I don’t want to be a doctor.
Don’t get me wrong, doctors are amazing people. Saving lives, every single day. Working ridiculous hours to ensure that people get the healthcare that they need. Being part of cutting-edge research that improves the lives of millions of people. Doctors are incredibly important to our society, and I am so grateful that we have them.
But I wouldn’t want to be one.
I would make an absolutely terrible doctor. Seriously. I faint at even the thought of needles, let alone the sight of them. I hate blood and get all queasy if people talk about it too much. I was okay at science at school, and I found some of it quite interesting, but it never inspired me the way literature and history did. I find maths and chemical equations beyond GCSE level difficult (for non-Brits, those are the compulsory exams taken at age sixteen here), and the thought of spending at least six years of my life struggling with them does not appeal.
And lets not forget, being a doctor takes a lot of work, a hell of a lot. I have lots of friends at various stages of the medical process, from first-year medics who are dissecting their first cadaver, to clinical students who actually get to go into hospitals and care for patients. These people work incredibly hard. At my university, if a medic is sick for more than two weeks, they have to take the rest of the year off and restart, because they’re never going to catch up. Personally, I think I work pretty hard at my subject too, but then, I love it. If I wasn’t doing something I enjoyed this much, I would be miserable like, all of the time. So I look at my medic friends and think thank goodness, there are enough people who want to be doctors that people like me, who would hate it and be terrible, don’t have to. I have a huge amount of respect for them, and I certainly value them (especially when I have a cycling accident and break my ribs, or come down with a horrible case of labyrinthitis). But I don’t want to be one.
The thing is (and this is where it gets controversial), being a mother and a housewife is, in my mind, exactly the same thing. Women who choose not to have a standard career but to raise their children and run a household full time can work incredibly hard. They are also caring for other people and devoting their lives to what I think is a very noble calling. And I am genuinely happy for them that they are able to do something they love and enjoy, that benefits other people as well.
I could never be one, but then, that isn’t the point.
All too often in feminism, you see the divide between women who want a ‘conventional’ or ‘traditional’ role within a family, and woman who want high-powered careers without even the thought of children. One side thinks the other is unfeminine and selfish, and the other thinks their opponents are brainwashed by the Patriarchy, devoid of any kind of choice or personal agency. And that argument hurts both sides. I have no trouble believing that some women really do want to devote their lives to their husbands and children, and I wish them all the best with that. It is not what I personally would choose, but no one is asking me to choose it. I wouldn’t choose to be a doctor, but I don’t judge doctors, or think they’re incapable of making their own decisions. Rather I respect them for doing something that I never could.
Of course, the problem is that women have conventionally been seen as mothers and housewives, so it’s often difficult to tell whether a woman who does fit such a role has chosen it, or has been pressured into it by her family/husband/society. And that’s a difficult situation, and one I can’t condone. But then, you see the same thing with doctors too. So many of my friends, mostly from certain religious or cultural backgrounds, were told in no uncertain terms by their parents that they had to go to medical school. It didn’t matter what they wanted (one, I vividly remember, wanted to study Spanish and Philosophy), they had to be doctors. And my heart goes out to them, because spending seven years in medical school and clinical school if you have no passion for it must be horrible. Yes, they are doing something worthy and noble, but that doesn’t matter if it isn’t a choice.
I should probably reiterate here that the thing that makes being a doctor, or a mother, or a fricking astronaut okay is choice. Choice choice choice choice choice.
(Incidentally, I know a girl called Lavinia who is in her fourth year of training to be a doctor, whose greatest ambition is to be a mother and have lots of children and give up work to raise them. She is at one of the best universities in the country, for which the competition to get onto the medical programme is fierce. She worked unbelievably hard just to get this far, but she is still ready to move on when she has the opportunity to settle down and have children. I’ll admit, I don’t understand her reasoning at all. She has taken two decisions which are completely alien to me. But she is an intelligent, talented woman, and I respect her enough to trust that she is choosing what she wants. And that’s all that matters.)
There are going to be people who think that being a mother and housewife isn’t even comparable to being a doctor. Doctors are intelligent and hard working and do a job that most people couldn’t cope with. And I say, so? You think being a mother is easy? You think having a tiny human depend on you for every aspect of their life means hours of leisure time? You think organising family life so that everything runs smoothly and there is always food on the table and the house always looks spotless leads to a life of luxury? I couldn’t do it, and I admire women – and, equally importantly, men – who can. If I ever have children, I’m going to want a nanny and a child-minder and a nursery school close by, so that I don’t have to be solely responsible for that kid’s well-being, because that would drive me slowly insane.
Equally, there are going to be people who tell me that women are just better at cooking/cleaning/child-rearing than men, that I’m not a real woman unless I’m a mother, that it’s selfish to put my career first, that my potential children will suffer, that I’ll love it once I actually give birth. No. Some women are better at this stuff than some men. Some women only feel complete when they have children, just like some men desperately want to be fathers. But not me, at least, not yet. And that’s actually a really good thing, because if I have children and give up my life in order to raise them, I will be unhappy and frustrated, which will not make my children happy, or my theoretical husband, or anyone I interact with. And the only person who knows when, if ever, it’s the right time to make that decision is me. Because, you know, I’m the one living it.
With this in mind, I try very hard not to tell people that their decisions are wrong, even if, like Lavinia, I cannot imaging living their lives. That’s okay, because no one is asking me to. I do not judge women who choose not to have careers so they can live like Betty Draper from Mad Men and have the traditional family life they want. That would be like judging someone for choosing to spend their days up to their elbows in blood, performing open-heart surgery. The world needs its mothers, and fathers, just like it needs its doctors. But it also needs its lawyers and teachers and accountants and postmen and writers and artists, and it’s not for me or anyone else to say who should fit it what category.
I’m a feminist. I believe in choice. And that means the choice to do the conventional, as well as the unconventional.
Good luck, Lavinia. I wish you all the best.