“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
Maya Angelou’s wise words are a good starting point for acknowledging the potential we have as people to shape our future by truly learning from the mistakes of our past and doing better, not only for ourselves but for society as a whole. By having this self-awareness, we can perhaps begin to imagine and strive towards positive female futures or potentialities.
Potentiality is the possibility of something happening or someone doing something in the future. It’s worth looking at the women of the future. It’s also worth looking at the future of women through this lens of potential futures or potentialities rather than one single future. What is the future of women? What will women of the future be like? These questions are interdependent. It’s impossible to ask one without at least considering the other. The external factors affecting women’s lives are undeniably important in allowing or indeed preventing women from achieving the full potential of their chosen destinies. It’s time for me to give you some food for thought instead of a bunch of prescriptive future visions.
Technology, working patterns, as well as a shift in social and cultural attitudes could all play a crucial role in the future of women. Undoubtedly, women still face (and perhaps will still face) certain barriers in the world of work as well as in the everyday when faced with casual sexism. Nevertheless, let’s look at the positive possibilities that the future may bring by combining technological advancements with a more enlightened and less stereotyped view of women. It’s fair to say that most social and cultural changes are usually gradual processes and utopia is not a real place: will we always be somewhere between progress and perfection when it comes to the social and economic issues affecting women?
It would take a clairvoyant or a time traveller to tell us exactly how the women of 2088 will differ from the women of today and if indeed this future proves to be a state of perfection or one plagued with its very own (new) set of problems. It’s easy to judge the past and imagine the future according to our current set of ethical and social values, but what happens when the values of the future don’t live up to our expectations or if there’s a shift in paradigm we never envisioned? These are interesting questions to ask before we project our ideas onto an imagined future.
Problem-solving and critical thinking are and will continue to be in high demand in an increasingly complex world faced with issues such as climate change and the likelihood of further pandemics like the one we’ve seen recently. Future generations of women can only become the scientists and doctors of tomorrow if we have universal access to education for all children. Without the bedrock of education, it’s impossible to create, or imagine, the independent, strong and intelligent women of the future. This is a global struggle which does not exclude men or boys as they play a vital role in the social, educational and personal fabric of women’s lives. The ability to think critically as well as having the necessary knowledge will prove to be priceless in a world hungry for innovative problem-solvers and lateral thinkers.
The WFH (work from home) revolution we have all witnessed throughout the current pandemic has shown us how changing work patterns can directly affect the lives of women for both better and worse. Hopefully, the future will offer a more balanced approach to help negotiate work and home life for both men and women. It’s difficult to imagine at present, but there is the potential to create healthier and more efficient working patterns that benefit both employers and employees without putting more unnecessary pressure on many working parents.
It’s worth bearing in mind that every individual woman’s future is uniquely shaped by various different factors that vary from person to person. In short – the group experience might not always reflect the individual’s and vice versa. As ideas are in constant flux – perhaps new ways of imagining and practising female solidarity will be created too. Ones that go beyond ‘groupthink’ into more nuanced understandings of femininity as well as empowerment.
There is one thing we can’t underestimate though – the resolve and determination that women have shown throughout history to bring about change through personal decisions and group actions. Personal and collective choices can become endeavours of historical importance sometimes without knowing it. However, it would be deeply unfair to categorise women merely through their group identity, but undoubtedly the future will provide everyone no matter what their core identity with a series of impactful changes and stark choices; from the effects of new technology on the environment, working patterns, childcare to (hopefully) the gradual erosion of stereotyping based solely on sex or any other group category.
Who knows, maybe in the future the individual destinies of women will be forged without the external commentary that they are so often subject to today. Perhaps women will be seen as equally complex and as eclectic as men without the need to justify personal or professional choices. However unachievable these ideas may sound now, perhaps by examining their very potentiality we can start preparing the necessary groundwork instead of waiting for a perfect future to dawn upon us.
In a nutshell, without the gift of clairvoyancy, it’s near impossible to paint a portrait of the exemplary woman of the future. However, this inability is the essential beauty of future potentialities. The unknown gives us the potential to start shaping through our actions and choices in the here and now. The important question is one that you can ask yourself: how do I imagine the future of women or women of the future? Just as there is no one clear-cut answer to this question we can safely say that the women of the future will be just as (if not more!) diverse and vibrant as the women of today. Let’s look at the women of the future through the kaleidoscope of potential futures – potentialities – rather than prescriptive wishes. You wouldn’t want someone telling you what your future self should look like now, would you?