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NANCE: The feminist myth of ‘work-family’ balance
We need to be OK with not ‘having it all’
With all of the talk of women lately, why has no one sounded the whistle that March is Women's History Month? During the 1960s, feminist-movement moguls such as Betty Friedan championed themselves as liberators of the poor and miserable stay-at-home mothers. They deemed motherhood as a life sentence with no hope of parole. Fast-forward to 2013, and that war cry is fading, their ranks are shrinking, and liberal feminists are being forced to reinvent their identity to maintain any shred of relevance.
Why? It's all because of a big question liberal feminists forgot to face head-on: "Is professional and financial ultra-success ultimately more important to women than their kids?" The painful answer that conservative women knew instinctively is a resounding "no." In fact, when you ask most mothers in the workforce what job title is her most cherished accolade, their answer will most likely be: "Mom."
If you look at the feminist movement through today's lens, you see that not even their own members are listening to the condescending attitudes toward women who sacrifice their career advances in order to focus on their families. Take, for example, an article that ran last summer in The Atlantic magazine titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department. Ms. Slaughter, a left-leaning, high-powered professional, is seen by many as a traitor for exposing the feminist myth that today's women can "have it all" in terms of a work-family balance.
Ms. Slaughter writes: "Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the young generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating 'you can have it all' is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk."
Many women would respond with the question, "What is success?" Does making six figures per year, with a rich family and social life, rather than holding down a top job as a "1 percenter" working 80- to 90-hour weeks with no time to see your loved ones, mean "success"? Or does it mean that you settled? I think not.
Funny thing about young women on the verge of entering the workforce: They fear failing to uncover some grand mystery of a perfect work-family ratio. The questions female Ivy League students ask Ms. Slaughter about this juggling act are the exact same questions I'm asked on conservative Christian campuses: "What does balance look like?" and "How do you do it?" There's no big secret.
Women have come to realize that juggling a job and the needs of their family at the same time is not possible without flexibility. With flexibility comes sacrifice. This was my experience when my own children were toddlers. I chose to climb the career ladder until my daughter was born, then I willfully left the workforce for a season, and then took on part-time consulting work to supplement my family's household income. Once I stepped back in, my male counterparts and a few women had continued up the ladder, while I had to begin where I left off. Still, the precious time I spent with my children during their early years was worth the sacrifice of a full-time salary and promotions.
That opportunity doesn't always happen for every woman. Especially in today's weak economy, many women do not have a choice in the matter. It's not these women in a tight spot over whom liberal feminists quibble, however. No, they are baffled and outraged by well-to-do, educated women who trade career ambitions for diaper duty, or those who prefer nonprofit charity work to running a Fortune 500 firm. For as much as they talk of "liberation," many feminists want to impose their own set of burdensome standards on women as to how they should think and act. They don't want to admit that stay-at-home moms are fulfilled by devoting their attention to their households. Others, like me, find contentment in sacrificing some family time in order to work toward leaving a sound nation behind for our children.
Whatever mixture women end up choosing, they have the potential of finding satisfaction and contentment in their unique blend of callings. The point is that telling individual mothers what's best for them based on some preconceived formula will not suit everyone, and will be doomed to limit and ultimately disappoint a huge proportion of women.
Penny Young Nance is CEO of Concerned Women for America.
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