by Elizabeth Debold
“Women are to blame for the ills of society!” “The UK doesn’t need a Minister for Women!” These provocative, ever-so-slightly “man bites dog” statements are the titles of Lee Chalmers’s recent blog entries on the new HuffPost UK. No wonder Arianna Huffington and her crew invited Lee as one of the kick off bloggers for their new venture across the pond. Lee is smart, edgy, knowledge-able, insightful, courageous and did I say “smart”? Now, if you know Lee, you realize that her eye-catching headlines are not the expression of a right wing misogynist, but the canny appeal of a clear-sighted visionary who has a passion for women stepping up to the plate and making a difference. As she writes in her “Women are to blame” post about conservatives’ view that women should stay home to protect men’s jobs:
New research shows that 43% of educated western Gen X women (aged between 33 and 46) have opted to be childfree. In a world that gives very little status and absolutely no financial reward to having children, this is a rational choice for a person to make. Rational when viewed from the level of the individual, the level we value in western culture, but utterly catastrophic for the species.
The political right understand this. They see that the writing is on the wall for humanity if women are not willing to assume their place as the mothers of us all. And this is problematic because women are not going to quietly go back to this life of unpaid, low status, grindingly hard work. Society cannot go back, we can only go forward. We evolve or die.
Rather than wishing for what has come before we need to ask hard questions of ourselves and create something new. What structures do we need to create that allow women to contribute to society with their brains as well as their wombs? If the majority of our graduates are now women and we want that talent in our businesses and political parties, are we willing to change how we work in order to allow them to contribute whilst ensuring that we still have enough children? These are not just questions for women, these are questions for all of us.
Faced with the complexity of these challenges it’s understandably easier to say ‘let the women stay at home and raise children.’ Easier to wish for what worked so well for society before. And this is not about men dictating the terms, it’s easier for women to say this too. It’s been our role for so long that we are compelled to it. We often unthinkingly slide into this function and then lead lives of confused desperation because we haven’t yet figured out how to do it differently.
Women are capable of more than childrearing, difficult and valuable as that is, and culture needs us to give more, it needs our intellectual contribution as truly equal partners to men. The challenges we face in the future such as peak oil, population aging, water shortages, require the best minds of our generation and those may be sitting in female bodies. Do we really want to ignore that potential contribution and encourage women to go back home? I think quite the opposite, we should be encouraging women to take their place in business and politics and solve the problem of making life more family friendly, so both men and women can share life in both the private and the public worlds.
How we move into the future–not just a future that’s a direct line from the past but one that takes us into a very different way of living and relating–will be the topic of the interview that Lee will be doing with me on July 30th at EnlightenNext London’s Midsummer Renaissance Festival. I’m privileged and excited to have such an accomplished, thoughtful and provocative person asking the questions and engaging with me in the all-important topic of “Women Creating the Future.” If you are in London, don’t miss it. If not, stay tuned because we’ll be posting video and audios from the event in the coming weeks.