When second-wave feminists called for women’s liberation they did not limit themselves to politics. They prescribed a new way for women to live their lives. I have called it a feminist life plan.
Fair to say, it was brilliant. Change behavior first and occupy minds later.
You are more than familiar with the feminist life plan. Young women, in particular were exhorted to postpone marriage and childbearing in favor of career. You see, a married woman with children would be less likely to be completely invested in her career. The patriarchy invented motherhood in order to repress women’s career potential… right?
Young women were told that once they established themselves in their careers they would easily find husbands. Since they would not depend on a man for support they would find husbands who would love them for themselves alone.
The new feminist marriage would see husband and wife contribute equally to the household coffers, share housework equally and enjoy equal levels of career success.
Of course, it was all a lie. Just as older women who caught the feminist bug made divorce lawyers rich, younger women who followed the feminist life plan had more difficulty finding men to marry. Many of them discovered that being a feminist is a turn-off. Often they ended up making reproductive endocrinologists rich.
Beyond that, the gauzy vision of equal everything never seemed to work out in practice. Women still did most of the housework, either because their husbands were working late or because they were divorced.
Also, a young woman in college who has decided that she will not marry until she is well-established in her career will probably avoid men who are husband material in favor of men whom she would never marry.
In practice, this has meant that a feminist who started looking for a husband in, for example, her mid-thirties also had to overcome the traumas associated with multiple relationship failures. Under the circumstances her judgment of men would be faulty, because trauma does that to people.
The feminist life plan being sacred writ for most college women, Susan Patton’s open letter to the Daily Princetonian, in which she recommended that Princeton co-eds spend some of their recreational time looking for a suitable husband, was roundly denounced by feminists.
How dare she consign young women to a life of domestic servitude? Such was the protest and such is the pressure that forces young women to live the feminist life plan, like it or not.
Let us be generous and say that feminism has offered young women an alternative life plan, one that differs from the old plan whereby women would marry young and then pursue or not pursue career success. Let us grant that feminists want to provide women with a free choice.
If so, feminists should provide correct information about the difficulties young women will face if they adopt the feminist life plan. With good information young women can make an intelligent and free choice… and isn’t that what we want?
Which brings us to Jessica Grose. I take that Grose is a feminist, but the more important point is that her recent Slate XX article lays out clearly some of the difficulties that a woman will face if she allows feminism to shape her expectations or dictate her actions.
Responding to a recent article by Kate Tuttle, one in which Tuttle attempts to reassert the value of being a housewife—said reclaiming being necessary since Betty Friedan, in one of the most ignorant statements ever made by a respected public intellectual, announced that being a suburban housewife was like being in a concentration camp—Grose writes:
Tuttle’s essay comes at a time when more and more people seem to be finally acknowledging reality: that in our current system, it’s really difficult to have two working parents with full-time jobs, because home life requires a lot of necessary man-hours and a huge emotional investment, too.
A dose of reality is always a good thing. The throwaway line about “in our current system” is a sop to the sisterhood. I call it a sop because Grose does not offer any reference to a system in which things would be radically different. She does not because there is no such thing.
Be that as it may, Grose continues to describe the real life of Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi. And she offers Nooyi’s experience as a counterpoint to the claims by notable feminist recruiter and Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg.
Again, it’s a dose of reality that young women would do well to consider.
At last week’s Aspen Ideas Festival, Nooyi spoke to Atlanticowner David Bradley about work-life balance. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf called it “as frank a discussion of work-life balance as I've seen from a U.S. CEO.” Nooyi talked about working until midnight regularly—none of the “you can be CEO and home for dinner every night at 6” fantasy that we hear from Sheryl Sandberg. Nooyi also talked about how her parents and her husband’s parents were intimately involved in the raising of her two children.
It is worth emphasizing that all CEO’s work extremely long hours. Their time is not their own. They cannot define their own schedules. This means that when a woman becomes a high level corporate executive, her children will no longer have a mother.
Grose quotes Nooyi:
I don't think women can have it all. I just don't think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother, in fact many times during the day you have to make those decisions. And you have to co-opt a lot of people to help you. We co-opted our families to help us. We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I'm not sure they will say that I've been a good mom. I'm not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms …
You know, you have to cope, because you die with guilt. You just die with guilt. My observation, David, is that the biological clock and the career clock are in total conflict with each other. Total, complete conflict. When you have to have kids you have to build your career. Just as you're rising to middle management your kids need you because they're teenagers.
Grose offers some policy prescriptions, but they are neither here nor there. Nooyi’s powerful testimony should serve as a counterweight to the fantasies that feminists have been selling.
Grose does well to provide this information. Armed with facts young women will have a truly free choice.