Oil of delay
September 30, 2015 § 6 Comments
I’m a low-maintenance kind of girl. I’m not big on brand names or bling, I wash my face with soap and water, and I’ve never had a manicure. And when I need moisturiser, I generally find something middle-of-the-price range on the supermarket shelves and use that.
But this weekend, for some reason I picked up a bottle of that beauty stalwart, Olay beauty fluid, formerly known as Oil of Olay. At home I unscrewed the lid and smoothed the pale pink fluid over my cheeks and at once I smelt my mother and my grandmother, and I smiled. I remembered that they were both strong, capable women of grit, and yet both had the softest cheeks when you snuggled in for a hug.
My grandmother remains one of my personal heroines. She was tiny, and feisty, and she took a fairly difficult life in her stride and handled it with grace and style. My mother, I think, was a feminist (possibly not officially so) as evidenced in the way she raised us. Two girls and a boy and she treated us all the same – my sister and I helped my dad as much with woodwork and fixing cars as much as my brother was required to help with dishes and housework, as a tiny illustration. (It is a little known fact that I have good practical experience of throwing concrete slabs.)
Today marks 30 years since she died, but I remember clearly that my mom only had one real expectation from us – that we did our best. That applied to school work, extra-murals, or hanging out the washing. You were required to do your best. The effort, the work ethic, was the thing, not the outcome. And I certainly never felt that any of my future options were limited because I was a girl. Whatever I wanted to do, she supported, as long as I put my back into it and did things properly.
But since I opened that bottle of Olay, I’ve been thinking about the kind of woman I am; about what my mother and grandmother would think of my choices. I think they’d probably understand, and even if they disagreed, they’d love me anyway. But I think they’d be quite disappointed with the way the world has turned out for women. Because for all the advances in gender equity – the laws, the opportunities, the lip service – things are still not as they should be. I have two daughters of my own now, so these things trouble me.
- It is still safer for a boy or man to walk alone on the streets than it is for a girl or woman to do so. It doesn’t matter if she’s taller, or stronger, or a better fighter than her male counterpart – she’s still perceived to be more of a target.
- There’s still a pay gap between men and women in many companies – same job, same qualifications, same experience, but women will earn a lesser salary.
- If women choose not to have children, they are criticised for their choice.
- If women choose to have children and continue working outside of the home, they are criticised for their choice.
- If women choose to have children and work part-time or work from home, or be a stay-at-home mom (I despise the term, but have no better one) they are criticised for their choice.
- Women are still asked (by the media, all the time) how they manage to balance their work and home life – men are not asked this.
- Women are punished for having a womb. Someone has to bear the children, people: it’s simple biology. Yet women of child-bearing age are often passed up for positions because they ‘might fall pregnant’. I know of women who’ve been retrenched while on maternity leave. I’ve even heard people say it’s a waste for women to qualify as doctors, for example, because they will stop practising as soon as they have children, and all the money spent educating them will be wasted.
- Women are made to feel guilty for leaving work early to attend to a child’s school function, while men who do the same thing are applauded for being ‘hands-on’ fathers.
- When women look after their children on the weekends they are parenting. When men look after their children on the weekends, they are babysitting.
- Men are applauded for ‘helping with the children’. Because it’s women’s work, right?
(And apologies to my gay friends. I am aware that these distinctions are largely heterosexual in nature.)
Do I need to go on? There are so many examples of gender disparity it exhausts me sometimes. And I know there are couples where these roles are not the norm. I know the ‘not all men’ and brigade will be up in arms, but I think they are a small minority. I think we still have a long way to go.
And many of these issues are hard enough for women who have had opportunities like a good education. Imagine how much harder it is for those who haven’t.
So I look at my strong, intelligent, capable, daughters, and I think about the women in my family who have inspired me, and I realise that I’m probably raising women that the world isn’t ready for. These young women – despite all the strides feminists have made – are still going to have to fight to be recognised as equal human beings in what is still very much a man’s world. And that makes me sad.
We have to do better.