It was never realistic to believe that women could have it all, that they could be all things to all people at all times. Even men have never been able to do that.
And yet, feminists have insisted that women should have it all, that they should be able to combine their work as high powered career women with their duties to home and children. Since feminists want there to be gender equity at all levels of the corporate hierarchy, many women have tried to fulfill this dream.
They have only rarely succeeded. At times, they had to neglect their children. At times, they were less focused on their jobs. At times, they have alienated their husbands and gotten divorced.
Today, many of their daughters, having witnessed their struggle, are choosing career paths that will allow them more flexibility. They might want to be more available to care for their children when their children require their presence. They might choose less demanding careers or they might take more time off from their work. Fewer of them expect that their career paths must correspond to those of their husbands. Those who want to have important careers are increasingly saying that they are willing not to have children.
As feminist ideology loses its hold on women, women are making decisions based on what is best for them and for their children. It’s far better than making decisions based on what is best for feminism.
Claire Cain Miller describes it:
In the Harvard survey, fewer young women than older women said they expected to successfully combine work and family or have a career equal to that of their husband.
“With the boomers, there was a real ascendance in this idea of having very egalitarian partnerships and the ability to have high-powered careers, and that has diminished with Generation X and even more so with this millennial generation,” said Colleen Ammerman, assistant director of the Harvard gender initiative.
By the numbers it looks like this:
By age 30, nearly half of the women in the Harvard study who were married said they had chosen a job with more flexibility, 26 percent had slowed down the pace of their career and 9 percent had declined a promotion because of family responsibilities.
Clearly, the surveys show a trend:
Women’s expectations have declined: 66 percent of millennial women said they expected their careers to be equal to those of their spouses, compared with 79 percent of baby boomers. Three-quarters of millennial women said they expected to succeed in combining their careers and family life, but that is a significant drop from the 86 percent of baby boomer women who said the same.
Millennial women have learned that life is about give-and-take. You cannot force it to fit into an ideological mold.
In Miller’s words:
You might call them the planning generation: Their approach is less all or nothing — climb the career ladder or stay home with children — and more give and take.
Will these women be less likely to follow the advice of Sheryl Sandberg and lean in?
Miller thinks not:
Young women do not seem to be lowering their ambitions — or “leaving before you leave,” as Sheryl Sandberg described it in “Lean In.” Their career goals, and their accomplishments in the years immediately after business school, were indistinguishable from those of men. Rather, they say, they are thinking ahead to some potentially tough decisions.
This feels slightly confusing. If women are more willing to balance career with childcare responsibilities, they will surely be lowering their ambitions… for a time, at least.
Feminists believe that these changes have all come about because women became more conscious of their oppressed condition and rebelled against it.
Allow an alternative explanation. Twentieth century advances in medicine and sanitation have radically increased human life expectancy. A century ago the lifespan of Americans was around 46. Even if this number is distorted by the number of children who died in infancy, still, most people did not expect to live too much beyond their fifties. By the time Franklin Roosevelt established Social Security in the mid- 1930s, average life expectancy was 61. Today, that number has increased by twenty years.
Women who know that their normal lifespan is over 80 will feel less pressure to have children when they are young. Women who know that their children are very likely to survive childhood can delay childbearing for a time, without taking any inordinate risks. And they will know that when their children have left home they will still have many productive years in the workforce.
Of course, the fact that a woman has more latitude in choosing when to have children does not mean that she can wait forever. Increased longevity offers women more choices. It does not mean that they can or should believe that their lives should be precisely the same as those of men.
If a woman is going to be the primary caregiving parent she will not be having the same career path as her husband. But, why should the male life plan be the gold standard, anyway?