Feminism changed women’s lives – but was it for the better?
This was the provocative question that Irma Kurtz, Rosie Thomas and Linda Kelsey were debating today at the Henley Literary Festival. Or at least, that’s what I was expecting. But I have to admit I was rather disappointed. Some important points were made (about freedom and responsibility, about changing legislation and mindsets, or about young men feeling ignored by the feminist movement) but on the whole I felt that the conversation stopped just where it should have started.
I don’t know if the genteel surroundings of Henley were to blame, or the desire to please an audience decidedly of the 40+ demographic, but the controversial topic of ‘can women have it all and if not, why not?’ was avoided. Only at the very end did a young woman in the audience, working for an accountancy firm in the City, ask about her slender chances of making it to partner level and what impact that would have on her future family.
The reply? She was told that at least nowadays you have the freedom to choose between career and motherhood, and you can also choose to work part-time. But you have to accept that if you are part-time you are not going to be taken as seriously as someone who is fully dedicated to their career and is present 24/7.
When was the last time a man was told he had the freedom to choose between his career or fatherhood? And when can we all learn to move beyond a culture of presenteeism at the office and accept that part-time hours does not mean part-time commitment? When will we as a society care more about the way we raise the future generation and reward the men and women who do it well (and who share the burden)?
Alas, methinks there is still some changing of mindsets to do, when the panel members at a feminist debate are still buying into this cultural fallacy.
Also sad: the fact that so many women in the audience (and on stage) prefaced their remarks with ‘I do not consider myself a feminist’.