The new feminism

This blog is written by Upswing’s Queensland Manager, Janelle Kirkland

I wasn’t a feminist until I became a mum

There was something Sally from Upswing said that made me laugh – or more like blurt the word HAH!! – the first time we chatted. She said: “Is it just me, or did having kids turn you into a bit of a feminist?” I laughed because it was so, so true.

For me, it was like a Eureka moment, or the moment you yell “Bingo” to win the game, because I realised another mum had been on a similar path to me. The path from babies to career struggle to frustration to achievement to near burnout, to self-doubt – to the realisation that mums are fighting an uphill battle with both hands tied behind their back.

The realisation that the feminists might be on to something here.

Not a conclusion I thought I’d ever reach. But people change. I changed. Kids changed me. As a working mum, I am now firmly on the feminist spectrum. Before kids, I didn’t like the term “feminism”. I thought it sounded like women with first-world problems and rage issues and who would rather blame men for both of them.

I had nothing to complain about. I had a career I was good at and I enjoyed the same modern liberties as men. I didn’t have to wear knee-length bloomers to the beach. I contributed my vote to choosing my country’s leaders and I paid for my own Friday drinks and I figured the men in my office took home the same measly journalist’s pay check.

So I was blissfully ignorant. And by ignorant, I mean I wasn’t even listening to the words in the feminist debate, thinking it was just Germaine Greer telling me to stop shaving my armpits. But then I became a mother at 31 and my baby went to childcare and everything changed.

Suddenly I had new problems, like: How do I meet project deadlines if I’m at home with my sick kid? How do I keep a toddler in the car seat for 45 minutes when the traffic jams? How do I maintain my hard-working office kudos if I keep heading home early to pick up kids? What is the point of working if all my cash goes to childcare? Why isn’t this tax deductable? Oh god, school hours will DESTROY US ALL!

Keeping office hours was a nightmare. I was making daily circus-animal deliveries in rush-hour work traffic, and found myself apologising to my corporate office for any inconvenience I might be causing.

My anxiety skyrocketed.

Merging kids and career had turned my world inside out and upside down. And even though my husband is as hands-on a parent as he can be, it felt like someone had replaced all the puzzle pieces of my life with pieces from a few other boxes. Some from the career puzzle. Some from the mum puzzle. Some from the home organisation puzzle. Some from the starting my own business puzzle. Suddenly, nothing fit together anymore.

Why, though? We have been making tiny erratic humans for eternity, so surely the society we have been building factors in mums and the kids that we take primary care of (in the vast majority of cases). Unless men put all those policies in place back in the 60s when women didn’t need to supplement the family income by heading into the workforce . . .

So, while women have the desire and the education and the drive to be working, the outdated system is stacked against us. And it’s about we started stacking things back in our favour (Don’t get me started on the wage gap…)

I’ve been talking to other mums and they agree. We need to find some way over this mountain. So I went searching and I found other voices, such as Women’s Agenda, and Forgotten Women of Australia who are challenging the very system that make life so hard for us working mums.

I stocked up on Constance Hall, Annabell Crabb and Clementine Ford books (but I passed on Greer).

Then I discovered Upswing, which is cutting new footholds in the mountain, offering ways for parents to work productively without signing up to the childcare system – putting carers into workspaces and events and conferences so that parents can easily attend in the hours that suit them. So I joined Upswing to try and offer the same services to Queensland parents.

If you’re a new – but not a ‘burn-the-bra’ – feminist like me, I urge you to check out all of the above and add your voice to the growing tide. Because there’s got to be a better way to do this career vs childcare thing, and I think we’re only just getting started.