Friday, February 1, 2008
The Good Wife's Guide
I am too busy now to comment. More later.
Now it is later, but way later because I have been busy at work, meetings, more meetings, evening work-related events, out dancing, dinners....my life is busy indeed. And I don't have a "wife" to cook for me, welcome me home, ask me how MY day went. Though most women I know wish they had such a creature. The article above -from 1955 has literally landed in my inbox several times in the past week, sent by several of my incredibly brilliant, well-educated and accomplished women friends! Interestingly, for various reasons lately I have had intense conversations with groups of women I am close to (and their friends) about the same subject: we have come a long way, baby. And then we have not. In more than one of these conversations, at least one woman has brought up the fact that those of us in our thirties or forties who grew up taking women's studies courses never heard about how hard this was going to be: we were told we could "have it all."
I have participated in various versions of a discussion about the reasons why women who have children still have to put their careers on hold. And the men, though they contribute far more to childcare than men of any generation ever have, still have the option of prioritizing their careers and expecting the wife/mother to pick up the slack. The women taking part in these conversations are all highly educated and at high-pressure jobs, some are married, some have children, some have neither but usually when they hear about a friend in such a situation, they all offer to have her back. When her husband or boyfriend does not.
Other recent topics of discussion relate to the sense of entitlement that men display, particularly when they are in professions where they are under-represented. In general many seem to feel they don't have to pay their dues. Yet we as women are coached to develop political tact and extreme deference to those senior to us. Men are excused when they lack such understanding or emotional intelligence. They are ambitious, the reasoning goes. They are expected to be so. However, if you are a woman and are as ambitious you are seen as a bitch or a social climber. This sense of entitlement is particularly true of straight men, who are immediately granted a leg up (ie. not considered for entry level but rather higher ranking positions at museums for example; or disproportionately act as heads of departments, directors and the like) I have been known to be more annoyed by a woman colleague I regarded as overly-ambitious than by a male colleague who was equally if not more of a ruthless competitor. I also was coerced into helping a former colleague with entry-level administrative tasks that he never had to learn because he was brought in one level higher than I was. Though we had the same qualifications and I was older than he. Well, not the same qualifications, he was white, heterosexual, and wealthy.
Related to this is the verbal sense of entitlement. You go to a panel discussion, and one of the least interesting lectures happens to be given by a man who in very condescending and pedantic terms proceeds to go way over the time allotted to him. This type of thing begins in graduate school and continues at myriad conferences, panels and the like. Yet we as women are watching the clock trying to not take up others' time. I remember recently being congratulated for being the ONLY person who kept to the time limit requested by the symposium organizer. Arrogance in men is somehow excused, viewed as natural. This is where I hit the wall with a man. I can't respect anyone who is arrogant, this detracts from my assesment of their "intelligence." Each semester I have to coach more than one female student to teach her NOT to apologize for her statements and thereby undermine her own intellectual credibility.
Apparently, I am told that the more educated and employed you are the more you "price yourself out" of the marriage market. Also, you are older and so it takes years to get the degree and pay your dues and then you are "too old" for men your own age. Who want a twentysomething bleached blond anorexic to bear their children. If you don't want children at all, you are clearly regarded as unnatural. I have discussed with friends the ways in which if you are a successful and smart woman, you have to somehow compensate for this so that potential dates don't feel "threatened" by you. Ways in which to do this vary from praising his intellect and downplaying your own, to displaying your own insecurities and/or emotional vulnerabilities.
Related to this is the often discussed advice that if you are contemplating dating a guy, you have to let him be "the man" and call the shots because they are sadly rendered confused by the post-feminist moment we live in. Men need to feel needed!! This means never asking them out, but rather passively waiting for them to make a move. I have been known to endorse this argument although this means enacting behavior that totally contradicts your view of yourself as an empowered woman. Which clearly you are if you have persevered in obtaining higher degrees and landing a good job in a highly competitive environment. How does one reconcile such contradictions? I have no idea.
All I know is that when I read that article, I wondered: how much have things changed?