why women still can’t have it all

An extremely thought-provoking (and quite long) piece written by mother of two, former director of policy planning at US State Department and dean at Princeton.

What an intriguing perspective on the generational differences. Women today enjoy rights and freedoms and reduced barriers thanks to the work of previous generations – we vote, we work, we are breaking glass ceilings. Now that the foundation has been laid, it is perhaps time to realise that the world progressive women have dedicated generations to ensuring women can participate in to the same extent and in the same capacity as men is, in fact, a world comprising systems created by men for men. In other words, women shouldn’t settle for being allowed into the old boys’ club. Even if the club was 100% women, it is still a club for men. The structure of the system itself – specifically, the time rigidities of the workplace – is a barrier for women.

To believe that “it’s possible if you are committed enough” is to believe that feminists have “won” and the fight for gender equality is over. Whether or not there is an “ambition gap,” it is sufficient to observe a barrier gap – that is, women face more barriers than men to reaching high-level positions. That creates a double setback: first, it takes more effort to reach that position; second, it takes more ambition to want that position.

Referring to the way women view their competing obligations to career and children, she and other women (mothers) say:

There’s really no choice.

I believe that. I believe that being a mother and a father are different. I believe that the maternal and paternal instincts are different.

One of the many fascinating nuggets is her ethics discussion regarding the competing obligations of work and family – specifically, the normative framing of whether a sacrifice of each is commendable or regrettable. A man who sacrifices family life for public service are often lauded, whereas the moral ‘stuff’ of a woman who does the same is often called into question.

Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family.

What of my assertion that the concept of “career” is fading in the 21st century – ever faster as the world economy continues to languish? Perhaps that was merely a projection of my ambition level onto the possibilities plane.

Another interesting issue, which echoes questions I asked in a few posts back about parenting, is what responsibilities a parent has to a child. She indirectly touches on this but I admit it is slightly tangential to the article’s focus.

Her discussion about the pursuit of happiness can be extrapolated to apply to the macro discussion of happiness and economic growth.

The piece does an excellent job of balancing myth-debunking stats on gender in the workplace with personal insights from herself and her peers.

She concludes with this:

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too […] We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women.

I disagree. We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women and all men.


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