As a woman pursuing a college degree, I am keenly aware of the disadvantages and choices I face. However, I do not believe that I, nor young girls should be told that they have to choose between having a career and pursuing motherhood.
To this end, I strongly disagree with the statements made by Vivienne Durham, the former headmistress of an all-girls boarding school, in a recent article from the United Kingdom. In the article, she claimed telling girls they can handle having both a family and a career is “lying” to them about the reality of the glass ceiling, which states women and minorities face barriers in advancing in their careers.
I do not believe we have to force young girls to choose one over the other in order to explain societal inequalities to them, and I certainly don’t believe that saying “feminism” perpetuates the notion that the glass ceiling doesn’t exist.
A large issue with the claims made in the article is that Durham’s definition of feminism is flawed. She claimed she is not a feminist because, by her interpretation, being a feminist means you do not tell girls the glass ceiling exists. This is simply not true.
To many, feminism is about acknowledging the social disadvantages in place and challenging them. It is about not wanting to settle with the way things currently are because you know they are unfair and should be changed. By Durham telling girls they have to make a choice between having children and having a career, she is perpetuating that inequality and therefore stopping her students from achieving their full potential before they even have the chance to try.
The next problem in her statement was there was no happy medium in having a career and having children. She implied women who did choose to pursue both were either “juggling” them or were pushed back several years in one or the other, such as either postponing having children or not accepting a promotion in order to have them.
I acknowledge I personally have not taken on a child, but I know a number of professors and faculty at this University, as well as in my personal life, who have had children at the end of their collegiate career or the start of their professional one. They do not seem to be struggling to balance the two or were negatively impacted by their decision to wait the extra years to have children. This is something I felt Durham also skewed out of proportion.
To say that women who wait to have children so they can finish their education and start a career are ignoring a “biological clock” is ludicrous. Most professionals complete lengthy studies in their late twenties to early thirties, which leaves plenty of time to start both a career and a family.
While science has confirmed there is heightened risk of pregnancy complications as women get older, this doesn’t become a concern until 35 or 40. Therefore, women in their early and even mid-30s should not be concerned about conceiving, and if they are concerned, a chat with the doctor should clarify any issues.
There is no denying that women face unfair stigmas and biases in areas like education and employment. Despite the recent advancements in gender equality, we still live in an age where women receive unequal treatment to men. Women are paid less on average than an equivalently experienced male coworker, and they are given fewer opportunities for promotion than men.
To me, this isn’t an excuse to tell young girls that they can’t be mothers if they want careers. This is a cause worth fighting for, not a means to simply accept the blatantly unfair standards set in place for decades.
If we want today’s young girls to succeed, then we should bolster a sense of pride in their abilities. Yes, we must be honest about the negative reality that persists, but we shouldn’t lead them to believe that obtaining the life they want is impossible in the same breath. This is where Vivienne Durham missed the mark in inspiring her students’ success.
P.S. Know any women debating between career and motherhood? Show them your support forwarding this post to your family, friends, and colleagues!