Monday, June 22, 2015
If feminism set women free, why do we feel more pressure than ever?
Ex-Cosmopolitan editor LINDA KELSEY fought for equality. Now she believes it's got a very dark side
Last month, at a wedding, I got talking to an attractive woman in her early 40s. She had her own business, two lovely young children and a husband who, she said, saw parenting very much as a joint venture.
Yet when she discovered I was the former editor of Cosmopolitan, she raised her eyebrows and, no doubt fuelled by the free-flowing Prosecco, declared, referring to the mantra invented by my former magazine: ‘Having it all, eh? I’ve “got it all”! So can you tell me why I feel so stressed and self-critical, and that I’m not getting anything right the whole time?’
Her words gave me a jolt. Because, 20 years ago, when I was in my early 40s, this could have been me. I was running a glossy magazine, my son was seven — and I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
Yet, back then, I would never have admitted that life was anything other than ‘just fine’. My anxiety was tightly reined in. I kidded myself, and everyone around me, that I was on top of things; that life was hunky-dory fabulous — which in some ways it was.
But I was ever-more anxious and panicky, and so wound up that I could have snapped at any time. Had I acknowledged the truth, I would have seen that I was placing myself under intolerable pressure, and that there was a dark side to the equality which I and my feminist contemporaries had fought so hard for.
But it would have been a Judas-kiss to the cause of feminism; an act of treachery to the belief system I had not only adopted wholesale but had actively promoted through my work. If there was a downside to the so-called liberation of women, I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, admit to it.
Even when, at 43, I suffered what became a two-year bout of clinical depression and had no choice but to resign, I never once blamed equality for the pressures of trying to do it all. I took the failure — because failure was how I saw it — as a sign of my own personal weakness.
Like Superwoman author Shirley Conran, I knew life was too short to stuff a mushroom — but I’d still be sautéeing them for supper after a day’s work, rather than ordering pizza, in my efforts to be the best wife and mother I could be.
I’d race home from work, fling my coat on the floor, cook a meal, then play with my darling son until bedtime. And to prove to my boss that I could do everything he feared working mums couldn’t, I’d sometimes still be schedule-planning at 3 am.
But I never countenanced the argument that my predicament might be feminism’s fault. Surely not? The weakness was mine and mine alone. I couldn’t hack it, yet plenty of other women could. They were achieving this Holy Grail all around me — or, at least, that’s how it seemed.
After her outburst at the wedding reception, the woman immediately apologised. ‘I’m not supposed to say that, am I?’ she said.
‘I don’t talk like this to my friends. I have to believe it will turn out all right. That my lack of libido won’t drive my husband away. That my children won’t grow up and think I’ve been a terrible mother. That my business won’t collapse.’
So she, too, was reining it in. Perhaps it’s time to face some uncomfortable truths, to save another generation of women from falling into the same trap.
Large numbers of today’s educated, middle-class women are more stressed, more prone to depression and drinking more than ever before. They are leaving it too late to settle down and have children, and ending up alone — and lonely.
Lifestyle changes that are concomitant with equality, and which women like me once welcomed, are taking a toll that seems to grow greater by the year.
Take drinking. The right to binge-drink to oblivion was never on my basic list of demands for equality. But I remember when wine bars were popping up back in the 1970s, and I celebrated that, at last, women could drink away from the hostile, male-dominated pub scene.
I even ventured into a wine bar on my own occasionally and felt quite comfortable having a solo, fortifying glass of vino after work.
What I failed to envisage was that the lifting of the taboo against female drinking in public (and at home, of course, thanks to the ready availability of supermarket wine) would lead to high-achieving women ‘catching up with men’ in such a worrying way. That soon, women wouldn’t be consuming just a glass or two on a night out (or indeed in), but quite likely a bottle or two.
The statistics are terrifying. Women in Britain are now twice as likely to have a drink problem if they have a good education. What’s more, we are the worst country in the world for heavy drinking among professional women.
Mandie Holgate, a 41-year-old business coach and mother-of-two, understands this pressure only too well. Until 2013, she was earning as much as £1,000 a day as a business development director in the City — but it came at a price.
‘A career in the City is still very much a male domain, and as a woman, I felt under pressure to work even harder to prove my mettle — and not just during office hours either,’ says Mandie, who lives with husband Andy, 42, a petrochemical engineer, and their children Harrison, 14, and Sophie, 11, in Mersea Island, Essex.
‘To succeed, you must be willing to play hard in the evenings, too, because many a lucrative business relationship is formed over dinner or a glass of bubbly. When you get to know potential clients and associates socially, relationships and trust are formed, and that leads to doing business.
‘But so many times, I’d be sitting in a swanky champagne bar, glass in hand, feeling weighed down with guilt that I hadn’t been there that evening to collect my children from school, cook their dinner and say goodnight.’
Mandie was tipped over the edge in 2011 when she suffered months of ill-health that felt ‘like a permanent hangover’. She resigned in 2013 after being admitted to hospital and diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. She is now working freelance as a consultant.
‘I put it all down to the pressures of my career, and trying — but failing — to balance it with family life,’ she says. ‘After all, by the time a woman arrives at her desk in a morning, she will have put on a washload, organised packed lunches for her children and prepared the evening meal.
‘Although overall I’m happier now, I’ve taken a huge cut in earnings and my health still isn’t great.
‘Yet I miss my old career and it’s difficult to quell the desire to work hard. But I’m resigned to being content with the freedom of working for myself, doing as little or as much consultancy work as I want to.’
Mandie’s situation will be familiar to an army of women juggling full-time careers with children and a husband. Is it any wonder that in any given year, women appear to experience higher overall rates of psychological disorders than men?
Of course, it may be that men are less willing than women to come clean about their problems.
But Daniel Freeman PhD and Jason Freeman, authors of The Stressed Sex, suggest that modern women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of having to conform to their social role. They are increasingly expected to function as carer, homemaker and breadwinner — all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed.
Emma Sharpe, 40, a deputy headteacher in a secondary school who has two children aged nine and seven, admits she is hugely resentful of the frantic juggling act she has to perform daily. So much so that it almost cost her her marriage to Charles, who is also 40 and a director in the hospitality industry.
‘For years, I’ve earned more than Charles, and four years ago we separated for several months because I felt — and still feel — hugely put-upon. Even as the main breadwinner, everything else still falls to me.
‘Yes, my husband works 60 hours a week, and with two incomes we are able to afford lovely holidays and treats for the children. But I’m the one who enrols the kids in clubs and makes sure they brush their teeth and practise their reading. ‘It’s me who’s a parent governor at their school and who organises everything from dental appointments to flights and holidays.
‘Meanwhile, Charles, although very hands-on with the children when he’s at home, doesn’t have to cope with much more than his career.’
Yet Emma is the first to admit that much of her resentment is of her own making.
‘The problem, I believe, is that you can’t over-ride the inbuilt instincts in men to be the protectors and providers, while women — however career-minded they are — are still natural nurturers and nest-builders,’ she says.
‘So, even though I’m exhausted, I know it’s because I’m a martyr; that I’m the one who wants to be seen to be doing it all. I suppose I just need my efforts to be appreciated and acknowledged.
‘Ultimately, like millions of women, I felt that, despite flogging myself half to death, I was failing at everything and was weighed down with guilt.’
While there’s much to celebrate in terms of women’s achievements, the price paid for equality is rising exponentially.
When, last week, consultant gynaecologist Professor Geeta Nargund reasonably pointed out that the cost to the NHS of IVF treatments is soaring, and that age-related infertility is on the increase, there were social media mutterings that she was scaremongering, and piling the pressure on young women to have babies before they were ready.
But the brutal truth can’t simply be wished away. I don’t think women are ignorant of the biological clock, but I do think they bury their head in the sand about it.
Putting commitment on hold to concentrate on your career, as well as to experience multiple relationships before settling down, has liberated women from the shackles of economic dependence and enriched their lives socially and sexually.
And, of course, for some women, Mr Right comes along in their mid‑30s at the moment they’re ready to commit and there’s a happy-ever-after ending. But a growing number of women are finding themselves alone and unhappy.
A successful solicitor I know, who had a last-ditch baby at 40 after deliberately getting pregnant by a man she had no intention of settling down with, asked me, in all sincerity, why no one of my generation had told her that by focusing so intently on her work and relegating her love life to second place, she would end up without a partner.
I was shocked by her naivety. I would have thought it would have been obvious to this Oxford-educated woman that putting the search for love at the bottom of the to-do list was a risky business.
But she was setting the blame firmly at the feet of us so-called second-wave feminists for not telling her the pitfalls of putting career and independence first.
So did we feminists get anything right?
One thing I was pretty certain about, until recently, was that my generation of successful career women had been wise when it came to marriage — choosing partners who were happy to share their lives with a powerful woman and were willing to pitch in on parenting and domestic chores.
So it struck me with the force of a truck when five high-flying career women in my social circle were abandoned in their mid-to-late-50s by their partners of 25-plus years.
All had grown-up children, all were the principal breadwinners, and in four out of five cases the men left for younger and far less ambitious women. I reckon they thought that the wives they left would be just fine without them; that they’d tough it out.
But each of the women was devastated. And even though they’ve all gone on to remake their lives, they remain convinced that their former partners ultimately felt diminished by their superior earning power and strong opinions.
My marriage broke down around the same time. I was 56 and my son 19. My husband, who had always supported me in my career, made the remark: ‘After your breakdown, you became tougher. I think it was good for you to toughen up, but it wasn’t good for me.’
He packed his bag around the same time as my son left home, leaving me alone.
Plus ça change. Only last week, a study of 2,750 young married people, conducted by the University of Connecticut, reported that men who are the most financially dependent on their wives are the most likely to be unfaithful. ‘Engaging in infidelity may be a way of re-establishing threatened masculinity,’ said Professor Christin Munsch, the lead researcher.
Perhaps the real dark side of equality is that, 40 years on from the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975, women are experiencing all these downsides to their new status, while still suffering from practical discrimination on a daily basis.
Mandie Holgate, the mother who quit her City job for a freelance role, says: ‘Equality remains dubious. I discovered recently that I have been paid 30 per cent less by one company than a male consultant doing exactly the same job.’
You could call it a work in progress, but unless we acknowledge the impacts of change on our physical and mental health and relationships, rather than dismissing them as scaremongering and anti-feminist, women will continue to pay a very high price indeed for so-called equality.
Did Michelle Obama not see the irony in delivering a speech on female emancipation to a school full of girls in headscarves in the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets?
Mrs Obama is as blinkered as her husband (Horse blinders are known only as "blinkers" in Britain and Australia)
Of all the schools in all the towns in all the world, why did Michelle Obama visit a girls’ school in the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets this week?
She says it was her own choice to make a speech on education at the Mulberry School for Girls. But was it?
I doubt the First Lady had ever heard of the school before this trip, and probably couldn’t point to Tower Hamlets on a map. My guess is that the venue was chosen deliberately by the Department for Education to showcase our new, rigorously enforced State religion: ‘Celebrating Diversity’.
Actually, if that was what they intended, they couldn’t have chosen a worse example. The Mulberry School is probably one of the least diverse schools in Britain. And that includes Eton.
More than 90 per cent of the pupils are Muslim, from a predominantly Bangladeshi background. That make-up pretty much reflects the demography of the surrounding area.
Tower Hamlets, in East London, isn’t so much multicultural, it’s virtually a monoculture. The local council, under its recently deposed Muslim mayor, Lutfur Rahman, has been a by-word for Third World-style corruption and vote-rigging.
There are more burkas on the streets of Limehouse than there are in Lahore. So it wasn’t surprising to see the vast majority of the girls photographed with Mrs Obama wearing the now familiar headscarfs and long robes insisted upon by the more devout adherents of Islam.
Did the First Lady not appreciate the contradictions inherent in delivering a speech on female emancipation and education in front of an audience which could have been transported direct from Saudi Arabia?
Before the usual, excitable suspects start bouncing up and down, hurling their predictable knee-jerk smears of ‘racism’ and ‘Islamophobia’, let me emphasise that this isn’t a criticism of the girls themselves or the Mulberry School, which is rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted.
The pupils have no option other than to wear the restrictive clothes imposed upon them by their parents and their religious leaders.
It was bizarre, to say the least, to watch the wife of the President of the United States preaching equality to a single-sex audience dressed from head to toe in what most of us would consider to be a symbol of separatism, female oppression and a rejection of Western democratic values.
While we’re at it, what was she doing there in the first place? Surely her remarks would have been more appropriate in Riyadh or some other outpost of fundamentalist Islam. And it’s not as if America has an exemplary record of educational equality, especially in the inner cities.
This stunt was just another self-serving gimmick, right up there with Michelle’s flippant, doomed-to-failure hashtag internet campaign to free the 200 girls kidnapped in Nigeria by the Islamist barbarians, Boko Haram.
In any event, British Muslim women are already free — theoretically, that is — to pursue formal education and any career they choose. In practice, some of the brightest and best girls are forced to stay at home once they leave school, or take part in arranged marriages.
There are 270 different nationalities living in London and most playgrounds look like a United Colors of Benetton advert. So why choose one where the pupils are all wearing identical, ultra-religious uniforms?
Of course, many enlightened Muslim parents in Britain encourage their daughters to go on to university and gain professional qualifications. But there are also strict Muslims in this country who still believe in segregation of the sexes, see women as chattels and condone the outrageous practice of female genital mutilation.
They think a woman’s place is walking five yards behind her husband — when she’s allowed out of the house.
It will take more than the fine words of the First Lady to persuade them of the error of their ways.
Perhaps Mrs Obama should have taken her message not to the Mulberry School but to the male elders at the nearest mosque. That’s if they’d let her in.
If ‘celebrating diversity’ was the point of this visit, the DfE could have found dozens of other, more suitable schools. There are 270 different nationalities living in London and most playgrounds look like a United Colors of Benetton advert. So why choose one where the pupils are all wearing identical, ultra-religious uniforms?
One of the most disturbing reports I’ve read recently came from a Government quango which said that decades of successful integration in Britain has now gone into reverse.
Enthusiasm for faith schools was one reason singled out. But the creeping Islamification of some areas, complete with de facto Sharia law, certainly hasn’t helped, either.
This is leading to segregation and separate development, and helps create the conditions under which isolated young Muslim men and women are susceptible to extremist interpretations of Islam, and can be attracted to become cannon fodder for terrorist groups.
None, repeat, none of this is directed at the Mulberry or its pupils. But no one can claim this school is representative of our wider society.
Is this really the image of Britain we wish to project around the globe?
Imagine you were an American looking at this picture in, say, Oklahoma, and trying to work out which, of all the schools in all the towns in all the world your First Lady had just walked into? You might conclude she was in Pakistan, or somewhere in the Middle East.
Now try to gauge your reaction when you discovered that Michelle Obama was actually in London. London, England? Get outta here. Hey, Wilma! Will ya take a look at this...
Don't blame Rachel for our stupidity
I’m surprised that more people don’t emulate Rachel Dolezal and pretend to be black, or members of some other minority.
Our gullible society rushes to reward such status, often with jobs and money. As I am actually partly Cornish, I am frequently tempted to start some sort of Cornish liberation front in the Home Counties, where our language rights are badly neglected.
I fear to do it because it would probably work. Within months I’d have an EU grant and there would be Cornish-language library books in Stow-on-the-Wold. In which case I’d probably have to actually learn Cornish.
By scattering morning-after pills into the outstretched hands of girls as young as 13, the state believes it may at last bring down the numbers of unwanted pregnancies.
The signs are that this ferocious medical intervention, now to be given out to under-age girls by chemists, is working. And it is doing so where sex education has not just failed, but has been followed by an accelerating increase in the things it claims to prevent.
The pregnancy figures are falling at last, though sexually transmitted diseases continue to spread rapidly, suggesting that sexual activity is not declining.
Well, it’s success of a sort. We’re well on the way to the loveless nightmare of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, in which sex has been completely separated from the making of babies.
A few questions arise. Is there any remaining justification for sex education now we have turned pregnancy into an easily curable disease? And does anyone know what the long-term effect this potent chemical dose will have on the bodies of those who use it? Or are they unwittingly taking part in the trials that will find that out?
McDonald's, the 'Progressive Burger Company'
In January, McDonald’s, leaning against the winds of fashion, said kale would never replace lettuce on its burgers. In May, however, it said it will test kale in a breakfast meal (breakfast is about 25 percent of McDonald’s sales). Kale might or might not cause construction workers to turn at 6 a.m. into McDonald’s drive-through lines, where approximately two-thirds of McDonald’s customers place their orders.
McDonald’s also says its milk will soon be without artificial growth hormones, and chicken (McDonald’s sells more of it than of beef) will be free of human antibiotics. All these might be good business decisions and as socially responsible as can be. They certainly pertain to McDonald’s new mantra about being a “modern, progressive burger company,” whatever that means.
The meaning will perhaps be explained by the progressive burger company’s new spokesman, Robert Gibbs, formerly Barack Obama’s spokesman and MSNBC contributor. McDonald’s British-born CEO Steve Easterbrook clarifies things, sort of, while speaking a strange business dialect: McDonald’s will be “more progressive around our social purpose in order to deepen our relationships with communities on the issues that matter to them.”
Suppose, however, you just want a burger and fries, not social purposes and relationships? You might prefer Five Guys or Shake Shack, where the burgers taste fine even without the condiment of community uplift. Five Guys and Shake Shack are pipsqueaks, with about 1,000 and 63 restaurants, respectively. McDonald’s, which has more than 36,000 — 14,300 in the United States — will open more than 1,000 new ones this year.
Although McDonald’s burgers ranked 21st in a recent Consumer Reports survey of 21 brands, this $81 billion company will not founder because of the small but growing cohort of customers who like the burger equivalent of microbrews. But another behemoth, Budweiser, is experiencing McDonald’s-like difficulties.
Budweiser’s problem is not just that the number of barrels it sells has declined for 25 years, from almost 50 million in 1988 to 16 million in 2013. (Budweiser has been partly cannibalized by Bud Light, which in 2001 displaced Budweiser as America’s top-selling beer.) The ominous fact is that 44 percent of 21- to 27-year-old drinkers have never tasted Budweiser. They prefer craft beers from microbreweries. A craft brewer is one that ships 6 million or fewer barrels a year. In 2013, craft brewers shipped more than Bud did. Budweiser’s response has included this truculent ad:
“Proudly a macro beer. It’s not brewed to be fussed over. … It’s brewed for drinking. Not dissecting. … Let them sip their pumpkin peach ale.”
This is an interesting approach to potential customers, calling craft beer drinkers (“them”) pretentious twits. If this is unavailing, Budweiser could try becoming a modern, progressive beer company with social purposes to deepen relationships with various communities, maybe even including people who just want a beer.
McDonald’s has been serving burgers since Ray Kroc opened his first store in Des Plaines, Illinois, in April 1955. Many billions of burgers later, however, it has had an epiphany: Henceforth it will toast the buns longer and sear the beef patties differently. Its 60-year learning curve bends imperceptibly, which helps explains sagging revenues — down almost 15 percent last year.
Recently, McDonald’s (“I’m lovin' it”) briefly instituted an excruciating policy of inviting randomly selected customers to “Pay with Lovin'” for their meals. Customers could call their mothers, ask another customer to dance, or perform some other act to enlarge the universe’s stock of love.
Shortly thereafter, Starbucks, which evidently thinks Americans do not obsess sufficiently about race, tried to enlist customers in conversations about that subject. After six days, this project died of derision from Starbucks' customers, many of whom go there for coffee, not a seminar.
McDonald’s, deep in an identity crisis, is awakening tardily to Ira Gershwin’s truth: The Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble, they’re only made of clay. Everything is perishable, and history is a story of vanished supremacies. Easterbrook, channeling his inner Hillary Clinton, vows to “reset” McDonald’s. Perhaps his reset will go better than hers did with Vladimir Putin.
Progressives are forever telling us who is and who is not on “the right side of history.” Many fastidious progressives deplore, and try to control (witness San Francisco’s current crusade against soft drinks), other people’s food choices. It will be instructive watching the progressive burger company try to persuade its chosen constituents to stop at McDonald’s on the way home from Whole Foods, their environmentally responsible, because reusable, shopping bags overflowing with kale.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and DISSECTING LEFTISM. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here.