Why Millennial Women Don’t Have it All (Yet) and How They Can
Millennial women are usually seen as the class of women who have it all. The model millennial or Gen X woman is represented as beautiful, intelligent, academically successful, economically empowered, socially active and successful in her relationships. Because we have women who have attained this status, many think that all women’s problems have been solved. What more could we possibly want?
Through feminist and women’s rights activism, women won, in some ways, the tools for their economic emancipation and empowerment. For instance, women in many places now have the right to work outside the home in almost any field, (although the gender pay gap and workplace gender discrimination are still existing). Also, in most parts of Africa, women now own lands (even though inheritance laws are still discriminatory in many areas); and, women in many places can go to school (but if choices were to be made, her brother would most likely be chosen over her).
Significantly, for women, there have been many successes; women are invading spaces, breaking barriers and generally killing it. Yay! Right?
You’ll notice that none of the rights we have won above are absolute for women and girls in all parts of the world. There are so many issues of gender inequality that still exist in our societies, and our world is still male-dominant. For example, there are more men in leadership positions across the world in every field/industry, and men are still generally richer than women; in fact, the world’s 22 richest men are richer than all of Africa’s 325 million women.
However, we seem to be living in a bubble, we think that because our wives, daughters, mothers seem fine, everything is fine with women all over the world. We think that because we have had an Angela Merkel, a Theresa May or your female boss, women are now perceived as equal to men, if not superior. In the law office where I used to work, some of my supervisors told me that gender biases exist only in women’s minds because we’ve refused to let go.
Even though we’ve made progress from how we were in 1960, or 1996, or as recently as 2010, there’s still far to go; and we can ger pointers from Finland, the world leader in making societies equal for women.
Specifically, our 21st-century woman is perceived as a ‘full’ participant in the economic world, even though she is not a major or equal beneficiary of this world. At the same time, cultural/societal expectations and traditions have forced this woman to wear an apron on her suit and to hold a mop along with her briefcase. In case you were wondering, society has not given the man any such tools: no mop, no apron, no broom, no dustpan, not even a helping hand.
People trace gender roles back to a time when the man’s physiological build seemed better-suited for cultivation and the woman, built differently, took care of the home. As societies progressed, men retained dominance in many civilizations.
In Africa, men and women occupied fields of trade and farming although not as equals; African societies also dictated gender roles. However, unlike their European counterparts at the time, African women occupied both public and private spaces before foreign invasion. The introduction of monotheistic religions and colonialism, along with the cultural norms of the colonialists saw a disruption of these practices. The English ideal of the Victorian era, for instance, was very instrumental in banishing women entirely from whatever token public leadership role they played across all social institutions in Africa.
Religious texts were (and are) interpreted and skewed along patriarchal lines. One of my law school lecturers let it slip that men in Islam did not allow women to work, using scripture to support their stance, but that due to dwindling economic resources, men have also discovered the co-existing religious interpretations of texts to support women participating in work to provide for their families.
Paul, the apostle, preached that women should not teach or speak in public – and I know Christian men who just love eeet! Still, we forget that Paul’s patriarchal teachings were heavily inspired by the entirety of the patriarchal context in which he lived and wrote. Most patriarchs do not seem to bother about this, except when they want to prevent women from being religious leaders.
Also read: Respect women
Although teaching, especially basic/primary education, is now done mostly by women in many countries, we haven’t heard ‘pim’ from Paul’s stans because it does not suit the economic interests of the major beneficiaries of the patriarchy and controllers of the world’s economic systems – men. For the most part, women came into jobs not because men wanted women to have financial independence, but out of rising necessity.
My mom always wanted to work from as long as I know but my dad didn’t want it. She pushed to do everything – own a provisions store, become a tailor, a caterer – until she discovered teaching. She basically “ran away” to go back to school. When she was done getting qualified and she got jobs she wanted, what did the man do? He was grateful because the family needed the money she was bringing.
In our world today, it is clear that for most families to survive, men and women (both partners) must earn money.
How are our families today modifying their structures to suit the present times? The present-day family structure latches onto the ‘medieval’ family structure without regard for the histories and present-day realities. The 21st-century man, the millennial too, proclaims himself, with the backing of society, as above all forms of domestic work except they somehow allude to his superior strength like doing the heavy lifting.
Our society through religious and cultural leaders teaches that it’s the sole domain of the woman to ensure the smooth running and sanctity of the home, marriage and family life which must entail cooking, cleaning, grooming children, and taking good care of the husband with all his ‘weaknesses’. Sigh…
Remember that they also tell her that, “as a good wife, you should contribute financially. Don’t be a liability to your husband.” With the coronavirus pandemic, men who are single and live alone, seem to be realizing that cooking skills are a necessary survival skill; but some are still looking for women to cook for them or lamenting their single status.
Your ideal present-day family has the husband and wife contributing to the income of the home-school fees, rent, etc- with ADDITIONAL duties for just the woman- prepare meals, clean after children and husband, and be a (sole) parent to the children and husband.
Unlike her medieval counterpart, the 21st-century woman is faced with a more arduous situation. She must work like a horse at her job to earn her pay and she must work like a horse at home to keep her ‘Mrs’. This is not what ‘having it all’ means.
Don’t kill me, please.
Are there solutions to this problematic situation?
There’s always a way out if you choose to take it. Below, we’ve discussed five steps we can take to ensure that millennial women, along with the upcoming Gen Z, really have it all.
Discuss and re-align values with your partner
Women who have husbands who do not act as real, equal partners should seriously discuss these issues with their partners. Although this should have been done at the very start of the relationship, it’s never too late to start. Unless your partner is truly a partner and a team player, you should stop contributing your quota. If he refuses to do the housework, if he sees housework as beneath him but fine for women, there’s a problem and you need to address it.
Promote the truth about housework: it’s not demeaning and it’s not gender-defined
We have to firmly establish that housework is not demeaning work. It’s keeping your environments clean and it is not designed for or meant for any particular gender. The only tools you need to do housework are a working brain and a working body (no ableism intended). You don’t need a vagina to do laundry, or to clean the floor, or to make your food. If you don’t want to do it yourself, pay someone else well to do it.
Train your children wisely
Parents, that is, fathers and mothers should teach their children, both daughters and sons to understand domestic chores as what they are- something necessary for people to do to live in a clean and healthy environment. Don’t teach your girls to clean after your boys. Don’t teach a girl to cook so she can do so for her husband. Teach your children to cook and clean so they can fend for themselves.
Millennial men, treat housework and parenting as a shared responsibility with your partners. Clean and cook or if you and your partner choose, outsource these things. Co-parent your children with your partners. While it is understandable that there are parts you cannot biologically do if you don’t have a womb; for example, having a pregnancy or breastfeeding, you can feed the baby with breast milk from a bottle, you can bathe and change their diapers. You can rock them to sleep and stay up at night with them. Don’t take your partner fi eediat.
Fight your own bias
Importantly, work on your own biases. Lead by example. Respect your spouse. Recognize and treat them as equals. Love them as you love yourself, not as you saw your domineering grandpa love his submissive wife even if they stayed married for 1000 years.
Fellow humans, work to emancipate yourselves from patriarchal and mental slavery. For the sake of your happiness.
Read here: 5 Ways to Fix Our Implicit Biases
People are born to be happy and all of us have equal rights. Everything starts with families: I think, kids should get their parent`s attention equally, they should see their father is not afraid to be weak sometimes, and their mother isn’t afraid to be strong.
– Dmytro Shurov
Ohotu Ogbeche is a writer, lawyer and feminist advocate. CA is also on Facebook & LinkedIn as Coloured Africa and on Instagram & Twitter as @coloured_africa.