What we should and should not worry about: an address for the rising generation of feminists

Check out this year’s commencement address at Barnard College by Sheryl Sandberg. (H/t to reader COB for the link and the idea for this post.)

It’s brave of her to throw a bucket of cold water in the face of graduating Seniors by telling them this:

As we sit here looking at this magnificent blue-robed class, we have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world. Of 190 heads of 2 state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.

I recognize that this is a vast improvement from generations in the past. When my mother took her turn to sit in a gown at her graduation, she thought she only had two career options: nursing and teaching. She raised me and my sister to believe that we could do anything, and we believed her. But what is so sad—it doesn’t just make me feel old, it makes me truly sad—is that it’s very clear that my generation is not going to change this problem. Women became 50% of the college graduates in this country in 1981, 30 years ago. Thirty years is plenty of time for those graduates to have gotten to the top of their industries, but we are nowhere close to 50% of the jobs at the top. That means that when the big decisions are made, the decisions that affect all of our worlds, we do not have an equal voice at that table.

She’s got a solid analysis of the reasons for this stasis, and some good advice for ambitious women, which if I summarize here will sound like a bunch of commencement address cliches but are actually pretty smart. I wish when she pointed out the negative correlation between success and likability for women that she had said, “F^ck likeability. You think Mark Zuckerberg gives a $hit about likeability?” Instead, she implicitly feeds the notion that likeability is something we need to worry about. I think telling women they’re not “likeable,” or that people find them “difficult personalities,” is a way to knock them off their game and get them to worry about trivial stuff they can’t control instead of worrying about decisive stuff they can at least partially control. (Kind of like this, h/t reader KV for the link.)

Heh. A few years ago at the Berks conference, we on the program committee got some negative feedback from some younger women that our plenary on the state of women in the historical profession was too much of a buzzkill. (They didn’t want to hear about just how bad it is, and how immoveable the percentages of women in tenured and tenure-track positions really is.) Back to the Sandberg speech–I thought this advice was pretty shrewd, too, about the “choice” to prioritize family over professional success:

But until that day, do everything you can to make sure that when that day comes, you even have a choice to make. Because what I have seen most clearly in my 20 years in the workforce is this: Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.

These women don’t even have relationships, and already they’re finding balance, balance for responsibilities they don’t yet have. And from that moment, they start quietly leaning back. The problem is, often they don’t even realize it. Everyone I know who has voluntarily left a child at home and come back to the workforce—and let’s face it, it’s not an option for most people. But for people in this audience, many of you are going to have this choice. Everyone who makes that choice will tell you the exact same thing: You’re only going to do it if your job is compelling.

If several years ago you stopped challenging yourself, you’re going to be bored. If you work for some guy who you used to sit next to, and really, he should be working for you, you’re going to feel undervalued, and you won’t come back. So, my heartfelt message to all of you is, and start thinking about this now, do not leave before you leave. Do not lean back; lean in. Put your foot on that gas pedal and keep it there until the day you have to make a decision, and then make a decision. That’s the only way, when that day comes, you’ll even have a decision to make.

What do you think? Do you think she gets it just about right–that success is for closers, with some acknowledgement of the powerful institutional forces arrayed against the success of even very privileged women like the Barnard class of 2011? Or do you think she’s not acknowledging these powerful forces enough?

131 thoughts on “What we should and should not worry about: an address for the rising generation of feminists

  1. One of the big problems with this issue in a U.S. context is that dependency is a lot more dramatic when one has health insurance only through coverture (i.e. the insurance offered by the employer of a spouse or parent.) Even “dependent” spouses and children in Canada and Western Europe are a lot more independent because of UHC. I think it’s really difficult to underestimate the liberty that gives to otherwise dependent people.

    I can’t help thinking about this problem like a historian (suprise!), and in history we’ve had some interesting debates in the past decade or so about the relative importance of the agency of individuals and of strucure. Interestingly, the scholars of my generation (myself included) appear to be swinging the pendulum back over to an emphasis on structure, continuties, and the longue duree, while as many here have pointed out feminists of my generation (myself, perhaps, included) have thrown their lot in with the agency of the individual, only not with the individual as a change agent, but (as I think Squadratomagico said above) the individual as deserving of ratification as an agent of her own life. (Choice feminism, basically.)

    I don’t think it necessarily undercuts our understanding of the importance of strucure to recognize that invidual actions might have a powerful cumulative effect. Although it’s far after my period of expertise, I think this is the backbone of the study of political activism in the 19th and 20th centuries. The stories that historians love to tell are all about change and the power of charasmatic individuals to make a decisive difference. Which story would you rather read? “Faceless masses continue to dwell in oppression and misery,” or “Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus?”


  2. My bottom line is that I don’t think it was inappropriate for Sandberg to ask a very privileged class of women to examine their choices and consider the effects 5, 10, and 20 years down the road. I thought she offered a shrewd analysis for why men continue to surpass women in running the world sometime between their 30th and 40th birthdays.

    But I deeply regret that this conversation spurred by her speech has left people feeling attacked for their decisions. That was certainly not my intention–but I suppose that it’s probably inevitable given the diversity of lives among the readers here. People who don’t have children believe–with good reason–that too many conversations about feminism and women end up revolving around mothers’ issues, and mothers often feel–with good reason–that although they may conform more or less to a traditional script for women’s lives that they’re rowing against the current when it comes to doing what’s best in their judgment for themselves and their families.


  3. I agree with Historiann that the US context of this is important. I feel that especially strongly as I read Feminist Avatar’s contributions to the discussion. I think there really is a conservative current running through American society at the moment that tells young, college educated women that staying at home is what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s what I find most troubling at the moment: the fact that there are women going to college, going to graduate school etc, all the while planning to stay at home with the children they don’t yet have for the husbands they don’t yet have. I am not referring to the individual decisions folks are making once children come–even if I do have particular opinions on that–but instead I’m wondering why I’m having conversations with a fellow PhD student about how it’s a blessing to stay home and how much fun it is and how it’s what we should be aiming for as a gift to our (nonexistent) men, followed by a long list of women this friend knows who have stayed at home and are pampered by their husbands. That’s what concerns me: the ratcheting down of plans as a response to a presumed ideal, not as a response to a difficult situation of juggling work and kids.

    And yes, I really think the precariousness of women in this country who don’t have their own job can’t be underestimated, with the lack of healthcare just being the start.


  4. @dandelion at 06/02/11 8:17 pm – In my first post, the first one of this thread? “Why not have health and childcare that was for everyone, instead of the feudal rich?”

    But the child sex panic took care of that, didn’t it? No stranger can take care of a child adequately, and heaven forbid should he be male.

    And, @Emma at 06/03/11 2:35 pm – It wasn’t inexplicable; it was deliberate.

    Who has more sympathy in our culture — a sexually wild gay or lesbian singleton, or the partner of a wounded gay soldier, unable to visit him in hospital lest command find out about the relationship? The single worker who just wants respect and a paycheck, or the ancient sapphic couple who can’t have the rights inherent in marriage?

    Just as Rush Limbaugh came on the scene — and, coincidentally, when protease inhibitors made AIDS less of death sentence — the conservative gay powers that be chose to deemphasize civil rights for all gays, in favor of civil rights for those who toes the line regarding committed relationships, child-rearing and national service. Notice how few openly anti-war gay or lesbian groups now exist? We all have to salute the rainbow soldier, lest we be homophobic as well as unpatriotic. I suspect it has something to do with rich queers getting steamed about inheritance problems, and realizing that the whole “adopting a gay-ward” thing now smacked of pedophilia. We lost so much, with this reductiveness.


  5. Let’s get back to something that might be constructive out of this. There’s a line we all know is fed to people in western society: it’s natural, right and simple for women to opt out for a little while in order to care for their families. That line is bullshit.

    CPP is right in retrospect. He should have told those people from his lab that, in his experience, the choice they were making was going to bring some problems. If you’ve been fed nothing but the bullshit, you don’t know how wrong it is until you’ve gone too far to go back easily.

    Just as I don’t tell prospective grad students “Come on in and aim for a Ph.D., things are sure to get better!” I don’t tell young people starting families that this will be easy to negotiate, even in Canada with our far more humane parental leave and health care policies. It’s damned hard and that’s one reason why my spouse makes less than 10% of what I earn, because something had to give in order to support the more lucrative career path and also give our autistic child a chance to thrive.


  6. cgeye’s point is erxactly right: the fate of gay rights is following the same path that feminism took a few years beforehand. Just as feminist analysis and political priorities have been de-fanged and tamed by making everything about The Children, so, too, has the conversation over GLBT rights been co-opted by the Right, to be a conversation about Marriage Rights as a framework for child-rearing.

    I used to feel very sympathetic to this viewpoint, really I did…. until it became the only thing feminism seemed to stand for. Now it’s to the point where, even to DARE to suggest that feminism might be seen in more multidimensional ways, elicits accusations of being anti-mother. To which I would like to say: you know there are other people, other lifestyles, other issues, don’t you? Or is your own situation the only one worthy of discussion and activism? Because I’m not really on board with that.


  7. Me:We’re going to have a baby.
    The powers that be: You have 5 personal days. Don’t spend them all at once.

    You: I’ll be starting my FMLA leave the day after my wife ends her 12 weeks maternity leave.


    One problem, my wife is self-employed/independent contractor. She doesn’t get maternity leave.

    You: I’ll be using my X weeks of vacation plus my 5 personal days plus my 12 weeks FMLA leave starting the day after my wife finishes her paid maternity leave.


    I don’t have vacation time (other than school vacations) and like I said above, my wife isn’t getting a paid maternity leave. What the hell are we supposed to eat for three months? And if I use those 5 personal days, how do I take the kids to a doctor’s appointment if my wife has to meet a client and one of them is sick?

    You: Isn’t providing differential benefits on the basis of sex called discrimination?
    You think I didn’t look into this? It’s not legally sex discrimination because the law defines pregnancy and child birth as a medical condition, technically a mom in my workplace is on disability. If I managed to time a car accident just right, I could get the same 12 weeks too, but I doubt I’d be of much use with the baby. Which kind of defeats the purpose. Now if my wife and I had better jobs and more enough savings we might have been able to do that. But, like most Americans that doesn’t apply to us. We did manage to time one of the births for Spring Break so that I was home the first week. And by summer I was home and spouse was back at work. That’s what’s called family planning in my work place – trying to time it so that you have the kid at the beginning of summer.

    So yeah, what Dandelion and Spanish prof said, and at least some of what Emma said (albeit less hostilely). Workplaces need changing. Because even allegedly feminist workplaces like mine have pretty much no interest in being family friendly for their employees, male, female or otherwise.


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  9. If I managed to time a car accident just right, I could get the same 12 weeks too, but I doubt I’d be of much use with the baby. Heh. Yes, that’s the way it works at Baa Ram U.–there is no paid maternity or paternity leave, it’s 6-8 weeks of *medical* leave plus FMLA, which pretty much stinks, and it’s usually up to faculty themselves to figure out who’s going to cover their classes gratis for them while they’re out.

    I’ve never heard of a faculty member who’s had to make hir own arrangements from a hospital bed about how ze’s going to get hir classes covered after suffering an MCI, a major accident, a stroke, etc.


  10. I didn’t realize this thread had gotten so many comments! Apparently Maggie (other blog half) had though.

    I wanted to highlight this quote from Dr. Crazy, “I think that many women in their 20s and 30s first have internalized the message that you *can’t* “have it all,” particularly if they watched their own mothers try and “fail” in that regard. (If they decided that their own mothers should have been around more when they were kids, if they blame their parents’ divorce(s) on career coming before family, etc.) ”

    Maggie and I were just discussing how irritating mom blogs are being to us recently with this idea, “You can have it all, but not all at once.” Which is something Claudia Goldin said, but not about MY generation, about the previous generation. I’ve even got a nascent thread complaining a bit on the subject, but it may never see the light of day (maybe if I tag it deliberately controversial). And my mom did have it all, though I will not take a detour into administration and the school-board that will keep me from gaining full-professorhood until after my kids are in college. I like money too much and managing people and politics too little. I’m going to have even more than my mother did, though perhaps not as much as I could have because truly, I don’t want to work 80 hour weeks, kid or not. Career-wise I just want to do good work and be respected.


  11. Re: Lactation

    The workplace is definitely instrumental in making breastfeeding compatible with work. We need space, time (the bf breaks actually correspond very nicely with the Boicean recommendation for breaks), and privacy. It would also be nice not to be harassed by bullying secretaries who thank God get asked to leave later when they bully someone else they morally disapprove of up in administration.

    Support is also crucial. There’s a lot of information on how to breast-feed and how to make breast-feeding and work compatible, but there’s too few avenues to get this information to the women who need it. There are many ways that BF can go wrong, and solutions to most of them, but it is difficult to get the solutions to the women who need them in time. In addition to the information, there needs to be emotional, physical, and cultural support. When the stars align it’s no big deal to work and nurse, even formula free. Institutional change would help those stars align for a lot more people.


  12. I’m almost afraid to comment given the venom in some of the other posts, but hell, I’ve defended a PhD so I should be able to take it. Or I guess I could just not come back and read any flames.

    Anyway, first of all- @Emma: the only people who get to call me “mommy” are my kids. Calling us mommies and daddies is unnecessarily demeaning. I get that you don’t like a lot of us, or the decisions we’ve made, but you might find that we could have a more civil, productive conversation if you didn’t start out belittling me.

    FWIW, I don’t think anyone should have to work an 80 hour week. And frankly, the time use surveys say that mostly, no one does. When people log their time, they usually max out at about a 60 hour week. Which isn’t great, but is a lot less than 80. (I log roughly 45 hours/week on paid work, if you’re curious.)

    But what I really want to say has nothing to do with the majority of the debate here. I want to go way back to the original post.

    I liked the quotes from the commencement speech- I don’t have time right now to watch the whole thing. I think the quotes make perfect sense in the context of a commencement speech, and they are something that a group of presumably ambitious college grads need to hear and think about.

    I remember being in grad school and agonizing over whether or not I could combine kids with my chosen career, which is at the intersection of science and IT. I plowed ahead, and I’m glad I did. Because now that I am here, it is nowhere near as bad as I feared. Also, from where I sit, the other option for motherhood- that of being a SAHM- doesn’t look “easier”. I am friends with some SAHMs, and they are just as tired and stretched as I am. I think that the tired, over-stretched feeling is a function of having small children, not necessarily of combining small kids and demanding careers. I actually feel very little angst about being a WOHM, and I don’t really see much evidence that my career is suffering. I’ve gotten raises and promotions post-kids, I’ve also applied for and been hired into new jobs, even though I don’t hide my status as a mother in the job interview.

    I don’t really know why I am a happy WOHM when so many others are not. I’ve mused a lot about it on my own blog, so anyone who is interested can click over there, click on the “working motherhood” category and read away. But if pushed, I would put it down to a few things:

    1. My partner is absolutely in this 50-50, without argument. We both eased off a tiny bit on our careers after our first was born, mainly in the “extras”- I don’t network as much as I should, he’s dropped his non-work coding projects. We both are starting to ramp things back up now that our youngest is almost two. Neither of us have seen negative consequences yet. In the grand scheme of things, 5 years or so of less intense career focus is not a big deal.

    We both eased off a huge amount in the area of housework. We used to split that 50-50. Now we split it 15-15-70, where the 70 is a wonderful housecleaning service we pay. I look forward to the day my kids are old enough to factor into that split!

    Of course, I’m not in academia. I can see how the slight easing up isn’t as much of an option there, given the timing of tenure decisions.

    2. I don’t go in for guilt, either from the parenting side or the working side. I think guilt can become self-fulfilling. My kids see plenty of me. My work gets plenty of hours from me. Would each like more? Probably. Do they need it? No.

    3. I happened to have my kids later. I had my first when I was 35. This was largely because I hadn’t met their father until I was 30. By the time I had kids, I was established in my career and in the position to request accommodations that made things easier for me. Also, it meant that I was making enough money so that there was never any question about whether it makes financial sense to work and so that I could do things like hire the housecleaning service I mention above.

    4. I live in California. Seriously, say what you want about my screwed up, bankrupt state, but both my husband and I used our FMLA, and the right of women returning to work to have pumping space and time is protected by law, and has been for quite some time. No one batted an eye about me pumping at work.

    (Not to fan the breastfeeding flames, but I breastfed my first for 23 months and am still breastfeeding my second, who is 20 months old. I pumped until 18 months and 17 months, respectively. I did not use formula for either. I believe the science that indicates breastfeeding is the best choice when it is possible, but frankly, the main reason I’ve committed so much to breastfeeding is that I like it. I honestly do not care if other mothers choice formula, but I do care if they’d like to breastfeed and are thwarted by work considerations. As @Nicole says, if the stars align, it is no big deal to work and nurse. Let’s stop bickering about whether or not breast is best and put in the institutional changes that would make it a genuine choice for anyone who wants to make it.)

    I say all of this in full knowledge that I am privileged and that many, many women are not as lucky as I am. The answer to that is, in my opinion, not to dismiss my experience, but to take a hard look at our society and figure out how we can make my experience the norm, not an exception available only to the privileged few.

    And part of that change is for young women not to do the sexists’ work for them. Charge ahead. Reach for it all. You might just get it. I did, and I’m so very grateful that I didn’t preempt that possibility 15 years ago, when the future looked so scary.


  13. Oh Cloud, it’s like you’re reading my mind again. We’ve got posts queued up and in process with many of your points, though not so naturally eloquent.


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  15. Seriously, say what you want about my screwed up, bankrupt state, but both my husband and I used our FMLA, and the right of women returning to work to have pumping space and time is protected by law, and has been for quite some time. No one batted an eye about me pumping at work.

    I’m really glad to hear that these things are available to the women at the “wonderful housecleaning service.” Do they get paid maternity leave, too, or just the pumping accommodations and FMLA?


  16. “I’m really glad to hear that these things are available to the women at the “wonderful housecleaning service.” Do they get paid maternity leave, too, or just the pumping accommodations and FMLA?”

    I never understand these kinds of crabs in a bucket comments.

    Btw, though I did get pumping accommodations (by virtue of having an office as a T-T faculty member), I did not even get unpaid FMLA (by dint of not having worked at the uni long enough). But I do not begrudge the state of California for the benefits they afford the women who work there, or the women who benefit from them.

    Should nobody have an advantage until everybody has the same advantages? I thought the whole point was to get as many people covered by these kinds of things as possible. How is making high-powered women go without going to at all help women who don’t have JDs or PhDs? Why attack them for having what many would argue should be the rights of all women?

    But perhaps I’m biased because I did get married before homosexuals in my state got that privilege. I bought a house, despite not everybody in the US being able to afford one. I eat to satiation despite the hunger problems in the US and the rest of the world. And there are millions of these choices I’ve made that not everybody has the benefit of. Should all benefits be taken away until everyone has them? Are you living that life?


  17. This post was originally about well-educated women like the Barnard class of 2011 and the commencement speech by Sheryl Sandberg. So I think it was perfectly fine for professionals in the discussion to talk about their individual experiences.

    Breastfeeding accomodations laws cover everyone–I’m unaware of cases in which state laws dictate that only professional women can benefit from them.

    In the event that breastfeeding accomodations are made only for high-status women in some companies or institutions, keeping those women in the paid workforce so that they can climb into positions of real decision-making power can be one way of expanding those rights to more classes of workers. In any case, the male-dominated workplace hasn’t done this for most classes of women workers–so we might as well see what women in power might do.

    I think these conversations can become unproductive if we demand that feminism fix every other injustic in the world before turning to the injustice of sex bias. Can a blog run by a feminist women’s historian really not talk about a commencement address at a women’s college offering advice to this year’s grads? Really? If so, the feminist blogosphere should just roll up and die, because we can’t talk about anything then.


  18. I do not begrudge the state of California for the benefits they afford the women who work there,

    Well, my point is that (in reality, the one we live in) those benefits only apply to SOME of the women who work in the state.

    While women who work for housekeeping services (if they are on the payroll and not paid under the table) might technically receive the same accommodations laws as anyone else (assuming they’re not considered contractors or temps or the cleaning service a small business), in REALITY I cannot fathom a cleaning service providing a woman with pumping space and time. It is possible I am wrong, but I truly don’t think so.

    So, you know, it’s not crabs in a bucket to point out that the “solution” someone has found to the problem of women’s oppression might be coming at the cost of…oppressing women.

    And when we’re talking about some women finding they can access more power by participating in systems that do not allow the same kind of opportunities to toher women, it’s NOT demanding that every other oppression get fixed first. It’s demanding that feminism become more than an upward wealth transfer between women that looks like every other capitalist structure.

    So, if you’re so busy as a professional woman – no, professional hetero couple – that you need someone else to scrub your toilet? Go for it. As long as (let’s be honest) SHE is being paid a living wage, health benefits, vacation time, a retirement plan, etc. And certainly breastfeeding accommodations, too, since

    I honestly do not care if other mothers choice formula, but I do care if they’d like to breastfeed and are thwarted by work considerations.

    When YOU ARE those “work considerations” it’s time to put up or shut up. IMO.


  19. [same anonymous as 8:14] Back on topic, though, Historiann, I liked the speech a lot. Work certainly doesn’t have to be everything to everyone, but I am appalled by the “leaning back” I see from fellow early-career professional women.

    For instance, I understand that good daycare is hideously expensive and a major pain in the ass, but every single time I hear that complaint from a hetero married professional woman, it is phrased as “I really hate my job today/can’t beLIEVE how much daycare costs, and here’s a calculation of my salary – daycare = why do I even come here?!?! I’m worth more than this!”

    Um, must be nice to be your goddamn husband, never having to have his earning power rhetorically “discounted” by random other household costs.

    Worse than actual costs of actual babies, though, has to be the limiting of imagination based on imaginary families. We are encouraged to limit ourselves in so many ways, and it’s just so insidious, this planning for a “balanced” life.


  20. I do think this meshes two different points, though:

    (A)…keeping those women in the paid workforce so that they can climb into positions of real decision-making power can be one way of expanding those rights to more classes of workers. (B)In any case, the male-dominated workplace hasn’t done this for most classes of women workers–so we might as well see what women in power might do.

    Taking point “B” first, absolutely. We absolutely might as well see what women and power might do. Let’s do it.

    However, point “A” is dicier. Why would professional, power-identified women intuitively/naturally use their hard-fought positions to increase access for lower-status women? I think applying that notion to women (and other minorities) requires expecting some greater mystical insight about their own condition and sisterhood and connectedness and fairness than we would ever expect from men. And, in fact, my own experiences with outsiders who have risen to the top of the inside crowd is that they’re very interested in reaching “down” and mentoring up some individual person who reminds them of themselves…but when it comes to increasing general access to (and therefore decreasing the prestige of) their own positions and organizations, they’re simply not interested.


  21. anonymous, you made a faulty assumption. I did not get paid maternity leave, either- just FMLA, which is paid in California and the usual 6-8 weeks disability, depending on mode of birth.

    I’ll give you, though, that it is a lot easier to absorb the lost income (FMLA does not cover 100% of income) at my higher income bracket. But it has a cap, so I got a lower percentage of my income covered than a lower income person would have had.

    And, not that you care, but I shopped around for a cleaning service that gives its employees paid time off and benefits.


  22. Also, if the cleaning service has more than 50 employees, they are required to provide pumping space and time, just like all other employers with more than 50 employees.

    In practice, they come and clean my house while I am not there. A lactating cleaner could take her pick of private rooms in which to plug in a pump and take the 15 minute break the law requires. Heck, she could take 30 minutes. I pay a flat rate, not by the hour.


  23. I guess my last comment is unclear. The cleaning service pays their employees by the hour. I pay them a flat rate. I happen to know, from the few times I’ve been home during cleaning, that they finish my house in less time than the service sets aside for a cleaning- it is a small house and we aren’t utter slobs. So in practice, for the one particular woman anonymous chose to attack on this issue, in fact there is no reason that my cleaner couldn’t pump if she needed to.

    And I’ll also say, because I’m having a beer while I do some work, and my programs are taking longer than I expected to run, so I’m cranky AND a little less guarded than usual…

    The sort of comment that anonymous left is one of the reasons I don’t hang out on feminist blogs.

    I’m your natural ally- I’m a professional woman who has benefited from prior generations’ feminism and knows it. I work in a male dominated field so I get frequent- almost daily, really- reminders of how far we have left to go. I’ve thought about what makes it possible for me to enjoy my life as a working mother, and I’m well aware that a lot of that comes down to the money I have- and I think that is wrong. I’m left-leaning and I cast my vote and even occasionally write my congresspeople with an eye towards extending the benefits I’ve received to women in other income brackets.

    But apparently, I’m not feminist enough for some of you guys. I am wallowing in privilege and entitlement and I should be… what? Cleaning my own damn toilets? Piously refusing to take my paid FMLA because it is not available to everyone, just to people who work in California for companies that employ at least 50 people? Storming the barricades and yelling loudly to get this fixed? So cowed by my knowledge of the great weight of privilege that I have that I never post any comments?

    How does any of that help?

    I keep posting because I remember being a grad student and everyone and their freakin’ dog was telling me that I “couldn’t” combine my chosen career with motherhood and that work-life balance was impossible in the sciences. It scared me and almost made me drop out. I had no role models to look at to counter what I was being told- my professors were mostly male. I was the first (and so far) only person in my extended family to get a PhD. Most of my female classmates were saying they weren’t going to have kids or quietly making plans to go into the science-related careers that are perceived as more family-friendly. So I believed what I heard, but for some reason, I stuck it out, anyway. And now, here I sit, happily combining my chosen career with being the mother of two adorable little kids… and I’m so very, very glad that something made me stick it out. So I post to be the counter-voice for other young women who might be where I was 10-15 years ago.

    But that viewpoint doesn’t feel welcome on feminist blogs. It seems to me that there is a large subpopulation that is so busy waiting for perfect solutions that they won’t accept the partial progress we have made, and just want to make women like me feel guilty. Well, no thanks, I’m too busy for that.

    @Historiann, I appreciate that you and @Nicole defended me. I’m sorry to dump this crankiness here. But I really needed to say it.


  24. People vary in the amount of bullshit they can tolerate; women as much as men. Staying in academia (or medicine, or law, or business) requires that women overcome barriers which men need not overcome. So I don’t think it’s surprising that some proportion of women lean back; I bet a similar proportion of men would lean back, too, if they had to face the barriers we do.

    We’re all just human beings trying to make the most of our time on the planet. Recognizing and removing the barriers to women in academia is important, and ongoing, and may take several more decades. In the meantime, second-guessing any individual person’s life choices is unhelpful. Whether you’ve quit your job to be a SAHM, opted for adjunct work to find better work-life balance, or hired a live-in nanny to let you focus more on your career, your choices are yours to make and they are valid. We all have different limits, different comfort zones, different levels of ambition, different approaches to parenting, and different externalities. We should support each other, and enjoy the diversity.


  25. Pingback: Why I had to skip the Berks : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present

  26. Wow. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer that I feel this way, but the logic seems to me to be totally turned upside down here.

    What if the “jobs at the top” aren’t worth sacrificing 24 hours a day for? Why should “running things” be valued more than a happy daily life?

    Maybe women are showing their wisdom in preferring to stay out of the corporate rat race.


  27. Great blog here! Also your website loads up very fast!
    What host are you using? Can I get your affiliate link to your host?
    I wish my site loaded up as fast as yours lol


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