Why do we need a Women’s Equality Party in 2015? Hasn’t the world moved forward sufficiently to ensure that we don’t need another pressure group to lobby for the rights of women ‘at home, at work, in politics and public life’? And, in this day and age, what does ‘equality’ actually mean?
In the sixties and seventies it meant choice … to study, to work, to not get married and have children. Over time it meant parity with men in terms of opportunity. What does it mean now? Has ‘equality’ opened up hearts and minds in the wider world or merely provided a new, more demanding structure of expectation? Has it given us choices or made us fear letting the side down – the ‘side’ being those who fought for every woman to have a voice, choice and rights.
Right now, there is pressure on every adult of working age and every young person below that to aspire to either have it all – a marvellous job, wonderful partner, gorgeous family, fabulous house and shiny car, never mind the holidays and gadgets, gizmos and soft furnishings – or settle for less – mindfulness and simplicity, a decent work-life balance. Nowadays, The Good Life is as worthy and aspirational as something out of Dynasty, and that’s great. It’s great that we garner as much respect for wanting less as we do for wanting it all. But what about ‘working’ for the family, i.e. being a stay-at-home mum or a familial carer? How does a debate about equality relate to those roles?
It’s more a question of social acceptance. It’s okay to work the land, and it’s okay to start a business and it’s okay to train for a career and it’s okay to work for a large corporation. Is it okay to be a homemaker? If you are looking after your partner, who has a demanding and fulfilling job, as well as your immediate or extended family – is that okay anymore? Even worse – is it okay to choose to do that? Technically there’s no pay involved, so nothing to fight for there. There’s no man doing the same job in your department for higher reward – so no fight there. There’s no job hierarchy, so no promotion to fight for either. In fact, are you actually working? Or are you a dirty secret?
The fact is that equality is not talked about in family terms outside of the divorce courts. We are not bombarded with positive stories and images of people working towards the income of the household by supporting and facilitating the activity of the person who draws the pay. Whilst there is a great deal of political focus on getting parents back to work and creating more child care places, the choice for couples to work together in such a way is ignored. Perhaps it goes back to those aspirations for ownership. Perhaps as a society we have been conditioned to expect so much materially that we either eschew this and turn to frugality or stick with it and work even harder in order to pay the ever-increasing mortgage. After all, to get credit we have to be doing paid work. And what about the risks involved in having a career break? Enough to park that idea where it belongs …
Whilst for some work is a major driving force, for others the care of their partner/spouse, families, friends is the driver. If we had to pay for that, we’d need extremely well-paid jobs in order to make it worthwhile, and yet we rarely hear how much they are worth. And how do you measure the emotional gift and exchange of someone familiar taking care of you and helping life to run as smoothly as possible?
And, once the choice to stay at home and support our working partner has been made, we become ‘just a housewife’, or ‘just a stay-at-home-mum’. And where women’s guilt used to be about wanting to work, it’s now about wanting to be a homemaker.
Equality is vital. The fight for equality has done some amazing things for our communities and country but it’s still important not to dismiss the importance of all kinds of choice. A Women’s Equality Party is a great idea as long as it fights for the choice to live the way that is right for you and yours, not just the ‘perceived’ right way. When it shouts loudly about that, then it will be time to listen.