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Monday, 27 May 2019

Us against the world …. My #heforshe

I could not have achieved the things that I have without my husband. There I said it. It is about time that we acknowledge and appreciate the men that are supportive of women empowerment and it is about time that women are comfortable enough to say that I am a human being and I need support.

Women empowerment is debated widely in the literature and in the academic circles even more. Women and particularly mothers face extreme challenges with regards to time management, unequal opportunities and lack of support from their family and their institutions. Too many things are expected from us and maybe it is us to blame in a way because we have shown that we are able. There are cultures however that are not as supportive and conducive to the new profile of a woman-academic/researcher and leader. There are women among us that have thought of or they have already quit academia due to various systemic pressures. Women with brilliant minds that decided they cannot juggle everything because most of the times they feel alone in that. Within the whole turbulence of discussions and condemnation of husbands, fathers and males in general that are constraining the women’s true potential for progress, I would like here to shout “there are exceptions that maybe confirm the rule”. I have one of those.

I met my husband (or myprince as per past blogs) when I was in my second year of my Masters and only brand new in South Africa. He had his own challenges that year but I don’t remember me ever waking up in the morning without finding an encouraging message from him. I am more productive in the quietness of the night and hence, I was studying until the early morning hours. Of course, him being a working person and training hard for Ironman, he could not follow my rhythms; he would go to bed early but never, without a supporting message to give me strength for the night sessions.

He proposed to me during the second year of my PhD. Now for those that have not been through that journey, the second year of a PhD is the hardest to me. During the first year, NOBODY asks you when you plan on finishing and you don’t mind saying “I am not sure what is my specific topic yet”. The traditional and old-fashioned society, of course, raised the doubts “she is going to have a PhD, he does not even have a degree; how will he feel?”. I was upset at those moments with the people, the society, the norms, everything. So do I need to keep myself from progressing in order to accommodate such beliefs? I was not prepared to sacrifice my dreams and happiness for anyone. But I did not need to. The positive from all these doubts is that it provided us with the opportunity to discuss in detail our views on the matter. His position made me more sure about spending my life with him: “ we are partners. If you succeed, I am proud of and happy for you. If I succeed, you are proud of and happy for me. We don’t compete against each other. It is us against the world”.

And through the years, he proved this view with his acts and not just words. He has been the audience for countless lectures’ preparations and presentations. He is my soundboard when I am confused about a research idea. He will challenge me so that I motivate and justify my thoughts better. He is the first one that will ask me “why not?” when I am insecure. Many times, he is really my manager and my promoter. He does not merely allow me to have a meaningful career; he applauds it and he would not expect anything less from me. He was the one jumping up when the email confirming my promotion arrived, or the NRF rating or actually every single time I tell him that a paper got published. He is the one that will sit and discuss with me when a paper gets rejected (sometimes pretending he is interested in what I am talking about). He has not complained once about my travels – on the contrary, he makes sure I get cute videos and photos from the kids every single day. (yes, I also get the days that I want to scream “pick up the bloody coffee mug from the window” but that’s another story).

It is the small things that count and that is something we forget to appreciate. Saying that you support your partner in all his/her decisions but in the crucial moment, when you are needed, you are absent does not mean anything. All of us need approval, need appreciation, and need support. All of us need them but even more, us women, and us women working mothers, and us women working mothers and academics. Not because we are special and not because women cannot do things without assistance (on the contrary….). It is because we value this support in a different manner and because our paths are a tiny bit more difficult as we try to develop our voice. What is the one way to receive all these? 

The first step is to provide them to our partners unconditionally because that is how relationships work. We can lead by our example and show to our partners how it can be done (at the same time, we also demonstrate to our daughters and sons how it is done). The second step (equally important) is to accept graciously such support without minimizing ourselves for doing so. We are human beings too ( WHAT???). The third step is to include our partners in our professional lives, discuss our challenges, our fears, our dreams and aspirations. Let’s make them partners in who we are in its entirety and not the one side of our personality. Finally, how about we show our appreciation openly without taking it for granted? Indeed some things are self-explanatory (if it is not my husband that will take over the kids when I am travelling then who? BUT he could have done so after fighting with me, or being upset for days after I am back, but he doesn’t.

Maybe the key is to say thank you and I love you more often than we do.

Make the “good guys” the example and the topic of the discussion.

Maybe that’s the only way to provide the right role models for future generations.

Maybe working mothers, women in science and academia, stay at home mothers, or why not maybe more people will smile more often, will succeed more often, and will be free to dream more and bigger.

PS. Homework for all of us: Watch the movie "on the basis of sex" - role models for spouses and fighters