Equality – or not?
As the Government’s latest covid poster (now pulled) causes uproar with its sexist depiction of women, a damesnet subscriber – who wishes to remain anonymous for obvious reasons – reflects on how her unthinking assumptions about equality have been challenged.
In a recent correspondence with midlife coach Lee Chalmers we were discussing power and what it meant for a woman. She said that to have the power to make change women need to:
- feel agency and an ability to produce results in the world
- know they can influence people
- think through difficulties
- take responsibility for their present and for the future
I agreed that power does come from an inner strength and taking responsibility, but that your capacity to do this can be influenced by life events – children, for example, and uncertainty caused by others, which you are not in control of.
When my husband decided he wanted a divorce I woke up to a situation in which I was subject to psychological and domestic abuse. The domestic violence may have been sporadic, but it happened nonetheless, and it impacts your confidence and self-belief. Our brains are incredibly malleable: before long you start to believe what you are told. I have always been perceived as a strong woman, have had a successful career and, despite having had a difficult childhood, was always positive and enjoyed life. I have two masters’ degrees and I’m currently studying for an MSc.
My life changed when I got married and had children. Though I was in charge of my own decisions I took them with little awareness – without the benefit of knowing what so many before me have witnessed. As for hindsight, how useful is it when you cannot relive the past and change your mistakes?
I shaped everything I did around family and childcare responsibilities to the point of exhaustion, always putting everyone else first. It didn’t help that I was a teacher, working 24/7, and the only real quality time I had with my children was at weekends or in the holidays, when it was a busman’s holiday, with no quality break for me (although I adored every moment with my children and would not change that for the world). All this took its toll; things span out of control. I felt like I was drowning, and I was: the pressure cooker went pop.
Meanwhile, my husband developed his career and decided to run away from his responsibilities just at the point where we had financial security and we could have relaxed. He did not appear to empathise with the children, and the damage he has caused is immeasurable – not to me but to them.
At first I felt like a caged bird weighted down. How many women feel like this? It is only now that I am starting to piece my life together and regain my inner confidence, strength and belief in myself – it takes time to heal. I am like a phoenix rising from the ashes. For the first time in my life I truly feel in control of my destiny – for the moment, at any rate. Though financially and emotionally I am not as secure as I was, with the divorce process comes certainty. Now, the future looks exciting, although at times daunting.
While power may come from an inner strength, it is more complex than that: there are different layers of meaning for different women at different stages of their lives. Only now I can see and feel the full impact of the patriarchal society we live in, and how biological and evolutionary processes disadvantage women. Equality itself does not exist – we only began to have equality legislation around one hundred years ago; set this against thousands of years of evolution and it’s clearly too soon to entertain any idea of equality.
I never used to feel like this, until now. As a young adult I believed women were now on an equal footing with men, but this was naive and my circumstances have changed that perception. What do you feel? It would be useful to receive your comments.