Newsweek ran a piece titled Leading the Way to focus on women who will, supposedly, lead in the 21st century. The list includes a bunch of women who either didn’t adjust their careers for kids or have jobs that are incompatible with family. Here are some examples:

Sarah Chang: “I travel all year long. And every week is a new city.”
Renee Reijo Pera: “At 47, I am going to become a mother soon.”
Marissa Mayer: “Google is a very comfortable environment for me because…a great late-night conversation really inspires me.”

The women of Newsweek are not the heroes of my generation. On the whole, my generation is not interested in this sort of achievement. Not even the men.

Wharton just published a study titled, Plateauing, Redefining Success at Work. The study finds that “rather than subscribing to the onward and upward motto, men and women in middle management are more interested in plateauing, unhooking from the pressure to follow and uphill path that someone else has set. (Thanks, Wendy)

The Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland published a study that found that senior executives have a lower quality of life than the terminally ill. (via Slow Leadership)

These women in Newsweek have given up everything for their careers. This is not what my generation views as success. This is what baby boomers view as success.

Newsweek does not reference to the fact that Gen Xers typically put family before career, and there is no acknowledgment that fertility takes a nose-dive at age 35. In fact, this article about women who have careers that leave no room for families is paired with photos of women with twins and triplets: As if IVF works all the time. Which it doesn’t.

Everyone worries about the media using women who are too thin as role models. I worry about the media using women who give up everything for their job as role models. Both are outdated and serve to limit women in senseless ways.

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  1. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    I am not backpedaling, you just didn’t bother to READ what I said. And feel free to use whatever term you like. I used the term ‘childless’ and I am not going to allow you to be my thought police.

  2. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Anastasia, I have read all of your comments and they seem full of self-contradiction. Maybe that is because you feel personally conflicted on the issue, since you are on the fence about having children yourself. But on one hand you say that people who choose not to have children can still have lives full of meaning and contribution (even you), but you also say that thinking your life can be whole and complete without children is “buying into a stupid feminist lie.”

    Whether you have children or not, there will be a path you didn’t take. You seem to understand that. But you are mistaken about these biological urges to have children. Maybe some people have them, but many certainly do not, and I suspect a lot of people who CLAIM to have those urges are really just caving in to societal pressure – such as the silly, romanticized notion that having children lends you purpose in being a woman. At any rate, how on earth can a person’s instincts be more “informed” on an issue than their cognizant mind? A lot of women I know just had kids as a way to solve their career problems. They find that the world of work isn’t as exciting or glamorous as it looked on TV, and having children is a “respectable” reason to quit. Most of them find that childcare isn’t nearly as exciting or glamorous as it looked on TV, either, and certainly choosing one thing simply to escape something else doesn’t sound like a great option in my view.

    I’m not trying to be your thought police, but I choose the term “childfree” because when it comes to not having something I don’t want in the first place, I am hardly “less” that thing, I am “free” of it. A thousand years ago, the only form of birth control we had available to us was being able to run fast – it has only been relatively recently that women have had any kind of real choice in the matter. But old ideas die hard, and even in a world crammed with over 6 billion people, there are a lot of people who feel uncomfortable about challenging old, “sacred” notions of what a person’s life checklist ought to contain.

    But these are individual decisions, and as long as your choices have no negative impact on anyone else, they are yours alone to make – not of some societal “collective.” If it bothers some people to see current generations of young women “getting away with” choices that were not available to older generations, there is still no reason to have children out of a sense of martyrdom or obligation. No one is obliged to have children. Have them if you truly want them and have the means to raise them, but keep giving it careful thought, because you certainly are right that it will take a lot of strength, energy, and money.

  3. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    Okay, this is the point that I really come to respect you. And I admit, now you mention it I notice a few twitches of my own knee that you have brought up. In speaking of the biological necessity I was originally thinking of the species as a whole, but I got totally off track there, you’re right. And yes, I can see where your context for childfree makes much better sense than childless. I really didn’t start out trying to encourage women to be mothers. Anyone who thinks that this limits them should certainly be aware that it’s not the only way to go. Two points of clarification, I think that it is more informed to have the info from both cognizant mind AND instincts, not just instinct. I would not want my instincts to manage my decisions, they tend toward reactionary;] The other point is that I don’t think having children is a purely female urge. Part of the mysticism about it is that it’s this ‘girls only’ club, and I don’t buy it. Male parenting is a powerful drive, often equal to that felt by women who posses such a drive.

    A big part of my reaction to this is that my mom was one of the original feminists, and ended up with several children, no husband, and a lot of criticism for her life choices. By not aborting us or putting us up for adoption she took the harder road, and at the end of it I am not fully convinced that it was the better one, but I am very grateful that it’s the one she picked. I don’t over-mysticize parenthood (a little, maybe, but not unhealthily, I don’t think) but it’s a big deal, and it changes lives, priorities, and outlooks of most of the people who do it. I think it’s a terrible out-clause for working, becasue it doesn’t actually get you out of working. It often doubles or triples your work load. I can’t say from PERSONAL experience, but with all that labor there must be SOME payoff. Work builds things.

    Thanks for your insights. You have definitely expanded my POV on the subject.

  4. Duane
    Duane says:

    WOW. After reading the bow shots taken by Anastasia and Jo, I don’t even want to open up the subject of birth control, abortion, and their affect on women’s choices… but I might!

    One thing about this discussion and how it mirrors my own family has interested me. I am from a family of six children (4 girls/2 boys). I saw the disadvantages of growing up in a large family from a child’s perspective, and didn’t like it – in fact I vowed not to have a big family or maybe any kids at all.

    In the end, I married into one daughter and then had one more, and I can generally say I love being a dad. My youngest is getting ready to graduate college. But after all this, I still believe that too many kids in a family is worse for everyone involved.

    Like me, my brother had only one child, but we call our sisters “the breeders”, having up to six kids each. They live the same middle-class life we all grew up in, and are always short of money, complain about lack of vacations, etc.

    It has always amazed me that they don’t seem to make the logical connection between their life choice to be “breeders”, versus having only a couple kids, which would allow them more opportunities for better jobs and more travel.

    It’s just a subject I stay away from with them, but have brought here to vent to you people…

  5. Pirate Jo
    Pirate Jo says:

    Hey Duane, Anastasia and I learned how to play nice! ;-) It’s just a matter of talking things out until you understand where the other person is coming from. Although I admit I did react pretty defensively at first.

    You and Anastasia have both shared a similar experience, though – growing up in households where resources were scarce and children plentiful. And you both seem to have made the connection between the two! It’s okay to be grateful to your parents but decide for yourselves not to do the same things they did.

    I’ve read a few articles about this very thing – the type of college education, for example, parents can provide one or two kids versus five or six. Is it immoral for a couple to have more kids when it starts to seriously restrict the options available to the children they already have? Where do you draw the line? (For that matter, to what extent do parents even “owe” their kids a college education?) The connection between more kids and less money is quite obvious, though. Certainly in this day and age, people can’t think babies “just happen” – your observation about birth control is very relevant.

  6. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    I don’t think that parents ‘owe’ their kids a college education. At least, my parents don’t owe me one. They did without while I was growing up, and now I can take care of myself. I wonder if I would feel the same way if they had the money to spare?

  7. Duane
    Duane says:

    I don’t think I “owe” my kids a college education. However, I did pay for their books, tuition, dorm or rent, leaving them to get jobs for their spending, eating, and gas money. My goal is to get them both educations with no residual debt for either of us, and I am about to meet that goal.
    My desire for them to go to college was primarily based on their personal success and independence. I didn’t want them to think that getting married and having babies was their only option since they had no skills other than being high school graduates.
    Related directly to earlier discussions, I think I was able to provide a college education primarily because I didn’t have several children requiring resourses. At the same time, the girls had to work for the things THEY wanted, thereby teaching them good financial practices. I honestly think they would be terribly embarrased to ask for money (even though they know I have it), because of their high level of pride in their own accomplishments.
    Since my life wasn’t overwhelmed with a house full of children, I also think that has made me ready to accept grandchildren more readily when that happens.

  8. Anastasia
    Anastasia says:

    I think you handled the college situation very sensibly.
    And yes, they are are plenty of reasons not to have a pack of kids financial and otherwise, but I think everyone in this thread has been a little hard on the decision. If your career choice is ‘mother’ the best thing you can do is go to college and get a degree in something that will help you with that goal, like Early Childhood Development, Take your time picking a suitable co-parent, and let your body mature past puberty before you start. Most people who have a pack of kids don’t do any of these things, and why? Because it is not so much something they planned as something that came up. My parents, for instance, used every birth control available at the time, and they are bright people. They can read directions. When that happens, I am pleased to see people taking responsibility for the children, doing their best, even if it is not quite enough. Adoption is a viable option, but abortion is a cowards way out of a situation they created for themselves.

  9. Wanda
    Wanda says:

    This is probably a little (okay, very late) of a response, but I read that article and wanted to offer my thoughts. I thought Sarah Chang was especially great – she is living her dreams, doing something that she loves (music), and winning acclaim and the respect of her peers. She had the opportunity to play in North Korea – how many 20somethings get that? I believe that if any of these women wanted a family, they have the drive and the passion to make it happen. I’m not saying there aren’t hard choices to be made, but the great thing is that now we HAVE choices. Not as much as we’d like or as effortless as we’d like, perhaps, or maybe more than we’d like, but I’d rather have choices, than have no choice at all.

  10. Jake McKee
    Jake McKee says:

    Penelope, thanks for starting such a great conversation. It’s a fantastic discussion, and one of the best comment threads I’ve read on a blog in a long time.

    SJ said: “you rarely hear someone chide men for putting off fatherhood, or worse, pursuing career goals to the exclusion of children they already have.”

    SJ, if *you* don’t hear it enough, let me chide away now for your listening pleasure.

    I’d say that this gets talked about more than you’d think. The “busy dad” is the subject of many movies, books, TV episodes, and news stories (remember the “Deadbeat Dad” stories? This was about more than JUST not paying child support).

    Is there balance in the men vs. women chiding? No, not really. But we’re overcoming human history of the role of men vs. women, so it’s not at all surprising that men and women don’t have the same expectations heaped on them.

    One story that has stuck out to me since the day I heard about it was about CNN’s Paula Zahn. A year or so after 9/11, I read interview with where she talked about hearing about the attacks, dropping her kids with someone (nanny?), and rushing to the site to start reporting (she actually hadn’t officially started at CNN yet).

    This was lauded by the reporter and many who shared the story as being the brave Paula Zahn. I was in New York that day and I didn’t have kids. I now have a 9mo baby and can’t possibly imagine leave her while I rushed off, no matter how career related/relevant it would have been. We knew nothing about what was going on, what was happening next, or how dangerous the decision was. Her story turned my stomach (and still does to this day).

    I’ve struggled to understand, in my own head, would I have thought the same thing about a man? Would it have simply seemed brave? Do I have a double standard in my own head?

    I really don’t know, but I’d like to believe that I’d agree that man or woman, dumping your kids and rushing into danger is a horrendous personality flaw.

  11. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Someone I don’t respect is Sally Krawcheck. I work for Citigroup, and when she gave a speech to my Associate class, she said she was a great CFO but a terrible mother and wife. She shrugged it off – “you can’t have everything.” Not a woman to be admired from my perspective.

  12. Amy
    Amy says:

    I already decided if I’m not married and my buns & oven are not working when I turn 40, I’m adopting an older foster kid, like 7 or 8. Those kids are looking for a loving, stable home environmen and I think I can provide them that. That’s why I’m not against transracial adoption or gay/lesiban couples adopting foster kids.

  13. Laocoon142
    Laocoon142 says:

    No, this is not what boomers view as success. The skill sets are different for being successful in business vs. being successful in raising a family. The choices are hard. Providing financially, including having health insurance and some protection against bankruptcy, or having a life with more “time” for one’s children while coping with the frustrations of one’s own inadequacy when the bills can’t get paid or when the children can’t have what they need (and I mean, need, for their development, their education, and their health). I suggest that some of these posters take another look at the financial risks that are imposed on households today vs. the financial risks to households in earlier decades. I think you will see that more risk and responsibility is being shoved down to individuals and households. Boomers have learned that there is no one who will bail anyone out and we have defined success as making tough choices to try to ensure our future economic security. It’s not about consumption.

  14. anon
    anon says:

    To some people, it isn’t work that means “giving up everything.”  It’s motherhood. Being an expert in artificial intelligence is not somehow missing out on life — it IS life.

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