t’s “Women’s Month“ – but do not worry, this Postcard is not another reminder about celebrating Women’s Day. Probably your feeds on social media were as flooded as mine with inspirational quotes. This year was actually the first time I was a bit annoyed with all the buzz around it. Even the online grocery delivery advertised with discounts for the day – with a young woman holding and biting in a sandwich in a way inappropriate at all for Women’s Day.
I could not stop but ask myself if the real reason for this day was still in important to us? Has Woman’s Day it become another Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas – another excuse for consumerism and shopping concealed in the wrapping of fighting for a “good cause”?
One in five Austrian women is a victim of domestic violence. Girls are still more likely to choose a career as a hairdresser or sales assistant while boys opt for a technical career path. Women still earn significantly less then men. And when they choose to have a career and children, they are called bad mothers. When I look at social media and influencers, it seems that the goals for women are a perfect body, a perfect boyfriend/husband and then the perfect kids. While there are what I call “girlpower” accounts as well, I have the feeling that the mainstream of successful accounts pushes women in a more traditional role (and very often a very sexualized one). Furthermore, even in my own circle of friends I see that a lot of those women who I used to see as hardcore feminists have drastically changed their views after having children. A lot of them want to stay at home permanently. Inflexible work environments, the lack of remote work and nurseries – who can blame them? Very often families lose money if they need to pay for nurseries or nannies. So why not stay at home? Why not make use of all the great discounts and events at Women’s Day?
So what are we even fighting for in 2019? Do we even want to still shatter glass ceilings? Or have we given up?
My view of fighting for equality and thereby Women’s Day has changed in the course of time. Today, in my early thirties, I still consider myself a feminist and I am not shy to use that term. But over time, I broadened my view of feminism. In my teens and university years, my biggest goal was to shatter the glass ceiling. It was very much in line with the original idea of Woman’s Day – which originates in the labour movement in America and Europe in the early 20thcentury. I wanted to join a big company and move up quickly to become one of the few role models for other young women. It was all about equal rights – I wanted the same opportunities for me and other women as men. I wanted to make the same money as men. And I still want that.
I joined a multinational company in my mid-twenties and was fortunate to have mentors – both male and female – who not only gave me advice but also sponsored me and my career path looked promising.Nevertheless, I saw what was happening around me. Most of the women who made it into the management boards were single. Or they had a relationship and no children.
My job required a lot of flexibility. I moved three times across countries and two continents within two years. I was single at the time and did not have to think about a partner or even children. I knew that moving up the corporate ladder required this flexibility also in the long-run. For my male colleagues this was not an issue. Most of their wives were moving with them as a “trailing spouse”. Their struggles of adapting with new environments and giving up everything for their husband’s career is almost always ignored. (I think I should write about this topic in another Postcard). It did not matter to them if they had to move from Germany to Korea.
However, my female colleagues with partners decided to stayed within Europe to make their relationship work. Their partners had equal jobs and it meant juggling two careers. I only know about two examples where a cross-continent move and the resulting long-distance relationship worked out in professional and private terms. (With a lot of management and effort from both partners and even more effort to convince the company about their needs.) And as a lot of multinational companies still measure the performance of men and women with indicators more suited for men, declining an international assignment for the sake of a relationship will probably get back to you career-wise a few years later.
Did that mean that I could only shatter the glass ceiling by giving up on a family life? Did I want to sacrifice my private life for the company? And maybe in the end nobody will ever thank me for it? Maybe I will not be promoted for it. Or even worse, maybe one day I just lose this job?
When I did the research for this Postcard, I came across countless articles with headlines about the fact that Millennial women are more likely to stay at home than their mothers or grandmothers. However, what these catchy headlines overlook is that “staying at home” in most of the studies actually means working from home. Our generation is more flexible thanks to technology than any other generation before us. And I hope we can use this advantage to really have it all – a meaningful job and a family.
I think what has changed is our (ie. Millennials’) general attitude to our workplaces. I wanted a career change because of the lack of flexibility in an established corporation. I read Sherryl Sandberg’s book and the story when she asked for a parking spot for pregnant women while working for Google. Google at the time was a small company and was flexible to adapt. I knew that in a giant company which had existed for almost 100 years it would be a matter of months to get that spot (with multiple hierarchies signing off on it). Probably you would get the spot when your children enter Kindergarten…
Sometimes I asked myself if my decision to leave the corporate world meant that I had given up? Had I given up on the goals of teen-twen Liz? No, I did not. I just entered a path which I think will give me the same extent of flexibility which is asked from myself to perform. I knew that if I wanted to sacrifice a lot and work hard, at least I wanted to do it for something I could control myself.
In my opinion, the challenge of Woman’s Day in 2019 is to cover all the different goals and challenges for women – they have just become more complex and diverse than they were 100 years ago. Then it meant access to basic human rights such as the right to vote. Today it means shattering glass ceilings in corporate careers, making our workplaces more family friendly, teaching young boys to support their future partners/wives and foster a political and social environment where it is possible to really have a choice.
All of this needs to be done without turning Woman’s Day into another consumerist holiday. Or another “silly” thing women do such as “unnecessary” gender studies or fighting against emails which start with “Dear Sirs” or “Dear Mr Steiger”. On the one hand, by letting Woman’s Day being turned into a party-like event, we risk harming us more than it actually helps. On the other hand, I would argue that any publicity is good publicity. As long as it starts a discussion, it is good for us. Probably it is all about balance.
But most importantly: Girls, we need to keep fighting! If we give up and just blame the system for making it too difficult for us, we risk that our daughters and grand-daughters will never even step inside an office building. There will not be any female heads of state or CEOs. They will look at us and think: “If it was too difficult for my mum, why should I bother?” We then automatically push them into dependence on men. And I think we all know what that means. (Maybe another topic for a Postcard 🙂 )
This was a rather long Monday Postcard, but I really wanted to share all these thoughts with you. What do you think about it? Is Woman’s Day too commercial? And is there still a need for feminism? Let me know!