When two of the bloggers I follow posted about this piece in The Atlantic, I had to read it and well, it was right up my alley except that I felt like I knew all this before. I’m constantly surprised the women who call themselves feminists still believe that feminism is about having it all or just a womanly cause, and now I realise this is because I am from an entirely different wave of feminism and that those who allied themselves with it in the first or second wave had a very different set of ideas drummed into them.
Anyway, below (in italics) are my reactions as I read the article (so I change my mind on some things as I read further). I’d suggest you read the whole article… it’s a very powerful piece:
“Just about all of the women in that room planned to combine careers and family in some way. But almost all assumed and accepted that they would have to make compromises that the men in their lives were far less likely to have to make.”
And why is this? Hunter-gatherer vs nurturer again? Are women biologically predisposed to be nurterers.
“Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating “you can have it all” is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.”
What struck me about this article is that I was surprised that intelligent women in the 21st century still think feminism is about having it all. Maybe it’s because I’m part of some postmodern wave of feminism that I never laboured under this (mis?)apprehension.
“I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the wayAmerica’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.”
Hilary Clinton is awesome
“In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.”
“I am hardly alone in this realization. Michèle Flournoy stepped down after three years as undersecretary of defense for policy, the third-highest job in the department, to spend more time at home with her three children, two of whom are teenagers. Karen Hughes left her position as the counselor to President George W. Bush after a year and a half in Washingtonto go home to Texasfor the sake of her family. Mary Matalin, who spent two years as an assistant to Bush and the counselor to Vice President Dick Cheney before stepping down to spend more time with her daughters, wrote: “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”
Interesting that all of them stepped down during adolescence. Is this the real challenge, not infancy? Also, back to biological (or environmental or epigenetical) predisposition. Are women usually just better at communication and thus we are the best people to shepherd our children through this difficult time? (Does the same apply to toddlers then?) Are we better at communication because we have historically done this or have we historically done this because we are better?
Okay, about adolescence, later she explains it’s because many career women have babies later (around 40) so their career peaks coincide with their children’s adolescence. Understood.
“In Washington, “leaving to spend time with your family” is a euphemism for being fired.”
How true is this! I thought Flournoy was fired.
“A similar assumption underlies Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s widely publicized 2011 commencement speech at Barnard, and her earlier TED talk, in which she lamented the dismally small number of women at the top and advised young women not to “leave before you leave.” When a woman starts thinking about having children, Sandberg said, “she doesn’t raise her hand anymore … She starts leaning back.” Although couched in terms of encouragement, Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach. We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: “What’s the matter with you?”
I had the same reaction to Sandberg.
“When I told them I was writing this article, the lawyer said, “I look for role models and can’t find any.”
This may be the key term of the article. The generational shift. We no longer want to be men. We want to be us but go to work too.
“To admit to, much less act on, maternal longings would have been fatal to their careers.
But precisely thanks to their progress, a different kind of conversation is now possible. It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.”
Bravo. And what does it say about me that I knew this already? Maybe I should be Secretary for Family Policy or whatever. Obama, here I come.
“Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”
I dunno. The problem is that women are patriarchal too. Or misguided – as she herself was.
“Let’s briefly examine the stories we tell ourselves, the clichés that I and many other women typically fall back on when younger women ask us how we have managed to “have it all.”
Before she even gets started… the first one I can think of is the myth of the woman who doesn’t break stride at work during pregnancy. Yes, but at what cost to her health, the health of her child, her free time, her sanity? Have these been factored in even by the women themselves? Do they question why they feel the need to do it, to be “fair” to their employers? And at the heart of this somewhere is the idea that having children might be treated on par with a hobby – something I need to write a post on.
“On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen.”
Thank you. I can name some women I know among them, on a lesser scale than Condi Rice obviously. I admire them while being fully aware that I cannot be them. And I don’t think I need to be beaten up at work for it.
“These numbers are all the more striking when we look back to the 1980s, when women now in their late 40s and 50s were coming out of graduate school, and remember that our classes were nearly 50-50 men and women. We were sure then that by now, we would be living in a 50-50 world. Something derailed that dream.
Sandberg thinks that “something” is an “ambition gap”—that women do not dream big enough.
These “mundane” issues—the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office—cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap.
I have always been saying that we – and I mean both men and women – need to move to slower jobs when we have children. But I have also said that jobs need to stop glorifying the Type A. There is no reason that investment bankers or lawyers need to be on call 24/7. If airports can have a night-time shut-down why not the bloody stockmarket? Why do people agree to work these kind of shit hours? For money, pshaw! When enough smart people say, sorry, you can’t buy my life, maybe things will change.
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.
A very big Hmmm. I might be more radical as to suggest that the system needs to change to allow both parents to be able to do their jobs as parents and as shepherds of society’s future and that with technology today, this is eminently possible.
“She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.”
And a very big I Dunno. Is it biology or conditioning? Does it matter? I guess it does in the same way that whether women really like pink matters. If it’s conditioning, it’s easier to change. If it’s biology, it still can be… a couple of generations down the line. If we want.
“Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.”
Agree. And this holds good for both genders. I don’t know why she went on about women making “maternal” choices up there for so long.
“Personally, I have never seen a woman in her 40s enter the academic market successfully, or enter a law firm as a junior associate, Alicia Florrick of The Good Wife notwithstanding.”
Thank you for your honesty and putting this myth to rest, although crushingly. Maybe this is one more thing we need to change though? Ageism sucks as much as sexism.
“But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.”
Hmm. Yes. But…I feel like I have a but stuck there somewhere. I think it’s because I sense she’s harking back to the “maternal” thingie. To which one response would be “if you want to be maternal, then stuck to motherhood, as let’s go back to how it was in cavemen times because clearly that’s the more efficient division of labour”. And I would not know how to counter that. Then again, do we have to apologise and be penalized for being maternal. Is it realistic to only be maternal in a world in which one needs to be financially independent? Is it then fair to tell women to bear the world’s children but not excel? And what about the talent loss, due to women like Slaughter opting out?
“You should be able to have a family if you want one—however and whenever your life circumstances allow—and still have the career you desire.”
I thought this would be asking for too much. I still think it is. I think we need to work towards it but accept that it’s not going to happen in our lifetime and make our choices accordingly, while voicing our protest. Like the Jezebel pantyhose article.
It is one thing, for instance, for an organization to allow phone-ins to a meeting on an ad hoc basis, when parenting and work schedules collide—a system that’s better than nothing, but likely to engender guilt among those calling in, and possibly resentment among those in the room. It is quite another for that organization to declare that its policy will be to schedule in-person meetings, whenever possible, during the hours of the school day—a system that might normalize call-ins for those (rarer) meetings still held in the late afternoon.
There. Companies are you listening?
Also interesting that her example of this comes from Britian, while her examples of women falling off the race are from theUS. A cultural thing perhaps? I’ve seen this as the difference between American and US banks.
Two years ago, the ACLU Foundation ofMassachusettsdecided to replace its “parental leave” policy with a “family leave” policy that provides for as much as 12 weeks of leave not only for new parents, but also for employees who need to care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition.
Back to the post I wanted to write. The thing is, though, people who have children also have families. So do they get only one such leave? Would they feel guilty for having children because children are a choice but families are, well, there? This would work if it’s unlimited.
The discipline, organization, and sheer endurance it takes to succeed at top levels with young children at home is easily comparable to running 20 to 40 miles a week. But that’s rarely how employers see things, not only when making allowances, but when making promotions. Perhaps because people choose to have children? People also choose to run marathons.
I think it’s because employers know that children come with unpredictables and its politically incorrect and/or inhuman to say no when faced with a child-problem (though they routinely do. Heh. So maybe they just feel shittier when saying no to a child-related excuse as opposed to a running-related excuse).
One final example: I have worked with many Orthodox Jewish men who observed the Sabbath from sundown on Friday until sundown on Saturday.
And that is the beauty of religion. So irrational you cannot argue with it. Even more irrational than children, if that’s possible. But still, more predictable.
The American definition of a successful professional is someone who can climb the ladder the furthest in the shortest time, generally peaking between ages 45 and 55. It is a definition well suited to the mid-20th century, an era when people had kids in their 20s, stayed in one job, retired at 67, and were dead, on average, by age 71.
It makes far less sense today. Average life expectancy for people in their 20s has increased to 80; men and women in good health can easily work until they are 75.
Again brings me back to my thoughts on an aging workforce. Is it fair to force people out of work at 60? Is it fair to the younger generation not to?
Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out.
I think many are already doing this. But in order to prevent them from being perceived as having “been fired”, what she says holds true.
If we are looking for high-profile female role models, we might begin with Michelle Obama.
But I realized that I didn’t just need to go home. Deep down, I wanted to go home. I wanted to be able to spend time with my children in the last few years that they are likely to live at home, crucial years for their development into responsible, productive, happy, and caring adults.
This, in terms of biological imperative, I agree with. And I believe it is gender neutral.
The pioneer generation of feminists walled off their personal lives from their professional personas to ensure that they could never be discriminated against for a lack of commitment to their work.
And thank you for that ladies. It needs to be acknowledged even as we move on and ask for better, for fairer.
. Last I checked, he did not declare American independence in the name of life, liberty, and professional success. Let us rediscover the pursuit of happiness, and let us start at home.
Indeed, the most frequent reaction I get in putting forth these ideas is that when the choice is whether to hire a man who will work whenever and wherever needed, or a woman who needs more flexibility, choosing the man will add more value to the company.
I think this is the crux of the issue, an age-old one. And it can be solved only if we present the case that the current system disadvantages both genders, a little differently from how she has presented it. She does not underscore this fact enough. Rather, she seeks to affirm that women have some sort of inbuilt maternal instinct and that allowances must be made for this, which seems to me to be a bit, for want of a better word, second-wave.
A seminal study of 527 U.S.companies, published in the Academy of Management Journal in 2000, suggests that “organizations with more extensive work-family policies have higher perceived firm-level performance” among their industry peers.
We keep hearing this but it doesn’t seem to make an impact at the SME level. Is it because it only works when there are economies of scale? Even then, why aren’t the big players implementing these policies then? Is it because it seems to go against common sense?
Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.
What about the worker bees though? Factory workers inChina, for example. How does this apply to them?
I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more.
Wow to the latter. How often does this happen? And I see it at a cultural level also. InIndia, we seem to have adopted the American way of being loud and gregarious in meetings. How about learning the Chinese way – to listen respectfully, to say ‘no’ very politely.
If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.
We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.
I would have just said – for everyone.