Women with one-track minds
The super-successful sportswomen competing at the London Games are a reminder of the soaring glory of monotasking
By Jenny McCartney7
11 Aug 2012
In the film Beaches, there’s an immortal line uttered in conversation by C”‰C Bloom, the attention-grabbing New York singer played by Bette Midler. “That’s enough about me,” she says. “Let’s talk about you. What do you think of me?”
With all the discussion of “role models” recently, I’m beginning to think that Bloom’s circular line of reasoning increasingly applies to modern women in general. We look at a woman in the public eye, be she widely celebrated for political success, sporting prowess, or an unusually round, assertive bottom, and we immediately think: “Let’s talk about her. What does she mean for me?”
Take, for example, the sudden resignation of Louise Mensch as an MP last week. Mrs Mensch had pressed, with uncanny accuracy, on a number of those topics that light up “areas of special interest” in the female brain: the authorship of chick lit novels; her chiselled glamour, with the tantalising rumour of plastic surgery; and her combination of a high-profile career as a Conservative MP with mothering three young children. As a result, when she decided to chuck it all in, and go and live with her American music-manager husband in New York, there were cries of “Does this mean that women can’t have it all?” Well, no. It just means that in Mensch’s case, it was ”“ as one might have foreseen ”“ stretching sanity to combine a job and three children with living on a different continent from one’s spouse.
When a male public figure does something unexpected, men very rarely relate it back to themselves. But then ”“ despite the mission creep of buffing and Botox ”“ men are still not generally caught up in the intensifying trio of pressures brought to bear on the average woman today: that she be deemed physically attractive; that she succeed in her career; and that she also at some stage bear and raise children for whom she will, in all probability, carry the larger part of the daily responsibility. These elements have fused into the ghastly catchphrase “having it all”, a measure of success that is externally imposed and internally absorbed, and is often a tall order to achieve and maintain.
Most women bump along only in part-harmony with the notion of “having it all”, making gestures towards it: a new haircut here, a bedtime story there, perhaps a shift towards flexible employment in a bid for more time with the family. Sanity lies in taking the route of relaxed imperfection, or only choosing the headlong pursuit of one or two categories. Yet I think it is the sense of being keenly judged in various separate roles that makes ordinary women so preoccupied with the compromises apparently made ”“ or not ”“ by prominent women.