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Motherload: Don’t have a child if you want a career in Art

Opinion Piece

Women have more roles to play than men do. That’s just a fact. But when it comes to having a child and juggling a career, no boss will ever want her to be in two places at once. We have the reputation for being able to multi-task. Phone in one hand, coffee in another whilst trying to balance between a busy schedule and a personal life. But when it comes to children, a woman has little choice but to kiss her Art career goodbye.

Despite the rights enforced by companies to ensure that women can leave to have a baby and still be financially stable, it doesn’t do much to reassure her socially. The rights are there but companies are not always honest about the reasons for letting someone go. On top of that, will your job be safe once the child is in daycare? Or will it be granted to a more independent and committed male who isn’t tied to a little body? The question really boils down to this : What’s more important? A career or being a mum? The fact that the world pressures her to choose between her life and her career is a problem in itself. Have one or have the other, it’s up to you. Women who want it all are forced into a pressure cooker reality. In one door, out another all day everyday. Already we live such busy lives. Adding a child into the mix and you’d be lucky to have even ten minutes to yourself.

As Jennifer Thatcher states in an article about women in the art world published in The White review, “Women express anxiety at the prospect of having children, feeling they must avoid visible obstacles to their career progression in a world in which one must appear continually available for residencies, commissions or even just networking”.
In the Art world where opportunities are scarce and fiercely sought after, having a child does visibly restrain you from going further. You are needed everywhere you go from openings to board meetings. A career in the arts is more demanding than a pathway in any other field. Main reason being, the art world is not facilitated by many outsider organisations. Unless the arts body is a major one representing a country, state or major municipality the organisation is most likely independent and underfunded relying heavily on its volunteers and few paid employees to sustain its existence. 

No wonder the top positions are held by men. They are available. Having no other duties besides running the show, they faithfully dedicate the entirety of their time towards their positions and ultimately, careers. Valeria Napoleone, a contemporary art collector with a focus on women’s art states, “Women are penalised by the art market because of the element of time. Time is the factor that is most valued by the art market : speed”.  

Money and time, the motivators for the success of any thriving organisation are put into jeopardy when a female employee has personal priorities as significant as a child. The problem persists, we can’t ask a woman to choose between a career and being a mum. But we do. Women want and deserve both, but, until the art world (the world in general, to be perfectly frank) is more accommodating to the roles and rights of women, having to choose between one or the other or fighting for the right to have both is the reality we must face.

Of course, many women do boast both stellar careers and joyful home lives. It is possible to have both but it’s the reality for only a lucky few. There’s no doubt that in order to have both she must be strong, resilient and hardworking. But she also must have favourable circumstances. For those who aren’t so lucky there lies the choice between motherhood or career. Always between the two.

Words by Yalei Wang