Sometimes I look around me and all the young women I see are rushing. I assume it’s off to work because a lot of time they’re carrying a car load of kids they drop off at day care and school. Some are still putting on make-up when they stop at the lights and most of the time they drive like F1 drivers with their eyes on the prize. Sometimes I see them running around the supermarket with overloaded trolleys and I’m amazed they can do all that as well as nick into the gym on a regular basis and knock off a marathon every six months. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a life where so many required elements compete for attention and I wonder how things went from women demanding equality in an obviously unequal world, to having to prove it was justified.
In 1976 I wanted to change the name on my H & J Smith’s account to my new married name. I was fully employed and I’d never ever not paid the full balance at the end of the month. I confidently walked into their office and was given the form to fill in. I’d been filling in a lot of name changing forms – driver’s licence, bank accounts, nursing documentation etc. so I was a little taken aback when she took my form and said, I’ll have to get this verified. Weird, was all I thought, but that quickly changed when the man in charge of the office came back and said it would not be possible to change the name on this account without my husband’s permission. I was dumbfounded. What, I asked, did my husband have to do with my account? I was informed that now I was married, my husband was responsible for me. I saw red. I know I raised my voice and I know the man backed away even though there was a rather substantial counter between us. Eventually I asked, if I don’t change the name on this account, it will continue operating as normal? To which he replied, yes. That was when he conceeded defeat. I don’t think I’ve ever been so insulted – but wait, now I think about it, I have. I was insulted when I got my first job and hadn’t quite got the hang of writing cheques. My account had been overdrawn a couple of times and someone at the bank spoke to my father. I remember thinking how wrong that was. This was my account. Why hadn’t they spoken to me? And knowing instinctively that it wasn’t because I was young and learning how to operate a cheque account, it was because I was a young woman who needed bringing back into line and who better to do that than her father? I was insulted when a doctor I’d applied to work for as a practice nurse rang and told me my application was “by far the best” but during our interview he’d sounded me out and knew that I knew I could use my sick days if my children were ill, therefore he wasn’t prepared to employ me. I was insulted when I applied for a course at a tertiary institition ten years later and was told by the man asking questions that it was a ‘problem’ that I had kids – how would I find time to do the work required to pass the course? Who would look after the kids?
So now I come to think of it, I understand why these young women want it all. They were brought up not to be insulted. They operate in an environment that if they look hard enough, is legally bound to support them. Most of the time. But I also feel that through our outrage we may have inadvertently given them a larger load than they can possibly carry. Who is there to tell them it’s not about having it all when we had so much withheld? Life is about the choices you make and the paths you travel and mine has always had time for reflection. I have a supportive partner who, while initially frustrated that his vision of an easy life was tipped upside down, understood that my removing my wedding ring wasn’t about removing my commitment but a statement that I was no longer prepared to wear a symbol of ownership on my finger. He didn’t wear his, I couldn’t see why I should wear mine. I found strong female friends, I discovered Broadsheet and I found myself raising sons who didn’t call women ladies, sons who chose partners who are strong and caring and not willing to allow others to think for them. And now I have five wonderful, headstrong, individual granddaughters ready to take on the world. I only wish they didn’t have to but until the rapists and the abusers and murderers and general arsewipes (who strangely enough all seem to be men), are gone, they will. Here’s hoping their daughters will have the easy ride we all imagined we were giving our own.