(In)Égalité des choix?
(In)equality of choice ?
I grew up in a traditional family: mother, father 2 children. My mother stayed at home after 12 years working as a primary school teacher. Not because she had to, but it was her "free choice". The two-income model tired her out and for her it seemed like the best option.
Later I felt that she had regretted that decision. She has told me more than once that she would have preferred to work part-time. My mother took care of the family and my father went to work and helped out in the house after work. I felt that my mother was missing out but also enjoyed her presence.
But I vowed that I would do things differently later...
I lived in a town where there wasn't much to do. The people around me had low ambitions and few expectations in life.
When I was 18 I went to Brussels where I met my husband. He was sweet and attentive and came from a patriarchal family. His father was the center of the family and his mother was very devoted to him.
We were at university together. I finished a year earlier and went to work in banking. He went to work in an international company. We had 2 children and history repeated itself. I too, got tired of the two-income model.
My husband did well in his career, while I got stuck and eventually stopped working. My ambition I had faded and I started taking care of the family full time because someone had to do it and full-time help wasn't financially feasible. Dividing the tasks between us was no longer an option because my husband's career took offand he worked abroad several days a week. The patriarchal model became a fact and I saw it happening but did nothing about it.
When the children got older I, like my mother, regretted it and only the carrying function as a mother did not make me happy I was sinking into depression.
After a difficult period I frantically searched for something that would give real meaning to my life. I followed a part-time course in photography and meanwhile mainly took care of the children on my own.
I became a middle-of-the-road photographer, taking school photos, photographing weddings, communions and staff parties and working below market rate in the cultural sector because I felt good in the theatre. The people around me saw me as a housewife with a hobby that had got out of hand and that's how I too felt ...
After 12 years and with a relatively well-filled agenda, I felt the need to work on my own project.
It had to and would be about gender inequality. I felt pushed into a corner by society as a woman. I felt unfairly treated and believed that it was society’s fault that I was not able to grow in my work. It was the OTHERS’ fault that I am not financially independent and that I have not been able to grow into a strong independent woman. But is that really the case? Did I fight enough to make my home more egalitarian? Neither my father nor my husband had imposed it.
Had I made the choice myself or had it been it imposed on my by Western patriarchal society? So, without any academic knowledge about gender issues, I started to do some research, first with women in my immediate surroundings, but going as far as South Africa.
I asked two simple questions to 30 women from all age categories, religions, cultures,...
1. Do you have the impression that there are inequalities between men and women
- In our society
- In your professional life
- In your personal life
2. Do you think this could change in the future? If so, in what way?
I wanted to hear their stories without judging and without imposing my opinion.
I am a feminist and gender inequality exists today and will continue to exist in the future because a man and a woman are not equal physically or mentally. But the way we deal with it can change. The basis of everything is the freedom of choice. Are women equally free to make choices about work, care and their own personal liberation?
Equality can only emerge if both men and women start from the same point, regardless of culture, religion, financial capacity, or other factors.
I want to continue this series because the more women speak, the more we can think about our own freedom of choice. My question remains: there is an (In)equality of Choice?