I read this article, “Why feminism needs a new barometer for success” late last week, concerning how female freedom and success are still defined in conservative terms that concern financial success and a balancing of traditional roles. As the article’s author notes, “empowerment is presented as earning a high income, and “having it all” means an enviable job, a family, and owning your own home. But that’s not every woman’s idea of empowerment.” It goes on from there to examine other ways success might be defined, offering up some more altruistic and self-fulfiling alternatives where money, for instance, is not the end goal.
It struck a chord with me because this is something I have been grappling with for several years now. I have spent that time working part-time rather than full-time and dealing with the consequences of doing so. I wouldn’t say I’ve spent all the time I’ve saved productively, and I definitely won’t claim that it has been easy financially, but it has been on my own terms and that’s been very rewarding in its own right.
One thing that I have found difficult is the extent to which, despite my best intentions, my wants are still shaped by the traditional economic values and related social norms alluded to above. I don’t much of an interest in designer clothes or other designer wares, big, expensive nights out are not really something I do, and I’m a bit ambivalent about owning our own house.
BUT! I’m sucked in just as easily as ever by new clothes and the prospect of overseas holidays.. I also spend far too much money eating out and, as already evinced here on this blog, hanging out in cafes and while I might not feel strongly about home ownership in itself, per se, I’d like the freedom to actually own the cats without anyone objecting or renovate or whatever Those are just the things I want. If you factor in long-term necessities, things one might describe as “boring yet important”, such as insurance, saving for retirement, paying off debt, back-up plans should things go disastrously wrong,etc., then the whole thing becomes much more difficult.
Renegotiating the balance between the life I want, the one that is expected of me, and paying for both of the above is something I am struggling with anew now. It is one thing to make these decisions when R and I are two adults who pool our finances for shared resources and otherwise manage ourselves. It’s another when there’s a small, dependent person entering the mix whose needs, for the next while, are going to be very much front and centre. The opportunities we want to give him in life are not free of charge, but some of the best things we can offer – our affection, time, energy – cannot be compensated for financially. The balancing act is becoming ever more difficult.