has no fallback.

Perhaps we need better education, but maybe it’s one of those things you don’t get until you’ve been through it. And most fathers don’t get it, because you don’t really see what it’s like… I’ve gotten to see a lot more of it than most because I’m working from home or studying from home often.

November 16, 2009 8:59 pm

I should clarify. I don’t at all disagree with the diagnosis of the problem: child-rearing is tough business. What I disagree with is the solution. There are a plethora of options, some of which have already been explored, some of which we haven’t thought of yet. It’s worth exploring all those options, even if we decide to go with a traditional arrangement. Telling girls that the best solution is for them to lower their expectations is not helpful.

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