A new label – the XX female who puts career first; an alpha woman who’s ambitious, loathes domesticity and prefers work to childcare! Detailed in a book by Professor Alison Wolf in London, and called The XX Factor: How Working Women Are Creating A New Society, I can only wonder at yet another definition of womankind. Are we always going to be pigeon-holed, stereotyped once more, if not in the traditional lingo of decades past, nonetheless with just a smarter more fashionable concept. Purportedly, this terminology embodies new insights into how some women are now living, as if jettisoning domestic routines and intensive child care could herald a new order of things in our social milieu. Such simplicity overlooks a far more complex conundrum in how and why our society is structured as it is in the first place with too many men and a handful of women underwriting this structure. I contest that this XX Factor label is no less limiting to female personal freedom and individuality than past labels, and that furthermore, no new society will evolve as indeed it didn’t with the advent of the 1960s/1970s Women’s Movement. I also believe that the XX Factor label is just another attempt to impose conformity, albeit in a variation of an all-too familiar and pervasive theme, so the Powerful Others in our midst, who all too often dictate not just how we live, but should live, can control these female careerists and deal with them more comfortably. Despite Wolf’s probable (?) noble intentions in positing a new society emerging around us, her effort in defining these working women as XX Factorial, superficially at least, suggests a promising future for us all as women, but methinks she’s historically ignorant, even naively optimistic about the many previous attempts by women to change our society in the second half of the 20th century. Maybe she’s just entertaining a delusional fantasy that now in 2013, significant change is hovering on the horizon, but perusing the stories everyday in our newspapers and magazines, listening to the narratives of many women from all walks of life and reading many books about women’s experience around the world, I believe it will take not just a minority of working women to institute real change in society, but a revolution on an international scale involving millions of women, working or not, as well as millions of men. You can of course ‘label’ me a pessimistic cynic, rather, I choose to call myself a realist who still believes in the power of us all to chart a new destiny for women as well as men, just I don’t agree that it’s going to evolve from abandoning domesticity and childcare and replacing these aspects of women’s life with a workaholic lifestyle. What must be confronted is the far more urgent and critical issue of women’s pursuit of their own longings and desires, without pressure to conform to any labels whatsoever. Have we labelled men as careerists, criticised them for choosing work in an office instead of work on the home front and preferring the challenge of 9-5 rather than 24-hour childcare? It seems to me that on reading a review of Wolf’s new book (I might just get round to reading it, but then I might not), it is once more, as so many books are about women, and men, too, mere jargon, even bullshit that glibly glosses over the truths underpinning too much gender conflict let alone denying the aspirations of millions of women who still believe that love of both their children and partner reigns sacrosanct over work. It appears to contain more generalised assumptions about a group of women who are undoubtedly in the minority but the numbers of which are extrapolated to a great majority where these women are to be admired, if not emulated, for putting work first in their lives. Hardly an original idea if you were a female in the 1960-70s, albeit a mostly middle class, well-educated woman who had some opportunity at matching it with the men!
Nevertheless, I did relate to much of what I read about the book in that work was my primary focus, baby talk bored me shitless and I much preferred the company of men to clucky women. BUT I was in my twenties way back in those halcyon days of the nascent Women’s Movement when I thought work, too, was the only way to achieve a meaningful, albeit non-boring, way of life. I was trying, albeit unconsciously, to avoid the mistake of my mother, and generations of women before her (among other things), who seemed prisoners in their own homes and bored with the endless drudgery of domesticity and diapers. Of course, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake, so work was the most important aspect of my life, not just for my present, but my future, too. I was living as many other males did too back then; I was ambitious, driven, a ‘workaholic freak’ who was exhausted far too often and miserable in bed alone at night too many times. I was obsessed with a career I certainly enjoyed, even thriving on the intense pressure and frenetic pace I lived, but there always seemed to be something amiss. Was I just lonely, I oft pondered, was too much work just an excuse to fill my days and nights when there seemed nothing else satisfying to do? Was I just staving off boredom? I grappled with these questions for many long years, knowing I didn’t at all want to live in suburbia as the domesticated wife on valium to cope with screaming children out of control. So what the hell did I want? I just didn’t want either; not a work obsessed lifestyle nor a maternal career where children, cooking, cleaning, couture and coiffured hair were my constant companions. In my 30s, both seemed too extreme; the either or imbalance, more conformist expectations of women of a supposedly new breed.
As I’ve penned in previous blogs, psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors were in and out of my life with regular monotony but the answer to what I really not just wanted, but moreover needed, remained intangible and illusive. These so-called pundits of wisdom I realised were just trying to impose more conformity on me; get married, settle down, have kids but of course, you can still work too, just accept the female fate! Was rejecting (or at least trying to) this merry-go-round of marriage in suburbia the cause of my discontent? Was I denying my true status as a woman? But I was also told, in the supposed new era of the career woman, that we could have it all, though I had already realised that unless you conformed to the so-called female norms, this just wasn’t the reality you faced. These self-professed experts of the mind, both male and female, only confused me even more than I was already, playing havoc with my sense of self, the only thing remaining constant in my own psyche was that I couldn’t accept any of it! Now reading about the XX Factor, I am no longer at all confused, just angry at yet another supposed social strait-jacket, however disguised by a deluded sense of common good, albeit understanding, of some women in the 21st century. Are many women so desperate for identity beyond their own selves; once more living on the outside and seeking affirmation from supposedly strong, external accoutrements to balance the empty weakness within? Are we lesser human beings, lesser women, if we don’t adhere to the myriad of labels society throws at us; be it motherhood, wifedom or careerist? Moreover, aren’t we expected to be all of these things to be considered successful? As if these labels explain who we are and what we seek, but I demand, do we even need to explain who women are? Surely, the issues should be individual and personal, without any of us needing to manufacture conformity to tell us who we are and who we should be.
So another question affronts me; are we just scared as a society to acknowledge real and genuine individuality, be it female OR male, because that may mean too many powerful and control sages may be just unable to control us (and they’re not ALL misogynists as some feminists erroneously believe)? What purpose do labels serve? Why are so many writers and social commentators seeking to apply new words to us all which are only labels of another dehumanising kind; albeit with a new, but deceptive, even subliminal, perspective?
The play of politics and the verbiage of many politicians may at times annoy, irritate, anger and frustrate me, but their attitudes, however unconscious and unspoken, reflect their way of exercising control over our lives, whichever spin version we adhere to. Too often, we are united once more in togetherness as working families, the working poor, middle class welfare recipients, or persecuted refugees et al as if these words explain us all; clarifying our needs, wants and imperfections as one and the same. It is yet another attempt at manufacturing conformity; pinning labels on us so we can slot neatly and easily into a file they can hide in a drawer without fear these labels will surface to haunt them. (And how different is silencing our unique individuality from the tenets of totalitarianism where control and power over us is entrenched to supposedly cement social cohesion?) Too many people don’t dare question that conformity; changing the rules of the game for us all is too frightening; too risky, maintain the status quo at all costs lest we descend into anarchic, violent chaos.
Is that what too many people think of the human race? Is that why the political theory of anarchy, which to me is one of the best political theories of all in that it embodies self-control, is so abhorred and so terrifying because people believe too many of us are just unable to control ourselves? A theory that’s sadly just a utopian ideal that doesn’t account for the human condition. Therefore, we need controlling governments as well as controlling others in many facets of our society and a multiplicity of laws to control our behaviour and ipso facto, our thoughts, beliefs and feelings? What an indictment of our essential humanness; our individuality, our differences! Sameness is to be valued above all else; a conformist mentality where convention remains unchallenged and conservative practice is the name of the game. Be it The Superwoman of the 1970s, the Backlash of Feminism in the 1990s or the XX Factor in 2013? Call women what you will, but until we can truly accept female individuality and uniqueness, as well as males, our society, nay, our world, will continue to rage against genuine equality of opportunity and responsible freedoms with the crime of conformity perpetrating its cruelty on millions of us all.