On Being Everything: An Issue That Applies To Everyone

As the world outside of the bubble is becoming more and more real, the pressure is piling on for us to become more and more perfect…


I recently read a blog post by Emma Hope Allwood, a 20-year old University student who discusses the pressures faced by women today as “a generation of perfectionists”.

Allwood argues that nowadays, young women are pushed to excel in all areas of life. And yet, they are constantly faced with their own sense of inferiority. “We must impress others, even if we are nursing the secret that we don’t really impress ourselves.

She references Courtney Martin’s perceptive observation that “We are the daughters of the feminists who said “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything.”’.

Allwood’s argument is insightful, contentious and relatable to almost every female I know. However, in my opinion, there is one area where the post falls short.

This constant pressure to be more than just smart, the compulsion to compare ourselves to our peers and criticise any area in which we don’t measure up, and the persistent feeling of not doing enough, does not just hound women; it affects men too.

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Share the love, Emma: men have the pressure to be ‘everything’ as well.

I’m as feminist as the next person, and whilst I agree with Allwood that the issue is exacerbated by women’s growing power to do more subsequently pressuring them to be more, coupled withever-present criticism leveled at women for their weight, dress sense, body hair, etc” (just see the Daily Mail’s recent article on Kate Middleton’s grey hairs for a particularly infuriating example), I would extend Allwood’s description to include males.

Coming from a high-pressure Grammar school where a B-grade stood for “Better luck next time” and those that didn’t apply to Oxbridge were part of a minority, I have been familiar with this growing pressure to exceed all expectations from a young age. Work experience, volunteering and extra-curricular activities were simply part of the norm, as opposed to an achievement to be proud of.

This has only continued at University; my advantage constantly encourages us to attend networking events with major companies and workshops on how to impress in interviews; I was even told to get a business card, which at this point would read “Professional sitter-downer”.

Everyone seems to have a plan, summer placements set up and a CV primed and ready to impress companies.  Just the other day I panic-ate 14 rich tea biscuits because I couldn’t decide where to apply for summer placements. The reason I couldn’t decide is because I’m 19; why should I have to decide my career before I’ve even left my teens? Even before I’m 21 seems a bit harsh. And why do I feel bad that I’m not following the Warwick norm of going into investment banking, despite the fact I still count on my hands?  The average person changes career seven times; maybe this number would be less if we weren’t forced to decide such a huge life choice so early on.

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You want multiple internships at Goldman Sachs, an exec position, to be a member of a sports team AND a first-class degree?

We are told now, with unemployment rates between 16 and 24 currently at 21%, that to get a job we need to have a CV full to the brim of volunteering, work experience, leadership roles, extra-curricular activities, part-time jobs,  not to mention a stellar academic record. We are expected to juggle the equivalent of four or five jobs: student, sportsperson, volunteer, society member, and employee. We are pitted against each other from the off, making it normative to compare ourselves to others; the result of which will almost always be disappointment. We are being put under exceptional pressure from ourselves and others to constantly do and be more.

Martin’s assertion that, ‘We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation…We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others…” is almost entirely spot-on, except it should not be “We are the girls”, but “we are the youths”. The pressure is on, but the question remains: will you be able to handle it?