In writing my recent post on choice & policy I was also thinking about whether it is a betrayal of feminism to actively pursue work that is less demanding. Or at least work that is less of a strain on one’s family life. Which often means forgoing the corner office.
But with a quick turn of events, I think my answer landed in my lap.
First, let me say that I am grateful there are smart men & women who have an inner drive for ambition. They will race to the top no matter what & these trail-blazers, like my own boss, are in a unique position to push the rest of us toward our best without trampling our families in the process.
But let’s face it, many of us don’t have that drive. What’s more, some of us discover (somewhat shockingly, given our training as good, young feminists) that our family life gives us greater satisfaction than our work successes, or at least more satisfaction than we were taught to expect when we read the works of Simone de Beauvoir & Judith Butler in college.
And if the only examples of “success” come from those at the top … well, the rest of us will continue to feel like failures (both as feminists and career women) for not working harder or sacrificing more. Ms. Sandberg’s latest effort to get women to break through the glass ceiling appears to be one such example… I feel inadequate just seeing Ms. Sandberg’s name in print, let alone when she tells me I need to do a better job of “leaning in!”
But “leaning in” also requires “leaning away” (from family, friends & community) & “leaning on” (a silent at-home partner, care providers, earth-taxing conveniences). And isn’t the advice to be more assertive, to “raise our hands more,” simply suggesting that I act more “like a man” instead of like a powerful woman?! … Um, no thanks.
The problem with models of success from the top is that they are rarely innovative & often simply reinforce traditional structures built on a glorification of the extroverted male. (Anne Marie Slaughter is the rare exception.)
I want “success” on my own terms. And for me, success happens to be a complicated mish-mash of family, career & community but it does not include making partner or breaking glass ceilings. Success does mean supporting my family emotionally & pursuing work that I believe in.
We all need our own vision of success. And we are entitled to have different visions of success. But I don’t think Ms. Mayer or Ms. Sandberg are moving anyone (woman or man) in the right direction. They are certainly not imagining anything close to an empowering multitude of successes. When our vision of success is limited to “the top” we are disempowering ourselves & each other.
So, no, I don’t feel I am betraying feminism by pursuing balance rather than the corner office. In fact, by building equality at home & seeking excellence in my work, I feel I am (imperfectly) doing all I can to further gender equality in my little corner of the world. And I happen to think my little corner is darned important to a few people & to my community (& maybe even something more…).