Having an independent life has always given me the opportunity to disengage from my family, even if only momentarily, and reconnect with my own most authentic self—the writer I was long before I had kids, the writer I will be after they are grown. My work—particularly the intermittent travel it requires—provides a crucial opportunity to listen to my own inner voice. Endlessly willing to sublimate their own egos and sacrifice their individual needs to those of their families, stay-at-home mothers often characterize working women as selfish for deriving any enjoyment from the parts of their lives that exist independently of husbands and children. A professional woman’s admission that she enjoyed a hotel Jacuzzi or a foreign shopping spree is proof that she doesn’t care about her children.

I don’t find such criticisms especially surprising; many people have a need to justify their own choices with harsh indictments of alternative choices. Far more startling to me are the unforgiving attitudes of so many younger women. In my interviews for this book, one thirtyish executive spent an hour telling me that it would be impossible for her to manage her current job after she had children, so she would probably give up the career she loved. “But what about Sarah and Melanie?” I protested, mentioning two older working mothers in her corporation (whose names have been changed to protect the families’ privacy).

“I don’t consider them to be role models,” this woman said with palpable disapproval.

“Why not?” I asked, astonished.

“Well, Sarah’s husband left her—they were separated for a while, you know,” she said.

“Yes, they went through a rough period—and then they got marriage counseling and got back together, and now they’re very happy,” I replied. “But I don’t see what that has to do with Sarah’s ability to do her job and be a good parent, which she is. And what about Melanie?”

“Well, her husband has problems,” said the young woman. “He used to drink too much.”

“Yes, but he stopped,” I pointed out. “It’s true that husbands sometimes have problems, but how does that nullify Melanie’s success at maintaining a meaningful career while being a good mother?”

“I just wouldn’t want my life to be like either of theirs,” the young woman said primly. As far as she’s concerned, there are no role models in her vicinity, despite the presence of some terrific senior executives with stellar professional credentials and families who are close and loving, despite their all-too-human failings.

 

The women’s movement never promised that it would be easy to combine meaningful work with raising a family—only that it should be possible for women, like men, to do so, rather than being forced to make a draconian choice between the two major components of a fulfilling adult life.

But somehow the entire idea of “having it all” has been discredited, and the backlash against women’s progress has been abetted by the personal complaints of certain women who blame the empowering ideology of feminism for the individual disappointments of their own lives.

In her recent book Are Men Necessary? Maureen Dowd—a Pulitzer Prize–winning op-ed columnist for The New York Times—bemoaned her status as a single, childless, fifty-three-year-old professional woman and complained that “being a maid would have enhanced my chances with men.”

Although the book was a bestseller, many analysts scoffed at Dowd’s conclusions, noting that her assertions were often based on specious sourcing. The New York Post reported: “Dowd cites one study that found women with higher IQs less likely to be married, but does not reveal—if she knows—that the study looked at women who are now in their 80’s, not modern women, the authors said. Dowd uses another study suggesting males shy away from ambitious women, but that was based on college students—seventeen-to-nineteen-year-old guys. Dowd also cites a study that found high-achieving women aged twenty-eight to thirty-five were less likely to be wives and mothers—but fails to explain the same study found that by the ages of thirty-six to forty, the high achievers were slightly more likely to be hitched with kids than other working women.” >>

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The Secret of Our Success by Leslie Bennetts

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