THE ISSUE WITH EMMA WATSON’S FEMINIST PLEA
A pregnant self-employed mother-of-two’s views on why feminists are setting the bar too low.
The much talked-about feminist speech by Emma Watson did not make me as enthusiastic as it has made most of my female friends. In the middle of my busy routine and loud household, I have struggled to understand exactly why, until I started taking it seriously and writing down all my doubts.
This whole week, contradicting thoughts have been fluttering in my mind. On Monday they occupied me on my way to facilitate a workshop on Learning at the Neuron Level; They came back on Tuesday, while I was preparing a session on the Nature vs. Nurture debate; They stayed with me on Wednesday, while I was managing the finances of my company. And the confusing thoughts were constantly present during my “family hours”, at the playground and in our bathroom, in the school yard and on the couch. Why was I uncomfortable with this world-acclaimed speech? Three issues slowly emerged from my generalised uneasiness, but I had to let them go, one after the other. Nevertheless, reflecting on them helped me work out what my fundamental problem with that speech was, so here they come:
Issue no.1: Idealism disguised as wisdom.
Did I find the speaker too young and inexperience to lecture the world about womanhood? If you asked me at 24, I also had very clear ideas about being myself: I was a person, a scientist, a humanist, a music amateur, a traveller… and many other things. Accidentally I also happened to be a woman. But that was not essential, right? Male and Female are equal and, although this principle is not applied in far too many circumstances, I – like Emma Watson – was lucky enough to have found myself in a non discriminating world. If I had had a chance to speak at the UN then, I might have said very similar things.
But upon reflection, this was not the reason I felt like there was something wrong with the speech. It might well be true that what I have learned since deciding to found a family starkly contrasts with the black-or-white approach of the proud feminist. But if it is not the young people that remind us of our starting points, who will? It is actually good that a young woman speaks up for her gender and for the whole of society. It is good to be reminded what we thought when we were young, so that we can think of it again and see what we now judge as worth keeping and what needs a little update.
Issue no. 2. The money obsession.
Was I irritated because Emma Watson’s ideal that men and women receive equal pay for equal jobs will simply never apply to my private family situation? I am not interested in doing the same (well remunerated) job as my husband. He is not interested in doing the same (less well remunerated) job as I do. Still I don’t feel I contribute to our family or to society less than he does. I don’t feel my life is less interesting, challenging, varied, exciting than his is. I don’t feel I am less worth.
Of course when a woman and a man do they same job, they should be paid the same. Nevertheless, the emphasis that feminism advocates put on this point always makes me uneasy. Money is tangible, money can be counted, wages can be engineered and regulated, so we might get the impression that we can start tackling the “female issue” from here. But this will not be effective until we have found a way to integrate maternity (and no, not paternity. It is not the same thing: Even if a woman choses not to breast feed, she still carries a baby in her body for nine months, which makes her different in her energy levels, in her thinking patterns, in her working memory, in her emotions, in her looks…) into our society.
In summary, the money issue is indeed one that I find more complex than it is often depicted by feminists, but I do agree 100% with the basic principle. So again… that was not the part of Emma Watson’s speech I was fundamentally not happy about.
Issue no. 3. “Making choices about one own’s body” sounds nicer than abortion but it is not.
Was it the phrase “make choices about my own body” that was incompatible with that story my friend recently told me about abortion? My friend is a midwife and she was very upset: A woman had come into the hospital wanting an abortion “because she could not stand the nausea anymore”. My friend and her team were obliged by law to provide this woman with the “service” she requested, yet they all felt deeply unsettled by the whole story. And so do I feel: How could an entire life (and the potential lives sprouting of that one) be set against nine months of feeling nauseous (I am pregnant at the moment. I am TOTALLY aware of the discomfort that comes with it, don’t get me wrong!)? For sure nobody else but the woman in question should be entitled to answer to this question. But in doing so she is not just choosing about her own body. She is choosing about her potential children’s lives too, as she is choosing about her future mental health and well being. This makes the matter more complicated, but it cannot be ignored just for the sake of simplicity.
Notwithstanding, I think the gist of the feminists’ position is that nobody is more entitled than a mother to make this difficult decision, and with that I completely agree (for instance, it certainly would have been a disaster if my friend’s patient had kept the child just because her husband had forced her to). In short, the abortion issue was not the one that fundamentally disturbed me.
But I was still uncomfortable with the whole matter, so I listened to the speech again, and there it was: “My mentors did not assume I might go less far because I might give birth to a child one day.” This was the sentence that made me cringe, the sentence that still represents so much of what we call feminism and I cannot subscribe to. There was the real problem!
The real problem: We are setting the bar too low.
It is not that we are “not going less far” if we have a splendid (or not so splendid, for most of us) carreer on top of having a spendid (or good-enough, for most of us) family. We are going so much further! Giving birth to another human being is the most precious thing a person can ever do. Each human life is worth and has the potential to be wonderful, but I think anybody would agree that we as a society badly need women to give birth to babies. Without that we would be pretty stuck (imagine a world were all women chose not to give birth). So what kind of society does not encourage, honour and show extreme gratefulness to the people that make its own subsistence possible? Why are we women happy that our society thinks we “go as far as men” if we get paid the same amount to do the same job?
We are the ones that can do the one thing that not both sexes can do. We are the ones that can carry a child, give birth and feed him/her in the most adapted taylor-made way. All this with much thrill and satisfaction, with much effort and dedication; All this for our own sake, for the sake of the persons we birth, for the sake of our male partners, for the sake of our families, for the sake of our society, for the sake of our species.
How to tackle the problem: Ask the real questions.
Asking men to please let us be the SAME as them is just not good enough for females and it is not good enough for society. What we need instead is to step back and look for ways to make space for motherhood in our society. The real questions we need to ask men and women should be of the following four kinds:
1. Setting expectations.
How do we prepare girls for the privilege and responsibility to give birth to our children? How do we help them conciliating all the things they want and can do, all the things they want and can be (for instance, how do we bring together the potential of being a mother with the potential of being an astronaut?)
2. Stopping the denial.
How do we stop raising girls in the delusion of having the same chances as men in the “success race” and then be hit by post-partum depression the moment they realise that they have to make space for a new cumbersome passenger in their race car? How do we stop the obsession to not miss out on their careers to ruin the time they consecrate to their little ones? How do we stop the worry of not being a good mother to chip away on their confidence and energy in the work place?
3. Embracing motherhood.
How do we put into the equation that the quality of care children receive in the first years of their lives has an enormous impact on their later success and well being? How do we fit in the fact that, in the majority of cases, the person who is best placed to provide that precious that kind of responsive care is the mother of the child? How do we make space for the fact that a woman can fulfill herself in parenting in a different way then a man, because she can do so much more for her child and because this is set up to give her the kind of hormonal reward that a man will just never experience?
4. Allowing for diversity.
How do we create females that can be different and can do different things than men but are still treated as equal? How do we do all this without pressing stereotypes on both genders, but instead allowing each individual the freedom to express themselves on the spectrum of gender?
So here we go, in less than a decade I have gone from knowing exactly who I was and what place femininity had in my life to taking a week to identify the main questions that are swarming in my overcrowded brain. Although they might be less catchy than Emma Watson’s feminist plea, they have the advantage of being rooted into a daily routine of conciliation between theory and practice, between aspirations and resources, between body, heart and brain. Rendez-vous in seven years: I will then let you know what life with three sons has done to the feminist ideas of my Twenties 😉