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Melinda Gates tweeted in support of this washington post article: Six myths about women in the workplace that you probably fell for and here's the bit that got everybody all up in arms:

MYTH 3: Okay, you have kids. Now you’re stressed and overwhelmed.

People were all up in arms about the stressfulness being called a "myth". Oh so it's all in our heads? So we don't have to fight for change and support for working parents?

This is at the root of the Lean In debate too, something I've blogged about before, so I had to (eventually, two weeks later, you know how it is) address it. And I think I'm realizing that it's complicated because there aren't just two sides to the debate. There's more.

Side A: Women just can't have it all! This career and motherhood stuff is too overwhelming. Plan a laid-back career writing poems on the beach if you want kids, otherwise trust me you are going to be miserable. Just read this personal story from a CEO who was just so tired of making $500,000 a year and you'll see.

Let's call that "the Anne-Marie Slaughter" side.

Side B: the "feminists take down capitalism from the inside" side. America is being way too mean to families. Why can't writing poems on the beach pay a living wage?

Honestly friends, I do hear you about the meanness. This lack of paid maternity leave is a total bitch. But I stop agreeing when you say I'm doing the wrong thing trying to get by in the world as it exists, by working within the system a little bit. It's practical to consider the system. This is a big feminist debate too... do we tell women to be engineers, or do we ask why engineers get paid so much more than teachers? Both! We should do both.

Side C, the Sheryl Sandberg Lean In side that I actually really identify with: Lots of women are having the things that they find are important, can we relax about the debate, and stop scaring the shit out of college women before they've even applied for jobs?

There's actually a movie called "I don't know how she does it" with Sarah Jessica Parker playing the ultimate working mom. She works and works and works. She stays up all night baking pies for a bake sale. But her life is bad. She misses her son's first haircut. Tragic.

I watched this movie and thought, "was I supposed to care about haircuts?"

Because I don't. I have opted out of that level of caring. So when the world says, "You're going to struggle so much as a working mother because you'll miss haircuts!" I raise one eyebrow and say, "The baby will grow more hair."

We didn't realize we were supposed to bring valentine's to our daughters church group for 18-month-olds. I felt bad for two seconds, then my husband said, "She's not even TWO yet. She has no idea it's Wednesday, let alone a holiday worth looking forward to, her memory last ten minutes. Why are we caring about buying a thing to end up in everybody's recycle bin?"

Men don't care. Why should we?

I read articles about the culture of busy. When people ask what you're up to, you're supposed to say "busy". I've heard it. Hear it. Busy equals important. If you say, "I'm doing what I feel like doing" people

Sheryl Sandberg said she gets home at 5:30 for dinner every night. I thought crap... if a CFO can do it, so can I. Work smart. Tell the team your intentions.

I live in the midwest. It's not as high-pressure. Real estate isn't as expensive. We are not house poor.

I work in engineering. It's not as competitive.

I stopped shaving my legs in 2009.

My husband stays home with the kids. The single income is tough. We don't have college funds set up. My kids will probably have to go to cheap state schools, I will never have a "my kid goes to Harvard" sticker on my Lexus. Well for that matter, nor will I ever have a Lexus.

These are things that worked out for me. I admit there's some luck involved. But to some extent these are also choices that I/we have made.

So I'm saying, what's wrong with telling young women that there are choices you can make along the way and priorities you can pick and you should do things you love and it might work out?

I feel like that's a more empowering message than the fearful "don't try to have it all!" message that these movies and articles have, about how bad everything is.

I've had some luck but it's not all luck. It's deciding that Valentine's parties are materialistic bullcrap. Tada, we're free!

A few years ago, a young woman at facebook began asking me lots of questions about how I balance work and family. I inquired if she and her partner were considering having a child. She replied that she did not have a husband, then added with a little laugh, “Actually, I don’t even have a boyfriend.”
- Lean In

We've got to keep fighting on that paid maternity leave issue because it's obviously hurting everyone. We've got to give everyone the right to call out jerk bosses who want their employees wo live at work for 60 hours a week without overtime. I am all for that stuff.

But to deny that there are ANY jobs that a mother can do in 40 hours a week, and that to even dream of it is "trying to have it all" - that's what I'm against.

And I don't think it's a total betrayal to ask women to take a step back and simplify their own lives - can we agree to stop hand-writing thank you notes for our kids birthday party guests that were present for the verbal 'thank you'? Maybe you don't have to sort your child's lego by color? If driving your kid to three after-school activities per night is stressing you out, why are you doing it?

That's all I'll bring up. If we have time for a debate.


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( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Feb. 23rd, 2016 01:33 am (UTC)
I am all for simplifying the stupid crap. And setting things up for more equitable. And seriously wtf this country and *parental* leave. We're lucky in that husband's company actually is pretty good on family leave. I think that's a big problem in this country is the "work all the time" BS which hurts everyone. [big problem in academia]

sorry in-coherency, have wine, will [not] travel. kids went over to the neighbor's for dinner. see? I can totes have it all. some days. ;)
Feb. 23rd, 2016 02:05 am (UTC)
I think that 'having it all' makes people exhaust and stress themselves. There isn't enough time and energy in the world to 'have it all'. Of course, different people have different definitions of what having it all means; some are more impossible than others. Sometimes it just means working and having time with the kids. Sometimes it's working, volunteering, spending time with kids, and writing the great American novel. There are so many possibilities in the world it's hard to whittle down to what is most important to you, and what is realistically possible. But people need to do that whittling down, or they'll exhaust themselves and not get any joy out of any of it.

That not make any sense; I've had some wine. Forgive me.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 12:19 pm (UTC)
ha ha, I should schedule more posts at 8pm, all the wine comments!

Sandberg wrote that the term "have it all" was invented to trap women. A young college girl says "I hope I can go into leadership" and someone will say "so you'll never have a family?" and she says, "Nah that'd be nice too" and she gets the big smirk... "oh, gonna try to have it all are we?"

then she's got that doubt and that's why there are 23 year olds with no boyfriends asking about work-family balance.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 10:53 am (UTC)
This whole post is making me go, YES, THIS! I know the current system is BS (with the lack of paid maternity leave etc.) and this does make life difficult and I want to see that change, but I think we can totally have a full-time job and still be there for our kids if we cut out the unnecessary crap. Sometimes you don't have a choice and that bites (ex; my love works 10-12 hour days and can't do anything about that), but a lot of times people do have the option to simplify.

People care about haircuts and hand-writing thank you notes because social pressure says they should, and they buy it, and it's nothing but stress. I think that fighting this belief that you HAVE to do all this stuff, is just as important as fighting to make the system fair. ugh, I feel like I'm not being very coherent right now and probably just repeating stuff you already said. But yeah, very much agree with all of it. Esp. "The baby will grow more hair." :)

Since everyone's listing what they've had to drink, mine's cider. (*shy smile* I want to fit in...) My lack of thinkitude tonight is more due to lack of sleep. I'll try to remedy that. I do enjoy discussions like this!
Feb. 23rd, 2016 11:24 am (UTC)
This is very similar to a post that I've had rattling around in my own brain. There've been some articles circulated about the so-called "academic superheros" that entry level academic positions are requiring in their job descriptions, and I look at my academic career -- quite successful -- and I look at my motherhood -- also quite successful -- and I factor in all sorts of things (how much I faff around on social media, how much fiction I read, how little housework I do, the fact that my work is mostly restricted to 9-5 because that's when Gwen is in daycare, the fact that there are lots of things I just can't be bothered to get exercised over), and wonder what I'm doing wrong, in that I appear to fit the bill of "superhero" without killing myself.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 02:39 pm (UTC)
This shit where parents are supposed to CARE about EVERYTHING these days makes me so angry. The pressure is insane. I am already dreading the day I have to dress my kid up to look 100 on the 100th day of school. I am dreading people feeling like some cake and a balloon is not adequate to celebrate my son's first birthday.

The bar for the 'all' we are supposed to want keeps stretching higher and higher, and it's stupid. A lot of things you can choose to opt out of, but some things are harder than others, especially once your kids are old enough to feel left out. I remember the social pressure as a kid - it's intense. My coworker tells me all the time about all the special 'dress up' days elementary school does - some of which you have to PAY for - that a kid can certainly survive not participating in, but at a social cost.

And that's not even starting in on the pinterest mom thing. I have no interest in that. And even so, it's hard not to feel that edge of inadequacy creeping in when I think about birthday parties and Christmases and freaking like-- President's Days to come. Ug.
Feb. 23rd, 2016 04:56 pm (UTC)
People are surprised that I haven't enrolled D into any after school programs. Apparently she is missing out on opportunities for life. She is FIVE years old (and 3/4 as she will remind me). I am not sure why we place so much unwarranted pressure on ourselves. We need to priorities what "having it all" is and it's different with everyone. And if I can teach that to my child, I will claim success.

Did you know at her kindergarten, one of the criteria a five year needs to learn by end of kindergarten is that you can't have everything you want. You have to make choices and decisions on what's a need and a want and focus on the needs. ;)

Of course, many do get into this craze that having your child attend Harvard is a need. And to attain that it's an absolute must they attend a ton of activities and you have to care about every thing!
Feb. 23rd, 2016 05:42 pm (UTC)
That's true that some of it is self imposed, some of it is society and its crazy structures and prejudices...

But you make an assumption that the 40-hour workweek is somehow what should be considered the reasonable norm.... I do NOT think it was invented by someone who wanted to take on active parenting in a society where people often live far away from their kids grandparents. I think it is still very hard to even do the basics of cleaning, nutrition and outdoor time, quality family time, if both parents are working 40 hour workweeks muchtheless 60 (granted we have to take an hour for lunch so mine is really 45 which makes a big difference too).
Feb. 23rd, 2016 06:45 pm (UTC)
this is so true! This is our situation. For hubby and I to work 40 hours a week we would have to hire someone to do the cleaning, to the sitting, etc. For some it makes sense but for us it doesn't. Hence, hubby works 40 hours (and works from home and travels overseas). I can only work 20 hours or so and need the flexibility. Our friends who are now family all are in similar situations and so if anything occurs, it's on the two of us - and that's our biggest worry and concern for our daughter!
Feb. 24th, 2016 12:55 am (UTC)
Two things stand out to me.

One, a point I've raised before, is a lot of what Sheryl Sandberg writes is pretty classist. She has the luxury of being home every day at 5:30. People in all levels of management do. But those below them, or those not working your tradition 9 to 5? They don't. I'm in that category. I work from home. I run my own company. I have nothing to do with sales, but when a deadline pops up at 4:45, I don't have the luxury of turning it off to go join my family for dinner, because that could be the paycheck which pays my student loan payment that month, for example. Freelancing/consulting is like that; unless you're big time, you live contract to contract.

That's also why a lot of Feminists don't feel connected to what she writes, because it does not apply to them, has never applied to them in their entire working lives, and probably won't when their own children enter the work force. It's not about denying that there are no jobs that allow women to work 40 hours and have families; it's just that they are rare, increasingly more rare, but even then, those same jobs involve a hell of a lot of sacrifice.

Second, a lot of firsts--such as the haircut--I only became aware of because other parents told me it was important. I do think that speaks to commercialization. Would the first haircut be so important if companies like Tiffany's and Hallmark couldn't convince us to shell out dollars for novelty envelopes?
Feb. 24th, 2016 02:53 pm (UTC)
Well, she made going home at 5:30 a condition of her employment. And going home at 5:30 is not really going home at 5:30. It is going home at 5:30 and having dinner, then getting back to work or working from home.

And implicit in "going home at 5:30" is "I don't have to make dinner" because by 5:30 the smallest children are probably thinking the house hold pet looks delicious.
Feb. 24th, 2016 08:21 pm (UTC)
OK, but that actually supports my point. Most women don't have the ability to set that level of condition into their employment, even if they are high-powered executive types, are under tremendous pressure not to appear too demanding. Even in the nuance you offer here, there's an inherent privilege to Sandberg's writing that is alienating to many of the working force women who are barely getting by because they are paid entry-level wages for their master degree occupations and they have crippling student loan debt to boot. It's great that it worked for Sandberg, but she had a lot of opportunities and a lot of breaks handed to her since joining the powerful elite that are simply not available to women at lower social and economic strata.

I'm not discounting that she worked for everything she got, but she is better situated from jump than 98 percent of the women she hopes to reach with her Lean In philosophy, because it basically assumes the problem is that women aren't confident enough. Just as going home at 5:30 isn't really going home at 5:30, neither can women just inherent the work place.
Feb. 24th, 2016 05:19 am (UTC)
I don't have kids so I can't really say much with authority, but I remember finding a baby book (one of those fancy ones where you fill in baby's first smile, baby's first laugh, etc.) for my eldest brother. And it was partly filled out and then more or less abandoned. I asked my mother about it and she said that stuff was pretty overrated. She was not sentimental about baby's first haircut and nonsense like that it.
Feb. 24th, 2016 02:54 pm (UTC)
I am opposed to the notion that most jobs in engineering require someone to work 40 hours a week.
Feb. 25th, 2016 04:00 am (UTC)
Novel incoming. I have opinions on this and both boys are currently sleeping (!) Some of this has been mentioned by others as well, in which case consider this a supporting vote!

* There is a social pressure to be "the perfect mom". I think this is a backlash against career women. It's a way to make educated, intelligent, ambitious women pour their considerable energies and talents into a very tiny scope. When our generation wakes up, it will be the Feminist Mystique 2.0. See also "being a mom is the hardest/best/most worthwhile job". No. Just no. Being a mom is not a job. Do some people (not just women!) find that it works best for their family for them to stay home? Yes. Is it hard, exhausting work? Hell yes. But it is not a JOB, there is no financial remuneration. There is no sick leave or vacation time or cadre of coworkers to call on. It makes your world very small and robs society of your broader contributions.

*With two working parents, 40 hours is NOT balanced. I honestly don't know how we are going to give the boys any semblance of a bedtime. Right now, I drop them off at daycare around 7:45. Rob picks them up at about 6. People talk about kids going to sleep at 7. How in the heck are we supposed to get both of us home, cook and eat a family dinner, do homework (?!), have baths, and put them to bed by 7? Answer? You can't. So either, everyone has to get moving earlier (I'm already getting up at 5:30) so everyone can be home earlier, you accept a late bedtime (potentially leading to super cranky kids), or you do only kids stuff, whisk them into bed, and do dinner and prep for the next day after they are down (and you're still probably talking an 8pm bedtime.)

My ideal would be for Rob and I to each work 30 hours. This is still a net win for society (60 hours of productivity per family instead of 40) but few careers have salaries that make this possible and in the ones that do, such hours are rare and must be specially negotiated/may be career damaging.

*The reason young women are the ones asking the CEO about work-life balance is because they can look around and see who is doing all this work and it's not the men. It's gotten much better, but every study consistently shows women doing more work. And a LOT of that ties into social expectations. If the house isn't clean or the kids are wearing mismatched clothes...no one is looking at Rob, they are going to stink eye me. Our boys can go several days without needing an outfit changed sometimes. But I still insist on putting them in something new at least once a day. Not because I'm worried about their comfort, but because I don't want the daycare ladies to judge me. Rob does not worry about this at all.

This also manifests in the fact that even when the "doing" is 50/50, the "managing" is not. So yes, maybe dad cooks and mom does dishes and it's uptopia. But mom is still responsible for remembering the paperwork to go to daycare or that tomorrow is "wear a crazy hat day" at school. It's a lot of unrecognized, stressful mental labor. This was the part of Lean In that resonated most with me, when she talks about men needing to lean in at home. We won't get equality by just pushing women to do more more more.

And it's tough, because you don't want your kid to suffer because you resent crazy hat day. But damn, couldn't the kids MAKE their crazy hats at school with newspaper? Why is everything a homework assignment for the parents?

Of course, it's hard for women to let go, because of the social judgment, so it's a bit of a clusterfuck.

*Don't even get me started on what passes as "generous" maternity leave policies in this country. If one more person asks me to "think of the company!" I'm going to gag. Would this company like workers to exist in 20-30 years? Yes? Oh, well then maybe we shouldn't make it so burdensome to have and raise them. We have turned parenting into a solitary activity where you are punished for having had children by not being allowed to (a) ask for reasonable accommodations (b) ever take them anywhere ever unless it's explicitly for kids (c) complain because You Did This To Yourself etc. When did kids stop being part of society and start being a nuisance?


Ahem. /soapbox
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )

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