How can you NOT want to read an article that begins: “As you may have heard, some 50 years after Betty Friedan sprang us from domestic jail, we women … seem to have made a mess of it.” Says Sandra Tsing Lo, a regular contributor to the Atlantic, the fruits of the feminist revolution appear to be sisterhood, empowerment — and eight hours a day in a cubicle.
(Her latest article is actually a commentary based around a couple of new women’s books, Linda Hirshman’s funny Get to Work … And Get a Life, Before It’s Too Late and Neil Gilbert’s more scholarly A Mother’s Work: How Feminism, the Market and Policy Shape Family Life.)
After wittily dissecting some of the feminist missteps over the last several decades, Lo ultimately admits to having escaped cubicle hell:
Work … family—I’m doing it all. But here’s the secret I share with so many other nanny- and housekeeper-less mothers I see working the same balance: my house is trashed. It is strewn with socks and tutus. My minivan is awash in paper wrappers (I can’t lie—several are evidence of our visits to McDonald’s Playland, otherwise known as “my second office”). My girls went to school today in the T-shirts they slept in. But so what? My children and I spend 70 hours a week of high-to-poor quality time together. We enjoy ourselves.
Oh, good for YOU, girl, although I would bet she earned her current life by spending several years in the trenches with the rest of us. I considered myself lucky to be able to work part-time and even spend a couple of years at home freelancing when my sons were small. That might be why I now have an office with A DOOR I CAN SHUT and not some cubby hole or other shared space. I didn’t seem to lose momentum.
Although I identify with the feminist camp, I sort of stopped checking in regularly on the women’s movement after Gloria Steinem. For some reason, her blonde good looks, Smith education and smooth delivery made her just another beautiful female I couldn’t compete with, so I sort of opted out of the fight — which, come to think of it, is what I usually do when looks or status factor into any social or business equation. I’ve shed enough blood — and tears — in those arenas to willingly go into combat again.
So what did we win from our feminist ways? Employers now at least have to pay lip service to equality in the workplace, although privately held companies, which don’t have to publish salary scales, are likely still favoring men. Women seem to be more visible in top-tier positions, but there’s a definite lag, particularly considering that in some spheres we make up at least — if not more than — 50 percent of the workforce. And the wage gap remains firmly in place.
In my darker moments, I sometimes think that equality has heaved on me just one more area where I don’t seem to measure up. Society now expects women to make a quantifiable contribution, and my 30-odd years (most of them WERE odd) in the workforce find me still entrenched in middle management — by choice, I must say, to accommodate all the other things I wanted to do. Moving up always meant staying longer and later, and I just didn’t want to. (Admission: Being part of a two-career family made that possible.) At 55+, I’m not enthusiastic about my prospects of moving much further.
SO WHY AM I APOLOGIZING FOR ALL THIS?! Wasn’t it all about choice in the first place? Says Lo of the current flight of advanced-degree-holding women back to Betty Friedan‘s suburban nightmare:
And what are our fallen M.B.A. sisters of [Harvard] doing? Kvells one Harvard-grad-turned-stay-at-home-mom, on the subject of her days:
I dance and sing and play the guitar and listen to NPR. I write letters to my family, my congressional representatives, and to newspaper editors. My kids and I play tag and catch, we paint, we explore, we climb trees and plant gardens together. We bike instead of using the car. We read, we talk, we laugh. Life is good. I never dust.
Wow. Sounds good to me — if you can afford it. It just never seemed like an option for me.