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Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Extreme Sorts - Celebrating Diversity or Creating Division?

I read with interest, Janice Turner's article regarding the rise of alpha females or 'XX women in the Sunday Times Magazine. Whilst it is undoubtably positive to draw attention to high achieving women, is it really necessary to draw up a dichotomy where if you are not x(or xx workaholic in this case), then you must be y (stay at home mum)? I am glad that there are a group of women out there, blazing a trail through the glass ceiling that other women can follow, we need plenty of these role models, but it is important to recognise that if you aren't quite as career driven as members of this emerging elite, it doesn't automatically mean that you are content to devote your entire self to domestic drudgery. I entirely agree that aspects of domesticity are 'thankless', repetitive and boring': I'd have a cleaner straightaway if it was economically viable but I'm not happy to give up the time I personally feel the need to spend with my children as they are growing up. As many other women choose to do, I juggle part time work with family - not necessarily the best of both worlds - but a necessary compromise as far as I see it.

However, gripe aside, the article would have lost it's focus if it set out to examine all points on the female continuum. The best point Turner makes is that women would be more understanding of these extreme positions 'if we recognised we are different but equal beasts'. We should always celebrate high achieving women, it's a social imperative, but we should also be considerate and understanding of women who make different choices. As the article points out 'until just a few generations ago the experience of all women - regardless of wealth or social class - was intrinsically the same...largely domestic'. Today we have choices and rather than standing on opposite sides of the domestic/work divide, we should unite in the shared understanding and relief that we have options. These extremes are not to be derided but shared as examples of the freedom of choice we have gained and must keep pressing for.

I was pleased that in an interview on Channel 4 News last week, Sheryl Sandberg (clearly an archetypal XX woman by Turner's definition) declared that she was a feminist, although had not always been comfortable with that label. Feminism, like career and lifestyle choices, should not be about extremes and immovable dividing lines. It must be all encompassing and accessible, empathetic and empowering. There is always a continuum of opinion and we should not lose sight of this. As Lisa Appignanesi puts it in her contribution to 'Fifty Shades of Feminism' (an excellent read):
'We're at the mercy of our descriptions...For women's lives to change, it was important to take more of that power of description into our own hands. The descriptions would hardly ever be uniform, we would disagree with one another vehemently, but at least they wouldn't all come from our colonizers.' So perhaps the extreme label of 'XX woman' is not so controversial as I first thought, it's intended as a positive descriptor for successful women, and that is never a bad thing.