‘Men and women won’t truly be equal…unless men, too, are saying how can I juggle two careers?’ Gloria Steinem
There’s a Wendy Heath painting in my parent’s home depicting what I like to think is an image of a woman capable of anything. Draped in cutlery for her jewels, she simultaneously oozes sensuality through her attire expression. Perhaps Heath had drawn inspiration from the first ever cover of Gloria Steinem’s Ms. Magazine: an adaptation of the Hindu Goddess Kali; tears streaming down her face, while she uses eight arms to juggle an over abundance of work and domestic tasks. Meanwhile, a baby bump is growing from within.
Make no mistake about the representation of women in each image: The juggler is a formidable woman.
Juggler is a term that I’ve long claimed with pride. It is central to my identity to perform numerous roles – wife, mother, entrepreneur, lawyer, sister, daughter… And quite frankly, I’m not prepared to give up any of them, because each fulfils a purpose in me. I am definitely a juggler. Well, that was until I noticed it’s re-emergence in mainstream media. 45 years since it was featured on the cover of Ms. Magazine to sell a vision of a woman who could work and care.
Why is the juggler still the exception?
With women making up almost half the work force, its baffling that the female juggler is still a favourite media message. While on the one hand, I find the likes of Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer, Cabinet member, wife and mother of two, formidable. And indeed the story behind the image of her holding baby, phone and in her office, is inspiring. But when juxtaposed against the reality, it is actually deeply disturbing: O’Dwyer is the first woman to be having a child whilst serving in cabinet.
Her story is not unique either. And so I find myself asking WHY it is still news that a female lawyer has been promoted to partnership while pregnant or on maternity leave? Why is this not the norm?
Seriously?! Its 2017 people!
The subtle bias at play
These images are saying to women, you CAN make it to the most senior positions in our workplaces… if YOU really want to. And just like that, we place the burden back on women to fit in to a system designed by men, for men, rather than addressing the systemic issues that exclude them. By continuing to showcase these women as the exception and not the norm, we force women to accept a narrative that tells them they didn’t make it because they chose to juggle, and that meant they just weren’t committed enough to their workplaces.
Women don’t feel guilty of their own volition. They are made to feel guilty because they are judged against an impossible ideal: the ideal mother is one who is with her children; and the ideal worker has no carer responsibilities.
Continuing to search for reasons why women shouldn’t combine paid employment and domestic responsibilities is a distraction from where the real focus ought to be: fixing the system. The battle, for affordable, quality childcare; for adequate paid parental leave for men and women; and for true flexibility, that gives us a license to operate, is yet to be won.
This is the unfinished business of the feminist movement.
My vision for gender equality is for a world in which women can realise their full potential, and are able to live free from workplace oppression. But my vision also includes a world where men can be vulnerable, care freely, and work flexibly. If freedom to work and care is only for mothers, then it limits the freedoms accessible to fathers, especially when it comes to caring.
Which, at the heart of it, is why we founded Grace Papers. To address the unfinished business of those women – the suffragettes, feminists – who delivered us so many hard-won freedoms – from reproductive rights to the right to vote. But whether you’re man or woman, girl or boy, freedom doesn’t exist if you don’t use it.
Live a life with no regrets
There’s a great reflection by a palliative care nurse, who shares the 5 regrets of the dying:
- I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
- I wish I didn’t work so hard.
- I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Grace Papers is about much more than a platform. Through our platform, our coaching, our workshops and our consulting services, we empower humanity to drive social change. So you can use the freedoms you have, to reclaim the meaning of a juggler as that of a formidable & fulfilled human. For jugglers live fulfilled lives with purpose. And I believe, jugglers are much less likely to have regrets at the other end of our short time here.
Founder and Managing Director, Grace Papers
Prue Gilbert is an entrepreneur and human rights advocate. Integrating her vast legal, leadership and social change experience, she is co-founder of Grace Papers, a social change business leveraging technology to drive gender equality. She will be sharing her expertise on the flexibility panel at the upcoming Workplace Diversity & Inclusion Workshop held in Melbourne on the 25th and 26th October.
Click here for further information.