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WORD VIEW: Can women have it all?

Esther Phillips

WORD VIEW: Can women have it all?

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I recently attended a women’s forum where the question Can Women Have It All? was the topic for discussion. The question itself could be problematic, since one may ask how we quantify “all” and how the value differs from one woman to another.
Perhaps an even more fundamental point to ponder is whether this question would be asked about men. Can men have it all? Is it a given that they can or do? Does “all” mean the same thing to men as it does to women, generally speaking? And why are women still having to ask this question in these modern times?
For the purposes of this short discussion, let us accept the fact that underlying the question are issues of power and status.
For one thing, the phrase, “having it all” implies not only privilege but suggests that one may now be above having to negotiate with anyone for anything. For the woman, however, such a stance may be particularly difficult since her traditional role as mother and nurturer may often require more flexibility and compromise than may be expected of the male.  
Everything considered, however, it would seem that Barbadian women are doing quite well. Thousands of us are acquiring an education, owning homes and raising families at the same time.
The truth is that Barbados has always been a strongly matriarchal society with women running their households, each generation passing on their skills to the ones coming after. What, then, was the relevance of the question to this particular group?
From early in the group discussion, it was established according to good Bajan common sense, that nobody, man or woman, could ever have it all, no matter how one chose to interpret the notion. The discussion then turned to what seemed more manageable: the question of happiness and contentment. If one had these, then that was as close to having it all as would ever be possible.
The rest of the discussion was fairly predictable.
For the very brave few, happiness and contentment included sexual fulfillment or, on the other hand, no worries about the lack thereof. For others it was closeness to family and friends. For several, spiritual connectedness was their ultimate satisfaction. Forgiveness and acceptance of self was also another means towards happiness.
On leaving the group, I had mixed feelings. Several women had remained silent and this is always a point of interest for me. Was it natural shyness, or the reticence of many of us Barbadians to express our honest feelings publicly in a society as small as this? How much did each of us know at the end of the session what the other women really thought or felt?
Most of us are familiar with the tell-it-all American talk-shows. But tell it all in Barbados? Not if you want to avoid being the subject of gossip and heaven knows what else. Given this reality, were some women saying what they thought it was safe to say, rather than what they really felt?
I also found myself wondering about the absence of a dissident voice that could stimulate a wider range of ideas and perceptions. Where was this voice? One woman raised the point about her atheism but chose not to expand on her views. She probably thought better than to push against the wall of conformity.
Ethnicity was also a matter of interest to me. What do Barbadian women of Caucasian roots have to say? What about the Barbadian women of Asian extraction?
All said, I believe that forums such as this one I attended are necessary. Spaces must be provided for people of both genders to express themselves and to be heard. Among the voices and stories will always be those that provide food for thought and lessons to be learnt.
I can’t help but wonder, though, about the varying levels of “reality” in this Barbadian society. It cannot be denied that the women in our society now have several different faces and voices.
In addition, the women in our group were generally over 40. It would be more than interesting to hear from the 15 to 35 age group. I suspect that their discussion on what it means to have it all, or what for them constitutes happiness and contentment would be very different.