By Phoebe Davies-Owen and Scott Douglas Jacobsen
Expectations of Women, and Myths
One myth about women which is slowly becoming outdated is the presentation of them sat around talking about their weddings. The day they can’t wait for. Who will they invite? Where will it be? How will they plan it? This is presented in films, tv shows, books — it is commonplace and to an extent establishes women’s behaviour at a certain age and attitude about this at a certain age.
For women in the West, this isn’t such an immediate concern these days. Societal expectations and monitoring of their behaviour is diminished, the age that women have children has risen in recent decades as more of them are pursuing careers. In the same vein, this isn’t reflected in women from the East.
This is because traditionally, they are expected to go away to Western countries/universities and receive a first-class education — they then return to their native countries, settle down with a man of their own ethnicity and bear his children.
They may work before marriage, but it’s more common than not for them to resign from work once they are married. It can even be discouraged if they are thinking about meeting the expectations of family and tradition with working part-time and parenting at the same time.
It is all or nothing. Either women work in the home and submit to cultural expectations or are employed full-time in the workforce and face the alienation of the culture and family. That is in an upper class family with more disposable cash.
If in a lower class family, then the terminology would change from alienation to likely condemnation. These myths about women biding their time thinking about marriage and family comes from a groundwork of expectations in culture and family.
Culture Countering Behaviours of Women
There are some relatively benign myths about women, at least now. These myths revolved around the desire to become married and focused on family and children as an obsessive preoccupation through adolescence and young adulthood.
It’s true the number of women ranking marriage as a priority in their lives has gone up while for men it has gone down, but the percent change even over the last decade is relatively marginal. And it’s not an obsession. It’s an option. As Rebecca Traister has noted, modern women have options. That’s the key distinction.
To be able to have those choices actualized, you require finances, and the access to more monetary resources, money, comes from the provision of advanced or rarefied skills in the work environment, which many women are working on acquiring or have already acquired.
Women dominate the universities. Their long-term options with advanced skills continue to increase because they are making the more conscientious choices about a long-term future for finances, and so options to make flexible choices about fulfillment and direction in life.
The Empress’s New Clothes (and Attitude)
In my (Phoebe’s) experience, while myths continue to be spun, non-Western women at universities in the UK have changed attitudes to the expectations placed on them from their families and societies.
In their last year of university, rather than asking each other if or how they’ve planned out their wedding, they’re instead trying to put up hurdles to prevent them from going home.
This is through securing a corporate job (which secures their financial independence) or a Masters degree (giving them more independence and time to really decide what it is they want to do with their lives), and I have seen first hand how much pressure both avenues put on the student.
The application process for corporate firms is intensely competitive and rigorous, and while the requirements needed for Masters programmes aren’t to the same degree they are still strenuous to applicants.
These activities are what students I personally know, would rather go through than return to their homes, lose their independence (as they’ve been studying abroad for so long without familial support) and come back under the umbrella of societal expectations.
While this is seen in a university setting, it’s a waiting game to see if this will be reflected on a wider margin in countries where there are stricter expectations on women. Of course, it is easier for those female international students who are of a higher class to go home and stick to their independent lifestyles.
These questions of “Who will they invite to the wedding? Where will it be? How will they plan it?” might just remain on the minds of the parents of these women, for those who are fortunate enough to go away to study, and those who don’t have the opportunity.]
Original publication in Humanist Voices.