August 29th, 2013


[book] Not Your Mother's Life by Joan K Peters

We read this book for my women's group bookclub at work: Not Your Mother's Life: Changing the Rules of Work, Love, and Family by Joan K Peters

Here's the summary from

The next generation of women want a career and a life, but they don't know how to get both. Having watched the boomer generation, they know they don't want their options: sacrificing family life for high-powered careers or consigning themselves to the "mommy track." Not Your Mother's Life shows how today's young women are uniquely poised to reach out and take--or create--the work/life balance that proved so elusive for the boomers.

I didn't love it. I think I mostly didn't love it because I just read Lean In by Sheryl Sandburg and I LOVED that message, and Peters' book felt like the opposite.

Lean In was about how you should work hard, be ambitious, be a leader. Then there's a chapter about how if you have kids somewhere along the way, it'll all be alright. Society is constantly sending women messages that make them afraid that if they do well at work, someday it'll all come crashing down on them and that's just not true, we need to call that BS out and stop letting it control us.

Not Your Mother's Life is about how, well, it'll all come crashing down on you. There are interviews with college grads sucked into 100-hour-per-week jobs, statements from women in their 30s and 40s who decided to not have kids because it just felt imcompatible with their careers. In opposition to that she has stories of women who made it all work out by carefully "designing" their lives - turning down the job at the high-pressure firm, marrying a man who's laid back and wants to play with toddlers.

My friend neuro42 just accused me of writing about women's issues as if I'm assuming all women want kids... no, I do not think that! But it made me think of this book because there's literally a chapter titled "If you want kids... (and you probably do)" - I think it got into my brain a little too much, and I felt like maybe college women everywhere ARE obsessed with how they'll manage babies ten years down the road and I need to yammer on and on about it, make a case for why engineering is the best job for them.

Honestly if I read this book in college, it would scare the crap out of me. It's exactly the fear-mongering that Lean In is combating. It makes the post-college career world seem like an express train to workaholism. It also implies that at some random unpredictable age, if you have a uterus, it will take over your mind and make you feel like you MUST have babies. And it predicts that if you don't plan this all out very carefully, you will get stuck hating your life because there is just no way to make your boss & your uterus-brain happy at the same time.

Both Peters & Sandburg agree on one thing: feminism is good. They identify as feminists. We need to kick down that stereotype that feminism pushes women to run themselves ragged trying to "have it all" because in reality, feminism is the solution to over-pressure, not the cause. Feminists didn't tell women to work 80 hours a week, come home and clean their entire house every night between driving the kids to soccer games. Feminists said to get a career that helps you feel like a growing, contributing person, and get some help with that housework.

Their agreement sort of stops there though... Peters says the solution is to relax about your career, Sandburg says the solution is to jump in with both feet. Maybe I like "Lean In" better because Sandburg is worth a bazillion dollars, that'll lend a bit of credit to your philosophy. Or maybe I like it because at one time in my life I was really planning to be unmarried, never have kids, and it all felt just fine. I wouldn't have wanted to write down my life in a constant series of five-year plans, I don't see what it could have gained me.