I got a tip from international reader Endora about a piece in a recent issue of the Guardian discussing our (schools’? feminists’?) responsibility to girls to tell them that they almost certainly will not be able to “have it all,” to use a phrase I loathe.
We’ve discussed the value of single-sex schooling before, and noted how it especially seems to benefit girls, but I’m leery of girls-school leaders telling their charges that they’re going to have to settle for a stellar career OR a happy family. Most of what Jill Berry, the president of England’s Girls’ School Association, says is smart, and all of it seems well intentioned: prepare for the career you want, choose a partner who will support you, don’t try to be “perfect,” realize that life is about balance.
But. (There’s always a but, ain’t there?)
But Berry goes further, advising that her charges be taught to “be realistic” about their options, which reads to me as code for “settle.” While it’s true that the current cultural set-up in most of the Global North de-privileges family/personal life in general (which is good for no one but our corporate overlords), headmistresses saying “plan carefully, work hard, choose wisely, but really, don’t expect too much” seems infuriatingly fatalistic to me and a serious disservice–worse even, than saying “you CAN have it all, no probz!”–to girls.
This is the conversation we seem to have over and over again: are we better served by learning to cope, acquiescing to inequities on the personal level, or by directing our attention to changing the system that enforces those inequities? Of course we can, to some degree, do both, but a statement from a woman dedicated to girls’ education telling her students “you choose your choice, just don’t expect anyone to help you” is deeply disheartening.