On women’s work
Reading Johanna Ginsberg’s excellent review of Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” it struck me that one thing traditional feminism promulgated as an unqualified good, yet never really came to terms with, is careerism itself (“Maybe we’re all in trouble,” July 11).
We take it as given that in order to be respected, intellectually engaged, and socially equal to men, women should want and pursue equally important careers. But the shape a successful career in the U.S. is supposed to take — its intensity, duration, and schedule of advancement — remains a traditionally masculine paradigm reinforced by the economic efficiency of labor divisions, particularly when child care isn’t well subsidized. It takes a lot of self-interest, ambition, resources, and good fortune (or a lack of interest in children and family) for a woman to be able to function successfully in that paradigm. Given the cost, I’m not sure all of us should want it even if we did get paid fairly, and even if we weren’t penalized for having children.
I wonder if women striving to fit themselves into a standard American career model are too often encouraged to internalize the desire for a “male” life trajectory, much the way we were expected to think and feel like males when the sexual revolution freed men from responsibility for the consequences of intercourse. (“Free love” was terrific for people — mostly men — who wanted to have lots of great sex and only trivial emotional commitments; not so terrific for people — more often women — whose interest was in great sex plus stable families and equality in committed relationships.)
I’m not sure it’s that women can’t have it all. I think maybe it’s that most of us can’t be it all, and therefore shouldn’t entrap ourselves into wanting and exalting a masculine work paradigm that devalues all others. Maybe this is something traditionalists understand on some level — and that misogynists exploit to claim that feminism is malignant, when in fact it is only incomplete.