Recently while sitting in on a Gender and Literature course, my class discussed Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.” As we examined the evolution of women in fiction, starting as simply as with the subjects and working our way into the role of the writer, inevitably the topic of women’s changing roles in society came about. While men have written about women for centuries, the woman herself has not been entirely known as a independent thinking person until recently. Only in the 20th century were women able to express their own thoughts and emotions in literature and society. The 20th century was vital to creating the independent woman, and our role swiftly changed from mother to housewife to housewife/professional to housewife/professional/academic to what we now know as the catch-all of occupations, both at home and in the workplace.
For so long, so many women fought to be treated fairly and equally, but are we now facing another expectation even more challenging and isolating than being a mother and a housewife? Are we now expected to only have academic and professional aspirations and forego marriage and children to pursue these more “serious” life goals? Will we be as failures for possibly wanting a monogamous relationship and a stay at home lifestyle?
While many of my contemporaries from my rural hometown are now married, having children or both, those I know from my college alma mater are far from any of the aforementioned. While they are dating, and most are in serious relationships, they swear to family, friends and God to put off marriage and starting a family until they are firmly established academically and professionally. I don’t condemn furthering your education or living a work-is-everything lifestyle, but I am concerned about the almost definite negative response someone like me, a girl raised to pursue higher education and an ambitious career, would get from publicly declaring that in fact a domestic life is what I would prefer rather than a professional one.
Even though the suffragettes fought for women to have a choice in all matters of their lives, are we really only left with one choice now to be deemed a successful woman?
I acknowledge that much of these paths are determined by socioeconomic factors, however, for those in my position who were raised in an upper middle class family with high expectations to carry on the American dream and achieve more than my parents, can we truly decide what kind of lives we want, or will we be condemned to stupidity and laziness if we choose the more traditional route?
While I value my education and the experiences I’ve had thus far thanks to school and my cushy upbringing, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t envious of girls my age with their personal lives completely checked off of life’s to do list. I do want to be able to provide for myself independently, and that requires education and a career, which I realize a good number of those girls I just mentioned are lacking; however, why is it such a bad thing in today’s world to want a husband and a family, not just agree to it after you’ve taken care of the “important” stuff?
Have we evolved to the point of not having a choice in the matter anymore?