Morris on… Being biologically inferior

“If you regret not doing something in your life, anything, what would it be?”

“What do I regret not having?” 

She hadn’t misheard me; her subconscious had changed the question for her. But we both knew why. I continued in any case:

“No, doing. Like doing a thing.” 

“Oh. Still… Children. I wanted a house full. Such is life.”


I think there’s a book somewhere, a book that has written inside of it all the rules of society that we just know about without anyone ever having explicated them to us. Like how long one should use the hand dryer for whilst there are other people waiting, or the maximum amount of conversation one can have with the people we find ourselves sharing a lift with. In that book, it is written that you cannot be female and have a blog without ranting at least once, the spirit of Joan of Arc cheering you on waving a burning bra over her head, about being a woman. Feminism, if you will.

So that’s what we’re doing today.

Well, sort of. I at least want to write about why being female is really, really awful sometimes.


Today is Friday. The weather recently has been beautiful. The “green spaces” in Paris, those of which are few and far between, have been 10-man-per-one-metre-squared for the past week; people have been in their pants in the middle of the city just sunbathing; ice-cream sales have gone through the roof. It’s been wonderful, especially if you’re like me and the sun just makes everything better.

But, as in all heavily populated cities, there’s a corollary to heat in the confined spaces, where traffic flow is heavy and incessant and primarily comprised of 1997 Renaults: the pollution. You can look directly at the sun, which I’m doing right this minute, and it just looks like a two-pence piece that’s had a go on the St. Tropez, because of the density of the atmosphere. The air is so thick we can’t breathe properly. The government has told us all not to run, cycle, or even to go outside if you’re considered “vulnerable” (coincidentally, I’ve just crossed a lady jogging in a dental mask). We’re all tired.

Evidently, nothing changes. My 7am train is still loaded with nose-to-nose commuters, as will be the one I run for at 8pm. In fact, the government has apparently been on the trippy juice, as they’ve also made all the Vélib (Boris Bike equivalents) free to use for a couple of days. Do we bike or not bike?! Whatever. In any case, we’re all just a bit more tired.

I miss England and my home so much I just refuse to think about it insofar as possible. I miss fresh air, countryside sunsets, and chips with gravy. I miss beer gardens, Magners and Tesco Express (I wish I was joking). The extremely fast pace of life here is so necessary because if you get about five minutes in which you aren’t highlighting documents, typing up notes or making sure your commercial awareness is up to scratch, you just sort of collapse internally and ask yourself why am I doing this?

The answer is that of the vast majority of questions in our sad, sad world: mulla. Money makes the world goes round. Money to make you happy, whatever your idea of happiness may be; whether it’s a pair of Zanottis, a new library or the Belfast sink you always wanted, it’s extremely rare that getting paid doesn’t satisfy a person.

And I think no matter how egotistical you are, we’re all human. So in the end, what we want to spend money on the most is a roof. Not just like a roof floating around the ether of its own accord, but a roof under which we hope one day a partner will find themselves, eventually accompanied by some miniature versions of the two of you. All of you together, arguing about who got more bolognese on their spaghetti, or why Nickelodeon is better than CBBC, or why we DEFINITELY need to spend £89.99 on this FABULOUS cushion for the sofa in the front room we only use when the in-laws are over. But the type of arguments that never drag on, and in fact only occur because you’re that thing everyone wants: a family.

But I missed a step here, a fairly important step in the grand scheme of things. The bit before the roof, and the partner and the miniatures. The falling in love part. The marriage part, if you’re partial. The pregnancy part. Because we never plan that bit. We just skip from A-Z in our dreams. From the hideous, seemingly incessant grafting to the end goal that is the embodiment of happiness, cliché as it may be. And that’s where the problem lies. How, as a woman, do you start your career with the intention of becoming the crème de la crème in it, whilst conciliating that intention with the knowledge that one day, if you really do want the entire reason you’re sat on a train at 7am taking shorter breaths than normal, reading about the Ve République and avoiding the filthy sleeves of the homeless man thrusting his hand in your face begging for you, you personally, to just give him 50 cents every 10 minutes… One day you’re going to have to get pregnant?

Everybody loves pregnant ladies. Everybody… except employers.

This isn’t something you think about until you start actively making sacrifices in the name of your career, and those sacrifices hurt. The guilty cutting of ties for such a seemingly selfish cause. The fact that you purposely place yourself in a position of (hopefully) short-term unhappiness for the sake of eventual joy. When you’re young, it’s not life changing. But then you ask yourself: when will this end? When will I stop saying no? When am I going to have to choose?

There is a lady studying at Paris II that just does it because she can, because she was bored in her early retirement. An American lady that has already lived the life that we aspire to. She was an attorney in central Manhattan, well remunerated enough to be able to afford an apartment in the city centre, in order to be close enough to her sons’ schools that she never missed a school play or doctor’s appointment. She could also afford a full-time nanny to take over the late nights she had to work to be able to send both her boys to college (college costs $50,000/year for a four-year course in the States). She’s a lovely, wonderful lady and we’re grateful to have been able to grill her on her personal life.

But she’s divorced. And she also admitted feeling guilty that she wasn’t a large enough part of her babies’ childhood, although she has a great relationship with them. She confirmed our fears that being a full-time mum and a lawyer isn’t possible. I also know another solicitor that told me she had to go part-time in order to raise her kids, although she too expressed the was-I-there-enough self-reproach.

So you have to sacrifice one. It’s easy to say well, the choice is obvious – you’re going to go with what makes you happy, with the kids and the family, right? But then when you think about it, you’ve already made countless decisions that make you sad. And again, you just don’t know when it’s going to end.

There’s a reason why in February 2011, the Davies Review of ‘Women on Boards’ was published, with a key recommendation for FTSE 100 companies of a minimum of 25 per cent female representation on boards by 2015. That’s a goal – not a reality – of just one quarter. Lack of equality in employment aside, those women, at least in the majority of cases, made a choice that the rest couldn’t. The thing is, when you’ve spent a quarter century striving to prove your worth and that you deserve a hefty paycheque, it’s hard to accept that at some moment in your life you’re going to have to be inferior – at least in an employer’s eyes – to your male counterpart just because you’re the one that has to be pregnant.

Now I don’t want to be a completely ignorant idiot and say it’s OK for men, they don’t have to raise the child because I’m fully aware that this isn’t true. But from when one of my lecturers came in late one day last term because his “wife gave birth last night” – LAST NIGHT and he still came in the next day – you have to be realistic. That said, one of my favourite lecturers in the world told us that the reason why he turned down a six-figure salary he was head hunted for was because he wanted to be able to come home to spaghetti arguments and the like. So I appreciate that it does run both ways.

Normally when I write I have a moral to the story, an end point. A bit of preaching. But I really, really don’t this time because at least in the back of my mind, I’m really, really scared that one day I’m going to say no to my last chance, and this is something that I know is true for a lot of female students with high ambitions.

The little dialogue at the start occurred between my grandmother and myself the other day. She didn’t choose a career, though; unfortunately fate imposed a limit of just one child on her in the shape of illness. So she got to the end of her days regretting that one thing (she couldn’t think of anything else). And it just made me wonder if that thought would be enough to make me say yes one day, to get over myself and stop sacrificing the people and experiences I want more than all the money in the world.

Work hard, kids.


[I can’t leave you guys depressed so… Here’s some optimistic pregnant lady employee stuff. #tight]