By Connie E, editorial columnist
While Gloria Steinem’s speech at the Women’s March on Washington is still ringing in our ears, we should not lose sight of how the social perception of women’s traditional roles have quietly evolved.
I recently heard a talk from Tiffany Dufu, a women’s advocate and author of Drop the Ball. In the book, she uses her life stories to tell women that it’s okay to let go of the expectations that society has imposed on them, from career to family to self-care.
“But who else is going to help me raise my kids and get a salary at the same time? The idea of not having to ‘do it all’ sounds appealing, but how do I get there?” one woman asked during the post-talk Q&A. Her eyes were wide open with genuine eagerness, presumably for a justification to free herself from tirelessly meeting society’s expectations for women.
While there were quite a few women who nodded in the audience, my first reaction to the question was “Why do women have to take on the sole responsibility of raising kids? Aren’t we free to do whatever we please, given how far the feminist movement has come?” I quickly realized I was the only millennial in the room.
For women in their 30s and 40s, it seems that domestic duties still have to be factored into their own aspirations and career successes. They feel the invisible obligations of being a “good mom,” which entails driving their kids to school, making dinner for the family, doing laundry, checking e-mails—the list goes on. Just as Dufu sharply observed in her book, this generation of women has internalized the idea that “management of the home was our responsibility because that was the example given by our mothers.”
I realized when reading that passage that the concept of motherhood is fluid. It is passed on over generations while also being shaped by its time. I can’t speak for the entire community of millennial women, but the idea that women somehow have to compromise their career in order to fulfill the duty of finding a husband and starting a family seemed silly, yet not completely alien, to me.
My mom is a strong-willed and career-oriented businesswoman with three children, the youngest of whom is four years old. Growing up under her influence, I’ve never felt the decision between career and family is a black-and-white one, nor have I felt the pressure to conform to the so-called social expectations. I also have female friends who said they never plan to get married, which is liberating to hear. Since when have marriage and gender become chains rather than gifts of life?
I’m aware of my own degree of naivete as a sophomore in college attempting to ponder life in 10 or 20 years, but my belief is that women should be able to choose their own life paths free of society’s judgement and expectations. I admit we’re not there yet, but subtle changes of perception are starting to take place among my friends, friends of friends and the entire millennial community. It takes a generation.
Photo courtesy Jonathan Eyler-Werve, Creative Commons