Tuesday, 12 January 2010

How can a woman win? Really?

Hi. I need a hand:

Today at work I was speaking to one of the new girls, asking her about her recently finished university studies. She had received her arts degree in applied psychology and is now, as she described it, “just bumming around.”

She said she doesn’t know what she will do with her degree, and I said I understood this, after getting my degree in English Lit and feeling the same thing. Like her I had chosen my “career path” straight out of high school, in a desperate bid to free myself from the small town where I grew up. I told her my new theory is that life changing decisions made at 18 are all but useless, since we are so loaded up on hormones and selfish idealism. Big decisions should instead be made no earlier than the 30s. But by then, I added, a woman’s biological clock is yelling ….HELLO!

“So, I can’t win,” she said.

“No,” was my reply. “As a woman, you’re pretty much always going to end up settling in one way or another.”

There I was, a woman in her mid-30s, mindlessly hammering up the shutters against this 20-something’s hopes for the future (however vague they may be at the moment). Perhaps it stemmed from a programme I watched last week about Britain in the decade that just was (aka the “naughties”). Statistics show that in the last 10 years more and more women are waiting later and later to have babies, with the result being that many women ended up having fewer children than they had originally wanted because it was too late.

I tried to backtrack and tell my colleague that there are plenty of advantages to being a woman in today‘s economy, but all I could see was this somewhat sad statistic of women having to choose one thing over another. At 35, my “choice” is coming to an end, and despite the fact that much of me still panics at the thought of being a parent, at the moment I can’t remember what else it was I have been making my priority all these years. Perhaps if I had some grand career or had accomplished some enormous feat, but after a whirlwind of jobs, I now work in a shop.

Mind you, it is in a shop in the city of my dreams, where I am now in love with the man of my dreams. This is my foundation for happiness. But already I feel regret at having landed at this sweet place in my life a few years too late.

Having children commits you to a path of parenthood (not having children, this is what I assume). On the other hand, unless you have a single-minded personal or career focus, not having children can leave you always feeling a little aimless. I guess I am being hard on myself because I don’t have the first, nor do I have the other. Does that make me a failure? I often feel it does.

But I need help. What do I tell my friend? After knocking her down a peg about her future prospects, I feel the need to bolster her back up again.

Ladies, what is the advantage to being a woman in today’s economy? Notice I did not say “society.” This isn’t about the right to vote or equal pay. This is about making it financially and personally in the working world.

I don’t want to go back with a speech about how life is about sacrifices. I have already thought too much about this and frankly, I’m depressed. I need all the positives I can get at the moment.


Suzy said...

I knew I wanted to leave my small town by middle school. I also knew I was going to be in show business by the 9th grade. I think some people know what they want early and some people have to go forage for it. My biological clock was never an issue since show biz is so daunting you have no time to HEAR IT!

Julie said...

This is a tough one.

Firstly, you may be a bit tough on both yourself and the 20-something. I don't think there is such a thing as a failure, just paths taken and not taken. The trick comes in knowing when the tide is at its fullest FOR YOU. Comparison with the fella over the fence pays nowt. One of the challenges of ageing is learning when to listen, when to shut up, and when to encourage. It is very difficult to never discourage, but important.

Secondly, what is the advantage of being a woman in today's economy? As opposed to being a man or as opposed to earlier economies? Some people have big round eyes and look at the world and want it all. Yet they also want peace and quiet, and love and contentment. Life is all about choices. Whether you are male or female, twenty, thirty five or sixty one. You look at your life, you look at your resources, and you look at your dreams. You make a choice. And then toddle off down that road. Don't turn around. Don't look across at the other bloke's road. Your choices, your road. Should you glance over your shoulder in ten years, you may find that your road is a river with many tributaries, but always flowing ahead. Choices are for honing.

The advantage of being a woman in today's economy? The woman who takes advantage of knowing her ownself, who takes responsibility for her own choices, who thinks for herself rather than with the mob, has the advantage.

Now I need coffee ...

lakeviewer said...

Uh, I like Julie's answer. She is right on the nail with this one, from a sixty five plus woman who had everything, a career, children, a loving marriage, and enough CHALLENGES at each turn to tumble me off my feet if I didn't pay attention.

That's the advice: pay attention, be conscious of what you do, and make every action fit your vision.

PurestGreen said...

Suzy: I wish I had such focus in my life. My clock was never an issue until I met this man, and now it's ticking away like a drum.

Julie - Thanks for your thoughts. I am forever guilty of comparing myself to other "more successful" people. Not going with the mob is sometimes the hardest thing. You deserve some coffee!

Lakeviewer - I would love to make every action fit my vision, only my problem continues to be that I don't quite know what my vision is. Like many women I have too many visions, and run around trying to do too many things at once, always feeling as if I am getting nowhere. Thanks for your insight!

Cheryl said...

Oh, this sounds so familiar...so many of us women are going through this right now, what to focus on, which direction to go in, what choices to make while we still can.

I agree with lakeviewer and Julie, it's all about choices, and the way to figure out which choices are right for you are to, first of all, silence the voices and just listen. For as long as possible. You'll feel it somewhere, sooner or later, pointing you in one direction over an other.

At least that's what I've been trying to do. Wish I had all the answers but I feel like I'm trying to figure things out as I go along too. I want to work in films, to publish my writing, to fall in love and have a family. And I know I don't want to look back and see I didn't go down a certain path because I was too afraid to try.

But remember, just choices, no failures, just different paths, and of course have as much fun as possible!

Anonymous said...

My mum always says, "What's for you...won't miss you."
This tricky question I will leave for the women...

ellen abbott said...

I don't really know how to address that because I took a very unconventional route. I had my children at 27 and 29. By comparison, my sister had her children at 20 and 21. But I had a first marriage in there, did not want kids, worked in a shop. My life changed when I got a divorce. I followed the path of art, met the right guy and we had kids. But we also had our business based on my artistic talent. So we worked, the both of us but we did it at home, the studio being in the garage. So the kids always had both parents there and because we were self employed, we could take the time off to do all those parent things during the day. We worked really hard though, often working after they were in bed to make up for time lost during the day.

Julie has some good advice though. I fall prey to that myself sometimes. Looking at what other people have done and I have not. Here's the thing though, you decide what you want and you do your best to get, do it. And then you deal with the obstacles and every path will have them. Anyway, if you love your life, where you are, what you are doing, whatever that is, then that is success.

Rick said...


Zhoen said...

Beats the hell out of the choices our grandmother's had to make.

Everyone, men and women, make choices that narrow the choices we will make later. I have a male friend who loves babies and children, and although a thoroughly decent human being, does not have the social skills to attract a woman easily. He craves a family as strongly as any 30something with her biological clock ticking, and life stumps him as completely.

Life isn't easy for anyone, and we have to love the life we have, and not waste it regretting the one we think we want.

Zhoen said...

Sorry, grandmothers. Not grandmother's. Mis type.

Nic said...

The advantages are huge. We have *choices*. They might not be easy choices, but nothing worth anything at all comes easy.

We only have to read - for example - blogs from the women in Afghanistan to know that a bit of angst about when to have children is nothing. Because we have the *choice*. We're not being sold in marriage at 14 to an older man. We've got the right to an education. We've got the right to earn our own money. We've got the right to contraception, and because of our great standard of living and improved health care, pregnancy isn't the risk it used to be, and having a child when we're 40 is going to be almost normal soon - and we'll live to see them grow up and have children of their own.

Yes, there are downside to being female but we've come a long way.

Renee said...

Now that is a hard one because in reality you nailed it.

If women didn't have a biological clock there would be no problem. But unfortunately you nailed it.

I don't think if you had a grand profession as you call it that it would change; motherhood might change it and probably would because that is about taking us outside of ourself.

But women without children are perfect people too.

Hard one.

You are happy though and love who you are with and where you are and I think that is a huge part of the game of life.


Jayne said...

Once you have everything, what else is left to do? Life would become very boring.

Only thing I would say to people is make the "having children" decision, don't just linger on, not deciding. It only gets worse as the risks increase and weigh the decision more.

I have no idea where the time went but suddenly you can feel too old to start when others only marginally older are looking forward to grandchildren. In my 20's and early 30's. I never appreciated how short the time to have children is.

I have pretty much everything in life except children and it's maybe both a blessing and a sadness, still not entirely decided! :)

distresseddamsel said...

For what it's worth, you are not alone in this situation. However, though I find myself still torn between pursuing my ambitions or finding mr.right and settling down, I am still grateful for the privilege of having these options to begin with. If we had lived much earlier where women are confined to no other place beyond the perimeters of the house, I wouldn't be surprised if I get depressed.Right now, my biological time is screaming its puny head off like mad. I have always dreamed of having my own child, yet I am adamant about pursuing excellence in my chosen field. Sad thing is, like you, I did not realize that this is what I have been wanting to do until I have had more than enough heartaches and bumming around time to make me want to just jump off the bridge. But through all this confusion and regret, I still see myself as privileged. For me, either way is a win-win situation, depending on what your priorities are. I have already chosen to focus on what I want to become since the voice prompting me to make something out of myself is much louder and insistent than the screaming of my bio clock. If I would be fortunate enough as to meet mr.right along the way and have my child, I would be grateful. But if not, I would still be grateful. At least, I can say to myself that I ahve done something good(even just a bit) out of my life when the time comes for me to say adios!

Carolynn said...


There's a lot of wonderful wisdom here.

I'll weigh in from the other side of the spectrum on this one. I knew at a very young age that I never wanted to have children of my own. I've never waivered from that and, the older I get, the more I know it has been the right decision for me.

That said, I have recently met someone whom I feel very strongly will be with me for the long term. He happens to have 5 children. So, while I won't be a parent in the conventional sense, I will likely find myself in a position where I can mentor. My point here, is simply to say that things don't always unfold exactly as we've pictured it. Life's funny that way.

It puts me in mind of the movie (I'll spare you the Name That Title game...) Under a Tuscan Sun. The lead wishes for all these things - people to cook for, a wedding, a family. They all come true, but in unexpected ways.

With regard to my career, I've felt directionless for...well...still, to be honest. I'm still searching for my 'purpose' and I'm beginning to wonder if, perhaps, my problem lies in my attempts to define it, thereby limiting my potential for fulfillment, rather than just 'be-ing' it.

Life, for me, is about showing up and putting one foot in front of the other. It's all a mystery, really.

"Our lives are defined by opportunity. Even the ones we miss." Dave Barry


PurestGreen said...

There is such great feedback here. There is no getting away from how bound women are to their biology, much more so than men. And that is what I am struggling with as I reach this new crossroads.

Thank you all for great insights.

Annotated Margins said...

Coming from a male perspective, I only know that it gets tough with age, too. Being a self-employed music teacher for so long, I doubt that I would be accepted back in the job market. But I think there is an old adage, "safety in numbers." Banding together to create something from a woman's perspective has to provide some momentum, I would think. We've all been so separated from one another for so long, it's probably time to collaborate and work in shared spaces.

Renee said...

You are of course right about you and your grandma and Jacquie and our Mom, thank you for the reminder.


Dale said...

All I have to add is something a couple people have touched on here -- it's just terribly hard to know what any path is going to turn out to be like. You basically choose blind, either way, and you never get to know what was behind the door you didn't choose.

Marcheline said...

As a woman who has never wanted to have children of her own, I have always enjoyed the freedom of being able to pick up and go when and where I wanted. I love the fact that my husband and I can do or not do anything we like on our own time.

The only thing that gives me pause is the thought that when I am old, I will be alone. The longer I live, the fewer of my loved ones I will have around me.

There, that cheered you up, didn't it?