Monday, October 5, 2015

The Having-It-All Myth

In today’s post, the data is from my observation, from which I’m extrapolating an opinion. More often I prefer data from broader and deeper sources, from which drawing conclusions is more or less inescapable. Data I use about the family as the basic unit of society, and the importance of mothers and fathers in raising children, comes to mind.

While I think my opinions today will also be accurate, they’re more my impressions than conclusions of social science.

Recently I attended a dinner with a number of colleagues of my husband, people who are expert in their field. They range in age from mid-thirties to mid-fifties (Mr. Spherical Model is at the upper age range, and also among the most experienced in the specialized field). Around thirty people attended. I think there was one other spouse besides me. I counted five men; the rest were women.

After accounting for various factors, I decided to assume the field as a whole is about 25% male and 75% female.  When Mr. Spherical Model was in graduate school, women were well represented, but men still accounted for at least half of his class. So there has been movement in the past several decades. It is an education field, and women are well represented (a heavy majority) in other areas of education. So this shift isn’t surprising.

Among the group of thirty or so, most of the men were married; one or two others had children, but not all. Most of the women were not married. In fact, from what I think I observed, most had never been married. The very nice lady seated next to me had been married for a couple of years, but had lived with her husband for seventeen years. No children. And I’m guessing the time of opportunity has passed.

I was an anomaly in their world. I had been acquainted with their field from before I met Mr. Spherical Model; I was an educational technical writer for people in his professional specialty. In fact, he went to the graduate school recommended by my boss. So I’m more familiar with the field than these colleagues knew. But they were so unfamiliar with my lifestyle that they couldn’t find questions beyond how many kids and grandkids. I don’t mean to say they were rude or exclusionary. I’m simply saying that my world was unfamiliar to them, although they probably imagined that they totally knew what it was about.

From those I know in this professional field, some have wanted to marry. They liked the idea. But it just never happened. When they were young, in their twenties, they were in school, then graduate school, with maybe a stint in elementary or secondary education in between. And then they were focused on the first job and getting a career underway. Sometimes travel was involved. And long hours.

They believe they would have been open to the right relationship, if it had come along at the right time. In their thirties they tried several failed relationships, and may have tried various dating services. But now, in their forties, family isn’t likely to happen. So career is their life. Plus a few outside interests. (Several considered themselves wine aficionados. Some knew the best restaurants in the most traveled cities.)

I also observed—not judging, just curious—that very few of the women wore makeup. They do their hair, often colored and stylishly cut. They may do their nails. But not their faces. Their clothes were what you’d expect at a business casual event. I think they have gotten to a point in their lives that looking good enough is important, but beyond that, they would just rather not fuss. So, no makeup.

I’m not joining them in that. I don’t know if it has to do with the invisibility of going through my career years as a stay-at-home mom, or if it’s a quirk of my personality. But, even though I don’t wear a lot of makeup (I skip foundation and eye shadow), when I don’t wear makeup I get asked if I’m ill. Or I’m not noticed at all. I’ll be introspectively thinking about this detail.

Back at the office where Mr. Spherical Model works, among people in his field as well as other assignments, several more women are married. But divorce is common. And one or two children is about the limit. If a woman gets to her early thirties without marriage, chances are she’ll miss out on family.

This is much less likely to be true of men, who often marry in their twenties or early thirties, and have a rich and full family life in addition to their career.

So, the question is, is it because society is sexist and intrinsically unfair? That’s what feminism would say. But that’s not what I’m seeing.

I’m seeing more women with opportunities than men. Women get paid as much in this field as men do, for the same work. Women are as likely, maybe more so, to get into consulting and be their own boss. The business treats them at least equally well. But women don’t easily multitask when it comes to career and family.

When I look more broadly at society, that seems like it can’t be true. More women work than not. Most women eventually have children. There’s huge financial pressure for women to work. And there’s huge societal pressure for women to assert their feminist rights by working. Family becomes incidental. But I think I’m observing that women in successful careers are more likely to be unmarried than men are. (I’m thinking of Condoleeza Rice, for example. Carly Fiorina is a high-caliber businesswoman and married, but didn’t have children of her own.)
I saw this Rodin sculpture a couple of weeks ago,
Premiere Impression d'Amour,
or First Impression of Love,
at the Smithsonian Gallery of Art.
My photos were inadequate; this one found here.

To a woman who becomes a mother, a child is not an incidental nice thing to have, like a pet, or maybe a recreational boat. A child become a raison d’être. She doesn’t work for her personal fulfillment anymore; she may work because she must, but she’s focused on that child. And she might wish to be home with that little one. This means she might choose a less demanding career, or just a predictably limited job, or maybe part-time work.

She doesn’t have a “wife” at home, to see to the cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, laundry, and family scheduling. She can’t just come home and spend a good hour or two with the child before bedtime. She has to do it all. And doing it all is exhausting.

Are there situations with stay-at-home dads with career moms? Yes. They’re functional in their own way. They’re certainly not immoral or wrong for the child. But they’re rare. One of the main reasons is physiological. Having a baby is a physical strain. A woman might decide ahead of time that she’ll be one of those strong women, who exercise all the way up to the final couple of weeks of pregnancy, believing that will give her energy to work right up until the end.

But she might not know that her pregnancy will include a whole lot of nausea, with accompanying exhaustion, and an overwhelming desire to just put her feet up and rest, and not think—no matter how disciplined and energetic she was before. And she might not have the physical ability to go through pregnancy as if it’s no more than a slight inconvenience. She might not have planned on how much this baby would become an overwhelming love and focus, with career seeming less vital.
Women are the ones who have babies. And breastfeed them, because their bodies are made to do those miraculous things.

If a life is centered on a woman’s career, it can’t also be focused on family. Focus is singular—the one point at which everything is clear.

I’m not saying that no woman can have a successful career and be married and raise children. That happens. I’m saying it’s a lot harder to do, for very natural reasons, than the feminist movement would lead you to believe. It has been a lie, that women can “have it all.”

You can do some things. You can possibly do some things really well. You might do several things somewhat well—which is the reality for most women, out of necessity. But you are not likely to do it all well, and enjoy it, all at the same time.

If you decide to focus on career all the way through your twenties, because, once you’re established, you can always add in family later, you are very likely to remain focused on career through your thirties, and then your forties. Careers build. There doesn’t seem to come a time when you can set it on the back burner and work less hard. You won’t have available time. And you won’t have available men to choose from, because they’ve gotten married while you were busy.

A woman who chooses a career can do good in the world, and can be self-sufficient. If that is her greatest desire, she should be free to choose such a life. But if a woman chooses to focus on her family, even as a stay-at-home mom if she can, she contributes to perpetuating civilization, and she does it because of love beyond what she previously knew she was capable of.

As C. S. Lewis says, "The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only....and that is to support this ultimate career."

Image found here

This past weekend during the LDS Church’s semi-annual general conference, one of our apostles, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, spoke about motherhood as a metaphor for the love of Jesus Christ. He said, “No love in mortality comes closer to approximating the pure love of Jesus Christ than the love a devoted mother has for her child.”

Elder Holland also said, “God bless you. You are doing better than you think you are.”

If we are to restore and sustain civilization, it will be because women choose to be mothers—good, nurturing mothers—who combine with good fathers to civilize the children they love.

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