As the proud mum of a two-year-old girl, I am privy to the whimsical workings of her sweet little head. She is the personification of joy and we have such fun doing girly things together, like dancing around the dining table to the Frozen soundtrack, picking flower petals for a fresh batch of perfume and making “wiggly worms” from pink play doh. Every night as I tuck her into bed, she insists I tell a story with a “princess in pink dress, pink shoes, pink lipstick, riding a pink neigh.” For the record, I’m allergic to pink, so this has been quite a journey and proof that girly girls are born, not bred.
So, as we come around to another International Women’s Day awareness campaign, it is her I think of first.
“Be bold for change” is this year’s battle cry to achieve equality with men and, in particular, pay parity. And when I think of my daughter as she flits through the room in a tutu with fairy wand waving, I do want that for her. I want her to live a bold life taking hold of the desires and dreams planted deep within. I don’t want a ridiculous distinction like gender to come in the way of her becoming an engineer, a computer programmer, a dancer with the Australian Ballet, or whatever else she sees fit to pursue.
Yet, strangely, that isn’t my primary concern for her future. The movement for women’s rights is fierce and robust. I don’t doubt that, with every passing year, women in Australia will experience greater and greater equality in the workplace. No, what concerns me is that those intrinsic yearnings of a female will be squashed, suffocated, sidelined in the wake of the idea that a woman’s trajectory to greatness exists only in the realm of careerdom.
I have frequently been amazed at the way my daughter demonstrates instinctual caring gestures. I go to tidy her room and she shushes me, grasping my hand and guiding me out because “baby sleeping”. Her eyes are wide with seriousness and a peek over her shoulder reveals a dolly tucked carefully under the covers of her bed, extra blankets smoothed across her chest. She strokes the heads of my friends’ newborn babies and engages with coos of adoration, “so byooful!” Oh, and the heartstrings tug, because isn’t it so “byooful” to see unprompted gestures of love – gestures of motherhood – from our little ones?
So when I think of her future, I am not afraid that she won’t achieve her career goals. Not one bit. The vernacular of the moment pivots off self-empowerment. She will be fed endless encouragement when it comes to achieving her career aspirations. What concerns me is how she will be instructed to navigate motherhood. Like it’s an obstacle to get past, a nuisance blip on the career course.
What if my daughter wants to be a mum? “Just” a mum? Like, a career mum?
Not a mum who goes back to work a few months later and does the balancing act of job and motherhood, of expressing breastmilk in the toilet cubicle in the lunch break and grabbing takeout on the way home. We don’t need to #beboldforchange in that scenario, because it’s a new kind of normal in our society.
The role that needs true boldness is that of the purist mother – she who doesn’t consider childbearing and childrearing as a sacrifice, but as a sacred promotion.
It’s a very brave place to inhabit. Families who choose to forgo one income to allow the mother (or father) full care of the children are less and less in favour. The federal government’s Social Services Legislation Amendment Bill, soon to be considered by the Senate, proposes cuts to Family Tax Benefit A and B, channelling the money instead into the day-care industry. Another enticement for mothers to get back into the workforce.
As I snuggle in bed with my daughter and consider what storyline tonight for her pink princess with pink shoes and pink lipstick, riding a pink “neigh”, I resolve to choose those that honour motherhood as a precious part of a woman’s life. Sometimes she will fight fires and design Eiffel Towers and scale mountaintops, but this princess will know that motherhood is something to be celebrated and cherished as a chapter that gives colour and meaning to everything before and after.
I hope we can #beboldforchange in demonstrating the great difference between the roles of men and women, and that being a mum is the pinnacle of female accomplishment.