Marriage and success: can women have both?

“Nothing but the achievement of economic independence by women, which is already seen clearly ahead of us, would be needed to make marriage disappear altogether, not by formal abolition but by simple disuse.”

These are the words of Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, written in the 1930’s.

It is eighty years later and marriage hasn’t disappeared yet but I daresay it has changed shape a lot since then.

The recent death of Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor gave me the impetus to explore what it is that highly successful women do differently from the rest of us. 

She is revered for her acting and beauty but marriage is one area she is not considered a role model: she married eight times, twice to the same man. 

I thought of other women who reached the pinnacle in their chosen fields including, Mother Theresa, Oprah Winfrey, JK Rowlings who wrote the Harry Potter books and became the first author to attain billionaire status and Tina Turner. 

Two married and got divorced; one re-married much later in life and in the case of Mother Theresa and Oprah, they chose not to marry or have children at all. 

I am convinced that the single-minded focus and dedication required to achieve such levels of success is not compatible with marriage, especially in the African context. 

Granted, not everyone can reach those heights of achievement but even if we bring the standard down, there are still challenges. 

Is there really an external force bent on keeping women down or on closer inspection are there some decisions that women are making which sidetrack them from reaching their destinies?   

I think that the romantic and idealistic notion which society (especially women) attaches to marriage is part of the problem. 

Marriage is an institution, a contractual obligation that takes time and effort to execute.

It is also a way of life – and not an achievement in and of itself. 

The implementation of multiple contracts, (marriage, business and/or employment) requires a high level of sacrifice one way or the other. 

And most likely it’s the woman’s athletic dream, the singing career, the studies, the profession or business venture that takes second place to keeping the marriage intact.

Opportunities for advancement are lost because the woman cannot relocate to another country or travel as much as is required. 

Women leave their careers midway to raise the children or move as their spouses are transferred. 

Re-entry into the workplace presents its own challenges; systems and technologies have changed, colleagues have moved up and compromises have to be made, assuming one is lucky enough to get a job.

Incidentally this conflict affects highly successful men too; Jack Welch is known as one of the most successful business leaders of all time but the fact that he is on his third marriage is hardly mentioned. 

The “husband sees much less of his wife than he does of his business partner, his fellow clerk, or whoever works beside him day by day. 

Man and wife do not as a rule live together: they only breakfast together, dine together and sleep in the same room.

“In most cases the woman knows nothing of the man’s working life and he knows nothing of her working life” noted George Bernard Shaw.

In my view, it’s important for women to consider their ambitions and dreams early on in life and to see if these are compartible with the state of matrimony. 

Many are making choices in line with their goals – one successful speaker I know lives on one continent and her husband on another, others choose to further their studies or relocate wherever opportunity takes them. 

Whether this is the best decision or not is for each woman and not society to decide. 

It is futile for a woman to enter into marriage knowing that the burden of domestic and other duties is skewed heavily towards her and then cry foul later on in life. 

So to answer the question, I would have to say, unless one is blessed with an understanding husband, it’s not possible to achieve meteoric success and sustain a blissful marriage.

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