I’m a feminist, but… Careers and female envy

Ciara Dossett

Every week I listen to the Guilty Feminist Podcast. Each episode starts with the hosts sharing their ‘I’m a feminist, but…” statements. I know what mine would be for this week: “I’m a feminist, but when female friends tell me about their professional successes my first feeling is often envy”.

Cambridge at the moment seems to be a haze of emails from the careers department, friends clicking ‘interested’ on networking events on Facebook and people discussing their hectic but oh-so-wonderful summer internships. My diary is filled with careers talks and meet and greets (which I optimistically pencil in and usually don’t end up going to).

When my friends and I ask each other how we are the answer is usually ‘busy’ followed by a knowing nod. The ‘milk round’ in Cambridge terrifies me: the myriad of choices, rather than appearing exciting, set me off into a whirl of panic. In conversations I dread the inevitable ‘so what are you plans after you graduate?’ and the subsequent AHHHHHHHH which goes off in my head.

I don’t know what it is specifically about female friends’ successes that makes me envious – I get this feeling with my male friends too, but not to the same extent. Rationally I know this is silly. In the job market I am competing against both men and women, so why do stories of female success cut more deeply? Don’t get me wrong, I’m delighted for friends who have secured amazing jobs, but I would be lying if I said this was my only feeling.

Perhaps it’s something to do with the workplaces themselves: fields are often male-dominated and set women up to compete due to a scarcity of top leadership positions for women. There also appears to be more pressure on girls to ‘have it together’ – to have some sort of plan for a life where we ‘can have it all’. Is this increased competitiveness detrimental to our future careers? Does it drive us to try harder or intimidate us from applying for jobs? I’m not sure. What I do know is that I want to be in an environment where women support and celebrate one another. I’m trying to be a better participant in this.

It is the pressure to have your life all planned out that I’m struggling with. In the past I  always knew what the next step was: primary school then secondary school then university. But now what? Last year, this question drove me crazy. With many friends applying to internships, I felt overwhelmed: I thought I needed to work out exactly what I wanted to do next and then secure the perfect internship in this field.

On paper I had what appeared to be the ‘perfect’ summer. The previous summer I spent most of the time at home, sitting, flopping and jealously looking through friends’ Instagram pages at their seemingly perfect travels or their experience of the #londonlife. This summer I’d decided that this wasn’t going to happen. This was going to be “MY summer”. I was going to do all the things you were supposed to do in these precious and few long summer holidays. This included an internship in London. Although I met some amazing people and don’t want to sound ungrateful, I wasn’t as enthralled by the internship as I’d hoped I would be. So I will have to return to the drawing board in terms of future careers. I’ve come back to Cambridge exhausted and learnt that my ‘instagrammable’ summer maybe wasn’t so perfect after all.

And now that my final year has started, real life is quickly approaching and although not having a clear plan seems daunting, I’m increasingly trying to see it as an exciting opportunity. Slowly I’m working out the difference between what I want to do and what I ‘should’ do. Just because everyone else is applying to things doesn’t mean you have to as well. I’m trying to be genuinely happy for friends, particularly girl friends, who have secured jobs or have a clear life plan (however difficult that may sound). In short, I’m trying to be less guilty and more of a feminist. Mostly, I’m just trying to enjoy my final year in what is one of my favourite places in the world and then see what happens next.

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