The wage gap, of course, is the gap between men and women. We don’t talk about the wage gap between, say, black men and white men because the causes are so visible. Like, most black boys do not grow up with a father, and in some cities 50% of black men have been in prison.

But we talk about the wage gap between men and women like it is some Escher puzzle that we can solve through infinite stories in the media.

But in fact, the wage gap between men and women is as big a red herring as the gap between black and white men. Women don’t care about workplace stuff and men don’t care about home stuff.

I know that’s a stereotype, a cliche. But it’s a cliche for a reason. I’m right.

The issue is that if you take a man and woman who have equal qualifications at work and you add kids to the mix, the woman’s salary goes down as the man’s goes up. We know that this is by choice. Each gender typically makes choices that move their salary one way or the other.

Here’s how to understand those choices:

Unmarried men almost always say they want to share household duties equally. However this is so completely not how it turns out that evolutionary psychologist David Buss says the equality thing is merely a mating call. Men can’t be in a relationship today unless they say they want to assume household duties.

I actually think men do want to do half. But they want to do half of what they think needs doing. So, for example, changing the sheets on the kids’ beds does not matter to a guy. The sheets don’t have poop on them, so they’re clean. If the sheets have poop on them, the guy has no trouble changing them. He does it immediately.

My brother’s friend, who is a banker married to a stay-at-home wife and surely does nothing around the house but surely thinks he does, suggests that couples use a chess clock to keep track of household contributions. He says you announce that you are doing a household chore, and you ask your spouse if it is something they care about. If the answer is yes, you hit the clock while you’re doing the chore.

This experiment would make things look equal. And you can take this beyond household chores. For example, when a mom drops a kid off at a new friend’s house, the mom stops and talks to the parent and sniffs out the house. The dad says hello and leaves.

Yes, that’s a stereotype, but there is a ream of hard data to show that on balance, this is true.

Which brings me to March Madness. In high school I played NCAA brackets because I wanted to hang out with the boys who did that. It was a way to get them to pay attention to me. When I worked on the trading floor, the betting pools are so entrenched in the culture that there are arbitrage signs for when trading stops to deal with the betting pools. During the NCAA playoffs, if you ask for a bid in the S&P pit, miming a basketball shot means that the trading volume is reallly low because the traders are cleaning up their brackets.

The New York Times reports that women work more hours at the office than men do. There’s a problem with that statistic too, though. Men think they are working at work just like they think they are doing chores at home. Most of work is social. So women are putting their heads down and knocking out their to-do lists while men are running betting pools.

The problem with the data about who works harder at the office is who defines what work is—the same problem is at home, defining housework. At the office, the most important work is socializing. It’s the stuff that comes from emotional intelligence and makes you an office politics star. The real work at work is knowing what people need and helping them get it so they give you what you need.

The gap between men and women working at work starts in school. Girls work so much harder at getting good grades than boys do that it’s easier to get into college if you’re a boy. And girls work so much harder at doing what they are told to do in college that more girls graduate than boys. The problem is that the work world doesn’t revolve around your grades. The work world relies on the same skills boys have been developing the whole time they have been getting sent to the principal’s office.

So what do we do with this information?

1. Stop treating men and women the same. There’s a great letter in the Princeton alumni magazine to women in Princeton: get married in college, which is where the pickings are better. I like the letter because it’s a warning to the next generation: don’t be mislead by older people telling you that men and women can do the same work: at home, in the office, or in school. In each stage of life, men and women care about different things. [Note: Princeton removed the link from their site. But there is conversation all over the Internet about it anyway. Here’s a discussion at NPR.]

2. Understand the different stages of life. For women, when they turn 30, it’s time to have kids if they want them. Men can start a new career when they’re 30. Women can’t. You can’t start two new careers at once, and having a kid is starting a new career for women. Not men.

3. Accept that this is a problem inherent in school. School teaches that linear progression is important. And that high achievement through ranking and competition is important. Using your intelligence to gain influence and or money is important. None of these things happen when you scale back your career to have kids. None of these things happen when your husband thinks the bathroom is clean and you don’t. School teaches girls that the things women value and the choices women make are largely not valuable. At least not as valuable as ranking and influence and money and achievement.

The real gap here is between the values we teach kids in school and the values we reward in the work world. We really do value what we choose to spend time doing. Women make choices that are not a linear progression from what we learn in school. Which means that at age 30, there is a crisis: women have been high performers their whole lives and they realize, often, that they don’t care enough about that contest to keep winning at it.

The real workplace revolution is not happening at work. Women today reject our chronically unbending and incredibly demanding corporate culture. Most women don’t want to get past the glass ceiling.

Which means that the real revolution begins in school, where we have to start teaching kids that there is a wide range of paths in adult life, and many of them have nothing to do with book knowledge and high IQ. Until we start doing this, women will always feel regret and disappointment when they stop being high achievers in order to make decisions more consistent with their values.

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  1. Joseph Fusco
    Joseph Fusco says:

    The last paragraph is wise and true.

    I would add the words “men and,” however, as in “Until we start doing this, *men and* women will always feel regret and disappointment…”

  2. Tiffany
    Tiffany says:

    This is so unbelievably and insufferably sexist I can’t get my head around it.

    The problem with your list is it’s the current reality of how things work. But it absolutely does not mean we have to abide by it. I didn’t hit 30 and automatically think “WELL TIME TO HAVE KIDS.” And I know of several women that transitioned careers in their 30s and 40s.

    To any women reading this, ignore it. It’s indicative of the problems that hold us back. You don’t have to subscribe to the status quo.

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      Obviously you don’t have to have kids when you’re 30. It’s not like your uterus takes over your brain.

      But if you think that you might-maybe-kinda want to have kids one day, you should do it before your eggs and your parents (that is, the grandparents who can help out) are too old.

      Because it’s a lot more work to take care of a kid with special needs.

    • Jim C.
      Jim C. says:

      No, you don’t have to think seriously about having kids when you’re 30 (if you haven’t had them yet). You can delete your genes from the human race instead, which is what a lot of materialistic, success-driven professionals do.

    • Dannielle Blumenthal
      Dannielle Blumenthal says:

      I agree with Penelope that we should deal in reality instead of fantasy.

      Even thought we should fight the status quo until we are all free to make the choices we want to make.

      Sexism is very not over. I wrote a short blog collecting ten of the many stories I hear from women all the time.

      Penelope, thank you for continually trying to help us adapt until we can do better.


  3. Diane Dolinsky-Pickar
    Diane Dolinsky-Pickar says:

    A deeply felt post and incredibly well-said, especially as I made many of the tradeoffs mentioned by the author. I raised three kids, I took part-time jobs, I got fired from full-time jobs because the kids faced illness which conflicted with work hours, and I shifted every which way to accomodate the career of my hubbie. He had 18 years straight of unimpeded career aspirations, starting from the get-go when i quit my well-paid, highly secure government job because he didn’t want to locate in Washington DC, to move out to an area where I found it much harder to locate work. And this was well before child #` came along. Anyway, I dont regret anything insofar as I have three great kids, all teens now who are trying to figure things out themselves. But as I find myself facing said husband across the aisle of a courtroom, where we are duking out a fair settlement for nearly 19 years of marriage, he is incredibly in denial thinking that I should be financially responsible for half of kid-related costs, when I am now a huge amount behind him in terms of years of career experience, and moreover, now the custodial parent still taking the kids everywhere and doing everything, while he writes that he cant “visit” since he has a deadline and is not done with work, how about moving it? And yet, I sit at a table across from a female managing partner and tell her that I dont want to make the highest salary possible. I want to make a high salary enough to cover costs, and at the end of the day be a good parent and have time to see the kids. You cant hire a parent. And for that, all the money in the world will not suffice as a tradeoff. You see, I continue to make the choices to allow a balance, while said future ex- continues to deny that I deserve some kind of financial break below 50%, due to my mothering and balancing. Wishing him well, to find another person to hassle.

  4. Brandi
    Brandi says:

    “The gap between men and women working at work starts in school. Girls work so much harder at getting good grades than boys do that it’s easier to get into college if you’re a boy.”

    Penelope – You’re make some big generalizations, largely inaccurate in my opinion, throughout your post. One of those being the bit about girls/boys/good grades/college. Yes the gap between men and women starts in school, but after that, your facts stray. Read “The Trouble with Boys: A Surprising Report Card on Our Sons, Their Problems at School, and What Parents and Educators Must Do.” As a mother of boys and a writer who would probably like to maintain some level of credibility, it would be helpful for you to deal in facts from time to time.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Yah, I get it: school stinks for boys. Schools plays to the strengths of girls. That’s why I took my boys out of school. But that is a separate problem from what I’m talking about here, that girls spend their time working hard at things that are not valued in the workplace – like getting good grades.


      • Aaron
        Aaron says:

        So Penelope, riddle me this: what happens when your husband wants to divorce you, and drags you through court? Do you have a backup plan? Do you have savings? About half of all marriages end in divorce, and women generally end up poorer after the divorce. I think you should have a plan for this statistically likely outcome.

  5. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    Penelope I keep reading your posts about women but still I feel like I have no idea where I fit in . I’m in my 30s, married but don’t want kids, but I’m not all about work either. Don’t say have kids because that’s the last thing to say to someone that isn’t thrilled with the idea of motherhood. My job is something that while I like it, I’m not all about being the top dog and I by no means devote all of myself to it. Where does that leave a woman like me?

    • ohmylord
      ohmylord says:

      J.E. Why do you need to fit in anywhere?
      Are you happy? Funny, my sister in law is in her 40’s and living a similar life. No kids, not so interested in her career, married to a hubby who does REALLY well. There aren’t as many models for this. But she is a wealthy super generous aunt who travels to visit her nieces & nephews and seems fulfilled with that life. We all need something to be passionate about. For some women it’s not kids. It can be career, volunteerism, travel. Just get excited about something and stop trying to fit into a box.

      • J.E.
        J.E. says:

        I’m glad to know your aunt has found what makes her happy and is living a life she enjoys. I guess because there aren’t many models for someone who isn’t devoted to motherhood or career it seems like there aren’t any resources out there for us. It seems like for one person in a marriage to not work and stay home, kids is their “pass” to do this. Otherwise if no children are in the picture and one works while the other doesn’t, the non working spouse can be looked at as a freeloader/lazy or gold digger if the working spouse has an especially high salary.

        • J.E.
          J.E. says:

          Also wanted to add that it would be good to see more examples of those who perhaps don’t have children and are also not trying to be CEO, those who are content either in a career that isn’t demanding every last second of their time and finding fulfillment without being mothers.

  6. Rebecca
    Rebecca says:

    Oy, you’re killing me!

    I do agree that women and men work differently at the office; Ryan and I were just talking about this the other day. Women put their heads down and work. Men socialize. Women don’t get that they need to socialize. They don’t get that they need to go out to lunch. Fine. This will change as women progress in the office. It’s not set in stone, and these behaviors will evolve/balance for the better – and for both genders.

    I do not agree that men don’t care about housework. Ryan cleans the bathrooms, does the laundry and grocery shops. In our current apartment, every Saturday morning, he does the downstairs (bedrooms, bathrooms, laundry) and I do the upstairs (kitchen, living/dining room). He wants to clean and cleans to the same level I do. It wasn’t always like this, but we evolved and quickly. I can’t say how it will be when we have kids, but I know that we likely won’t survive if our relationship doesn’t remain a partnership.

    I think young, modern men don’t fit the stereotypes. I just got engaged and my all-male coworkers (there is one other female in the office) were so incredibly gossipy and cute about it. I often talk to all of them about women/men in the workplace. Increasingly, I find that if the male colleague has an ambitious, career-oriented partner, he gets it. And because that sort of pair is becoming more common, I think the workplace/home life will evolve quicker than we all think.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      The research about shared housework is with kids. It’s not that difficult to do housework when there are no kids. The amount that is necessary is relatively little. And there’s more available cash to hire a cleaning person.


    • Southern Man
      Southern Man says:

      Where do you work? My workplace is just the opposite: the women gossip and socialize all day and the men knuckle down and do whatever needs to be done. And the women who run resources like HR or the copy center make the men wait while they finish their current chit-chat before accepting whatever job is handed to them. It’s frustrating and infuriating. My boss once said that if the law allowed he’d fire every woman in the building and not replace them with anyone.

  7. Nonnie
    Nonnie says:

    This is interesting for me to compare myself to, since I’m a woman in a relationship with a woman. She also has higher standards for things like how often sheets should be changed and how equally we contribute to cooking. I sometimes (obnoxiously) point out that I am doing WAY more than I would be if I lived alone while she’s doing exactly what she’d do if she lived alone, so in a sense I’m contributing more…

    Maybe a majority of males and females fall into these gender divisions you describe, but I know so so many who don’t, that I think have blanket gender-based policies can’t be the solution either.

  8. Sheila
    Sheila says:

    I understand and agree with what you’re saying, Penelope. There are lots of cases where women do not prioritize work. The trouble is that a wage gap exists even when women are devoting themselves 100% to their jobs, doing exactly the same work as a man sitting next to them. Managers think it is okay pay less to women because of their sex. This is discrimination.

    • mh
      mh says:


      I’m always curious about this wage gap.

      If it is cheaper to hire an exactly-the-same woman to get exactly-the-same work product as a man would deliver, than why does ANY for-profit business hire men?

      The wage gap vanishes — VANISHES — for women with the same credentials, work productivity, and time on the job. In fact, women in those situations usualy make MORE than men.

      Crying about the “wage gap” is usually a case of bemoaning the idea that you can’t get money-for-nothing,

      But the truth is, you CAN’T get money for nothing.

      I would happy to be proved wrong on this, but I’ve been waiting 25 years, posing this same question to people, and it’s just as true now as it was back then.

      There is no wage gap. It’s a performance gap.

      • Rachel LD
        Rachel LD says:

        From what I’ve seen, men give each other opportunities. Men make work easier for each other. They help each other hide the amount of freedom and fun they have at their jobs from their wives. They pretend that work is so hard, when really, they are just stalling at work late because they don’t want to arrive home while the kids are still awake and screaming and all hell is breaking loose.

        The other scenario I’ve seen is attractive women getting opportunities from men. Look at Sandberg and Meyer. They are where they are today because some guy decided to take them under their wing and give them opportunities and knowledge.

        Kids change everything from how effective women are at work to how effective men are at home. Women AND men are both slacking off…..except women are the ones expected to pick up the slack at home.

        I never had kids, so all of this is irrelevant for me. We both work. We both keep up the house. We both enjoy entertaining friends and family. We help each other and there is no gap. No kids. No gap.

      • Betina
        Betina says:

        Research accounting for occupation choice, work hours, and other professional choices still show a gender wage gap. Within the same occupation, women make less even in fields that are dominated by women.

        And the decisions that keep women out of high-paying jobs not made in a vacuum. I’ve witnessed the nasty sexism in STEM myself. Many women leave because they’d just rather not deal with it. Again, I have witnessed it.

        Your observations aren’t based on empiricism. They’re not even new, which is why there’s research to address them, but still, it doesn’t matter how much research there is: people still believe their own hunches. You know where those hunches comes from? Sexism.,8599,1983185,00.html

  9. hellochula
    hellochula says:

    I was interested in the Princeton letter that advises young women to get married in college but the link doesn’t seem related. Am I missing something?

  10. Kayla
    Kayla says:



    “Which means that the real revolution begins in school, where we have to start teaching kids that there is a wide range of paths in adult life, and many of them have nothing to do with book knowledge and high IQ. Until we start doing this, women will always feel regret and disappointment when they stop being high achievers in order to make decisions more consistent with their values.”

    Amen to that.

    • redrock
      redrock says:

      not all women or girls have the same values. not all jobs rely solely on emotional intelligence. knowlege is a valuable tool. getting married early does not equate happiness. men can be good caretakers of their kids. they ke is to listen to your one’s desires and abilities. i am happy that I did not listen to my teachers in school who told me that as a girl I should not get a science PhD. i am glad that my school education was about knowledge – despite the often voiced conviction of some (fortunately not all…) teachers that girls don’t really need it.

  11. Paul Hassing
    Paul Hassing says:

    Hi, P. I wonder if you have a take on what happened to women in World War 2. I’ve read that: 1. They did the jobs the men left behind when they went to fight. 2. On the whole, women greatly enjoyed this empowering development. 3. When the men returned, the women were mighty peeved to be booted back into the kitchen. In summary, can you put an historical perspective to today’s post? I’d love to know what you think. Kind regards, P. :)

  12. Jamie Lee
    Jamie Lee says:

    Not all women who excelled in school are type-A’s bent on working hard in the office and achieving more money, influence and power. I sure ain’t.

    Not all women want to have kids. I sure don’t.

    Not all working men do less house work than women. My male domestic partner does more of the cooking, cleaning and straightening up in the house than I do.

    I know my situation is very unique and that I am very lucky. I count my blessings every day!

  13. avant garde designer
    avant garde designer says:

    Tiffany, you make me laugh. Sexist or not, what P says is true. Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but overall sometimes reality is just that…reality.

    I’m old enough to have been a kid during the women’s movement in the 60s-70s, and then a parent in the 80s-90s. Women have tried really hard to beat the “status quo” as you call it, but overall we’re forced to admit we just can’t have it all, simply because we physically/emotionally can’t DO it all. Not not if we’re going to do it well.

    Instead of getting mad about it, think of it in another way. Instead of trying to do everything at once, think of life in segments. I raised my kids when I was younger and really devoted my whole self to them. They turned out good. They’re independent. And they still like me. Now, I’ve got 20-30 years ahead of me for my career. Trouble free years that I’m able to devote solely to that. Hmmm, maybe I do get to have it all. Just not at once.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      People get mad about posts like this because they think that accepting the status quo or seeing reality for what it is means that you have to submit to the status quo and forever live under it.

      Things will change as people change. But realizing that things are a certain way will only help you navigate life better.

  14. Michelle Drea
    Michelle Drea says:

    It frightens me to think that my 19 year old should be seeking a permanent mate while in college. Too young, I think. Far to many changes ahead, I think. But then, I wonder where this fear actually originates.

    Perhaps I am concerned less with the process of seeking a mate than I am with the nature of having a mate for life. Every marriage I know of that happened during the couples’ early to mid 20’s ended before they hit 30. I realize that this is terribly anecdotal evidence but it is factual. Life is a really long time (hopefully) when marrying so young. I don’t believe that this is tenable. I do agree that there are more available men at the college age but I don’t believe that marriages entered into during this phase of life last. So, are we saying marry young but prepare for divorce? Or should we all rethink what marriage should be in this age? The idea of what marriage should be has and will evolve…where will it land next?

    • nia
      nia says:

      exactly, marriages are far more likely to stay together if started later. this push for early marriage makes no sense

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        Marrying early in life may not be right for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that it is never right for anyone. I know a lot of couples who started their relationships in high school (myself included) who haven’t divorced. Some aren’t in their 30s yet, but others have been married for 30+ years.

        I think most people divorce for stupid reasons. It’s not because they got married young, it’s because they made a series of bad decisions. It is closed-minded to assume that all young people make only bad decisions.

        • TD
          TD says:

          Christine, it’s an unfair presumption on your part that all divorces happen for stupid reasons. Human brain actually grows and changes up to mid 20s. Life also brings circumstantial lessons that can change a person’s attitude towards and needs from a marriage. Most people in early twenties don’t know for sure if they want kids. Most people in early 30s do know if they want kids. Such differences make it more likely to end up with a divorce if you happen to marry early. Of course not everyone makes bad decisions early in life. But being under 25 during marriage is one of the leading markers of divorce probability in US. That statistic always bothered me, and well now I am a part of it. I wouldn’t call my decision bad at all. But the marriage certainly ran its course for me.

          • Christine
            Christine says:

            Point taken, but if you re-read my previous post, I didn’t say all people divorce for stupid reasons, I said most. The people that I’ve seen get divorced cheated on their spouses because they were unwilling to address their issues. Or they never discussed those important decisions like if they both wanted kids. Or they simply rushed things & didn’t bother to get to know the other person well enough before committing to marriage. Those are all bad decisions that lead to divorce.

    • Rachel LD
      Rachel LD says:

      19 is too young….because personal growth can lead to divorce, and there is no way of knowing what values and beliefs each person is going to evolve into later in life.

      I met my ex at 19. By the time we turned 34-35 we had totally different values and principles than we did at 19, and we believed completely different things.

      After my mother died, my values and principles and beliefs about life changed completely. My ex and I could not pick a continuing path together that would make us both happy. One of us would have had to forego happiness long term, for the rest of our lives, in order to give support to the other’s values.

      Living like that is what promotes discontent, disease, mental illness and emotional problems, so it is best to get divorced and allow future personal growth for both people.

      • Anna
        Anna says:

        Of course, everyone has a personal experienced that must be generalized over the entire population, but I don’t think that marrying young leads to more divorces, it is just that the people best suited for marriage or have better examples of how successful marriages work (middle, to upper middle class, college educated, etc…) have chosen to postpone their marriages. The argument to delay marriage is a bit of a funny one- ” Live selfishly and independently, and that will prepare you for the unselfish and interdependent life you will lead once you are married. I’m sure you could find many examples of people marrying in their 30’s and realizing in their 50’s that they had grown apart. Each day is a chance to either grow together or grow apart. But, in large measure, it is a choice.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      According to Wikipedia’s entry on divorce, if you wait until 25 to get married, you significantly decrease your chance of divorce. Waiting later than 25 does not decrease your chance.


      • Wendy
        Wendy says:

        This is really interesting to me. At work, I’m in the process of writing a survey for people who rent medium-high rent apartments, asking what they value. We decided not to target anyone under age 25 because our guts (and personal experience) told us that they don’t really know what they want or need or value in a home.

        Finding a home, whether renting or owning, is a bit like finding a mate. So I’ll use this stat to justify the decision to stick with people over age 24.

      • Aaron
        Aaron says:

        Yes, and Wikipedia is such a great and reputable source (eye roll). You are not one of the smart people with Asperger Syndrome, are you?

  15. zan
    zan says:

    perhaps the most important thing i’ve learned in life-thus-far is this: when we listen too much to what others say, when we try too hard to model what others do, we are not being true to ourselves.

  16. Kay
    Kay says:

    “Which means that the real revolution begins in school, where we have to start teaching kids that there is a wide range of paths in adult life, and many of them have nothing to do with book knowledge and high IQ. Until we start doing this, women will always feel regret and disappointment when they stop being high achievers in order to make decisions more consistent with their values.”

    I so completely agree with this. I am one of those high achievers, a Professor at a big university and now in my early 40s with two small children (who are my world). I have my dream job but I am so ambivalent about it now that my kids are on the scene (and was rather shocked to find myself in this ambivalent place).

    • Redrock
      Redrock says:

      One problem is assuming that women have one set of values which is invariably in favor of family and marriage and children. So anything else is against these values and education which is knowledge centered in schol is wrong for girls.

      But school is for learning, home is for teaching the family values, the specific brand of values characteristic for each family circle. I simply do not understand why women are saying that school is deceiving them by telling them the wrong things about life – one grows up and makes decisions which are in phase which ones life, school does not make these decisions, it just supplies a certain type of knowledge and skills. How can one think that this is all life is about? It is like going outside in winter seeing snow piles and complaining that nobody said anything about putting on a coat.

    • Mark W.
      Mark W. says:

      It appears as though “Patton’s letter is only the latest in an extensive and nuanced discussion of career-family balance and marriage in these pages and on this campus.” according to today’s entry at the Daily Princetonian – .

  17. Katherine
    Katherine says:

    Arg – I read your post sitting on my couch six weeks in to a motherhood that is making me into a head case. I’m 32 and have the next 12 months off work (management consulting). I know how lucky I am to be able to do that, but I am losing my mind being away from what I know/think to be the real world. I can’t fathom what the next year will do to my career. For example, I think about my more junior colleagues who will be at my level or above when I return. A major shot to my ego!

    Yes, this is a choice I’ve made, but the reality of parenting is just so far removed from the high-achieving life I’m used to – and agree with you, Penelope, that I’ve been taught to want.

    I feel a bit (naively) misled.

    • mh
      mh says:


      Hang in there. The baby days (and nights) don’t last long, and you’ll feel human soon.

      Unsolicited Advice:

      Eat sensibly.
      Get dressed every day.
      Write it down, because you *will* have Momnesia.

  18. Skweekah
    Skweekah says:

    Of the one trillion gazillion pages on the Internet, Im sure we could find a host of research to support about 1 million points of view on a host of topics. It basically starts off with the question “Which point of view do I want to support?”, which is better than not pondering things at all. It keeps things interesting!

  19. ToadWatcher
    ToadWatcher says:

    Penelope’s writing is certainly compelling but is also off base on this subject in many ways. You can find evidence to refute most of what she says here. On the other hand, I do agree that women’s problem at work is that too many still think that being a good girl, doing what you’re told, and “helping” with the things no one else wants to do is the way to get ahead. That’s how you do well in school, after all.

    But it is NOT the way to get ahead at work — in fact it’s a sure way to make your career fall on its face. If you are fine with just staying in place then go ahead and be a nice girl, but if you don’t then you need to do something else. (And you do NOT have to become a bitch to get somewhere – you just need to be charming, as Penelope has said.)

    Women need to shake off this aspect of their social conditioning (and I do believe a huge amount of this is social, not innate) and find a way to not be a doormat at work. So much of what matters in one’s career development is not immediately visible — it’s why the old boy’s clubs were essential for getting ahead not that long ago, why companies that truly want to promote women find ways to make the old boys’ clubs not matter as much, and why smart women form their own “boys’ clubs.”

    Or co-ed clubs. In my experience there actually can be fantastic synergy when men and women work on a project together, as long as no one starts crossing the wrong boundaries ( at least, not while the project is happening).

    This does require people from younger generations, as too many men over about age 50 still can’t wrap their brains around things like pregnant lawyers — they truly have no idea how to behave. I think most younger men, at least the ones in blue states! do not have this problem. In many ways I feel like this combination of male-female energy is essential to making the changes that need to be made in our society, and that an economic system that incorporates this could work really well for far more people than our system does now. Segregated groups of any kind get too insular and that is not the way to innovate.

    The other thing is that plenty of men are smart, accomplished, and capable — and also are not interested in giving up their whole lives for work. (Again, I think you see this a lot more in younger generations.) That doesn’t mean they (like women) don’t want to do a great job, get ahead, and make money. My hope is that the very unhealthy skewing of “success” toward people who have sociopathic tendencies and zero life outside work will go away as Gen Z comes into the workforce in 10-15 years. We may see a far more balanced system.

  20. Angie Andriot
    Angie Andriot says:

    You make a really great point about how girls and boys approach school and work differently. And a great deal of the wage gap CAN be traced back to different career choices, whether women negotiate higher salaries, and the fact that women tend to focus more on home and family.

    But that doesn’t settle the debate. I’m not sure anything really could, except for some arguably unethical experiments involving babies, hedge mazes, and a bunch of cheese…

    The mere fact that one gender focuses more on work, and the other on family, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s hard-wired into us. There is immense power in socialization and culture. Girls and boys are treated differently from birth, and that differential treatment can’t help but affect who we become and what we focus on.

    We’re not stuck in whatever genetic soup we were born with. And we’re not stuck in whatever box society tries to fit us into. But the first step in escaping those fates is to realize that they aren’t really fates at all.

    But with that in mind, your first suggestion – stop treating men and women the same – kinda falls short. I mean, that’s the problem – that we DON’T treat women and men the same. Otherwise women would know that networking is an important part of work, and they’d know how to do it.

    I mean really, women NOT networking – that’s going against the stereotype of chatty, gossipy, communicative women. So how did that happen?

    Perhaps the better answer would be to treat everyone the same – as unique snowflakes :)

  21. redrock
    redrock says:

    “Women don’t care about workplace stuff and men don’t care about home stuff.” So, that makes me and my female engineering colleagues (most with kids – many of them with stay-home or work from home husbands) – what? Men?

  22. TD
    TD says:

    I am inclined to agree with your conclusions here. But such an agreement still leaves me with a very important question about a person’s well-being – how does the person who chooses to be the caregiver at home support herself financially if she loses her earning partner? Is it possible that we can create a society where the caregiver will be paid for her work at home? Who and how will that work? Without addressing the need for financial support of the caregiver, I think, the ideas you propose will leave women very vulnerable. If we were a society where most men and women died soon after the kids were old enough to go off alone (as we used to earlier times), financial support for the caregivers wouldn’t matter much. But in our case, we tend to live for many years beyond parenting years, and with the choices that women make for the sake of parenting they are left with limited financial means to support themselves. This always worries me. Women may gain love, even happiness via their kids. But money is universally needed. You have yourself said in other posts and comments how you think its a basic responsibility of a person to make enough to support yourself. But many women who make the choice to entirely ignore their careers will not be able to pay their bills on their own. Any suggestions for how women can tackle these issues? I really am all for playing to our natural strengths. I want to do the same. But I still feel very vulnerable financially. Thanks.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Why don’t breadwinners say the same thing? Why don’t breadwinners say, “I’m afraid that if I devote myself to earning money then if I lose my spouse I won’t be able to care for my kids.”

      Breadwinners assume that if they lose the caregiver spouse they will get a new caregiver spouse. So why don’t caregivers assume that if they lose the breadwinner spouse they will get a new breadwinner spouse.

      I’m not sure this is the right way to think about it. But it’s an improvement over people thinking that they need to hedge their bets as caregivers.

      When you have kids with someone you immediately become vulnerable in many ways. One of them is that you depend on the other parent to help you raise the kids. I don’t see any way around this that does not fundamentally undermine the trust of a family bond.


      • pilar
        pilar says:

        With all due respect Penelope, you really need to consider this [TD April 4] and address it seriously. Not just once, but often. Not as a comment but as a series of considered articles.

        I have followed your ideas and discussions for a few years now, and I admire the frankness and openness that you attack difficult issues. You often have valid points, if only for encouraging a different perspective on concepts which are often artificially constrained by social morays.

        This issue … security of income (and therefore stability of family) for non-career women must be addressed. I suspect that it is not something you have considered deeply and seriously because you have not had to worry about this as a life-altering reality. It is very clear from seeing your personal evolution that you are open to ideas and solutions to problems which you yourself have met and do meet (the homeschooling tangent is a good example), but you don’t always spend much time seriously imagining other people’s far more limited options and far more serious dilemmas.

        * You flippantly state the high statistics on divorce … so you acknowledge this is a reality.

        * You bluntly state that many women would prefer choose motherhood as their profession (I don’t disagree).

        * You bluntly state that career and income opportunities flat line at age forty, and you point out that women who get off the career track will have significant difficulty getting back on it. Again the statistics support you.

        * I’m pretty sure you have also said that good / reliable income earning men need to be scooped up early on in the piece and aren’t going to be easily available for everyone.

        You encourage people (especially women) to understand the realities of these social trends and to embrace them rather than to wade heavily against the tides. This is fine for those who manage it successfully, but I really don’t think the number of women who do “succeed” in embracing this path of least resistance are very high. Surely if they were, there wouldn’t be so so many women unhappy or just unsettled with their lives. I am very very content and happy with my life choices, but I really seriously can’t name very many women who are genuinely content and happy with their lives. Seriously. I know a handful of men who are genuinely happy / content, but very very few women (of various ages and life choices) who feel that way.

        So back to your wild and yet truthful statements on gender norms and life’s big pathways. Putting it all together, it seems there are going to be a large number of women who chose motherhood as a profession but ended up divorced and have little chance of establishing a career nor finding an reliable replacement partner. Even if the circumstances allow that the children are not at risk, these women could face up to forty years (half their life) with very little opportunity and at high risk of irreversible poverty.

        I don’t think you have personally sat down and tried to identify with this group, and understand how significant a group it may be. Just based on your assumptions about divorce rates, choice of motherhood and shortage of reliable income earners as second partners, this group must be a significant statistical cohort. You are simply not acknowledging this group.

        Yes I have seen your stories about how you had debt problems and divorce problems and family problems and many other personal issues that you have overcome. But you have outstanding tenacity, perseverance, endurance, sheer stubbornness and a brilliant mind and healthy body that has always been able to adapt and continue. Not to mention a very rare ability to quickly and easily earn very significant amounts of money, which in and of itself attracts resources for assistance. I respecfully but sincerely doubt that in any of those serious situations that you have been in, where you have really been kicked to the ground, that you have actually doubted your own ability to get up and move on. The fact that you did and often you did it on your own, proves the point. You need to understand that this is not a trait which everyone has naturally, and in fact many women (and some minority groups) are socialised in such a way as to never even recognise that ability let alone develop it as a life survival skill.

        So here is my respectful request. Address this group. The women who made choices but not always the right one, or for whom life made the wrong choices for them. The women who are at an age where they face serious limitations on their earning capabilities and also still have significant obligations towards their children, but are still decades away from a retirement pension and are unlikely to find a “replacement” income earner. What light can you shed on their workplace revolution options.

        At the very least, if you can’t seriously address this, then at least acknowledge that your advice may only be applicable in ideal circumstances, and for those whose situation diverges from this there is little relevant hopeful guidance.

        TD thankyou for so eloquently raising this issue. The USA is a society built on the principal of “The Individual”, so the collective support you might be hoping for is unlikely to eventuate on a national scale. The level of diversity within the country, although wonderful in itself, is likely to further hamper national solutions. Small communities of support do exist though and people within those communities need urgently to understand how precious they are and to actively preserve and cherish them. Europe does not offer any sustainable solutions for national models, but it does provide some wonderful examples for these small community models.

  23. TD
    TD says:

    This comment is for those here who think women network well just because they are chatty. When women chat all the time they rarely chat about work (in my experience), men often chat exclusively about work with some sports or other hobby thrown in there. This makes a huge difference to the women’s network’s value and the men’s network’s value. The men’s friends perceive them as interested and knowledgeable at their work. The women’s friends might have no opinions or not a clear opinion about their work interests. Perhaps I have generalized too much here.

    • pilar
      pilar says:

      yes you have generalised too much. it depends primarily on the workplace. conversations at lunch time in (for example) an engineering firm are likely to be very different than those (for example) at a fast food restaurant. Similarly conversations which surgical staff / teachers have at lunch are likely to be different to that which reception / maintenance / grounds staff from the same hospital / school have. In some cases gender grouping will natually occur, in other cases grouping will be influenced by profession and / or personality type.

      Personality type is independent of gender, and personality type will influence job and career choices (and what you talk about at work). Social shaping (deliberate or subtle) can strongly influence expressions of behaviour (ie curb or encourage types of behaviour depending on social norms) and in the worst case this can lead to poor career choice and even cloud self-recognition of natural skills and limit self awareness / development (ultimately preventing the achievement of natural contentment and happiness).

  24. D
    D says:

    A refreshing, candid post that’s helping to usher in a new age of postfeminism. Please continue writing about this stuff.

  25. Maia
    Maia says:

    It’s true what you say about men and women doing things differently. My dad thinks he’s cleaned the house or washed the dishes but I have to do it again because I still think it’s dirty. He doesn’t. Same with work.
    You say that “The real work at work is knowing what people need and helping them get it so they give you what you need.” You’re right of course but when do you draw the line between helping others and saying yes to everything (being a doormat)?
    Also, you can’t just decide to get married young, what if you haven’t met the right person? Should we settle for Mr Good enough just to have kids and tick that off our list if all the while we’ll be thinking that we aren’t happy and should have waited for Mr Right?

  26. Joan Harrison
    Joan Harrison says:

    Penelope, I respect your outspoken view. However, sometimes being outspoken for the just that reason can be a little irksome. The issue between men and women goes back deep in history and particularly with the church. Women who were outspoken in the 16th century onwards were burned at the stake for being outspoken and called witches. The roots go deep. I have studied the human mind for many years and I am sorry to inform you that the vast majority of problems develop in the home. Parenting is the most difficult job in the world, however you can raise your daughter to be as powerful as any man, if you so choose. Developing the mindset is paramount and women have more choice in this world than ever before, however I do agree that there is a man’s club culture to overcome, but again once you understand Games People Play and ego states, the battleground can become more level. Keep up the great work, but beware of generalizing.

    • Paxton
      Paxton says:


      1) If someone has an outspoken view does that automatically mean they are doing is for the sole purpose or are they just telling the truth, which is often referred to as outspoken?

      2) Your definition of “powerful” for a child, girl or boy, may be different than another person’s definition. So I find it disengenuous and unhelpful to force your opinion of “power”upon others.

      To avoid the two aforementioned errors, please beware of generalizing!

      • pilar
        pilar says:

        Joan thanks for your considered comments. You were not generalising, and I agree with everything you have said. It humbled me when I finally started to realise how very very old and deeply rooted our social morays are. It is quite astounding really. And I do really wish we could talk more openly about how important the home environment is, particularly the first 3/5 years.

        Paxton I am not really sure what you are trying to say, but it really can’t be heard beyond your criticism which was a little ineffective and not constructive at all.

  27. Bob
    Bob says:

    Wow Penelope! This is my first visit to your site and I’m impressed!

    This is such a polarizing topic, I’m shocked that you took such a hard-line stance. Nice work!

    I agree with most of your points here. Although, I have to admit, that I’ve worked with many exceptions to the norms you are speaking about.

    The bottom line is that men and women are different. The expectations and responsibilities are different. And, there’s no doubt that what is being taught in school is missing the mark on what it takes for real success in the business world.

    Viva la revolution!

  28. John
    John says:

    “…least not as valuable as ranking and influence and money and achievement.” That comment from your 3rd, covers many of the issues in the United States just not the conflict of women & careers.

    Our society has become a pressure cooker that is influencing a number of issues from this conflict to school shootings.

    The question that keeps coming to mind is: Why does everyone (men or women) need high achieving careers or have real success in business?

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      I don’t think this is for everyone. Not everyone wants to be high achieving because not everyone wants to pay the price. Plus it’s so boring for some.

      But if you do want to be high achieving and climb the corporate ladder and make a zillion dollars and be known for your influence then this may be the blog for you.

      • Christine
        Christine says:

        I disagree. Her posts make me feel like its ok for me to want to slow my career down to focus on family. It turns out that my Myers Briggs score is best suited for being a housewife & that’s ok.

        She also has an amazing homeschool blog that is helping us to make decisions about what we want to do for school for our kids.

  29. Dave Wedge
    Dave Wedge says:

    I just found your site, and I am going to assume you come out swinging on all your topics – Good stuff!

    As the father of 2 daughters, both nearing the end of their education, I read with interest. I would like to be able to disagree with you but I think you are right. I am in the UK but recognise a lot of the points you make.I particularly liked your last paragraph, its one of my gripes about our education system. We should be schooling kids in lfe skills, not just trying to get them through exams.

  30. Dionne
    Dionne says:

    Something that I have experienced is that when children enter the equation women turn to home life but men want to work harder/earn more – the instinct to provide is stronger. I don’t think the gap is simply women falling off.

  31. Rick
    Rick says:

    I realize I fall outside of the trends, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. I’m a single father. My daughter’s mother left us when my daughter was four years old. I have a commute, a full-time job, and I shoulder the burden of housework, cooking, cleaning, etc. For me there is no trade-off between this or that. It’s all on, 100% of the time. My house is clean, my child is polite, and I’m a middle-aged man. You’re right, stop treating men and women the same. Treat us as individuals.

  32. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I think the wage gap can be partially attributed to men’s and women’s negotiating skills when they are hired. I’ve seen a huge wage gap between two women who had done the exact same job. People will hire for as low $$ as they think they can go. Maybe because women “in general” care less, they are willing to settle for less?

  33. Billie
    Billie says:

    Hilarious and true:
    “So, for example, changing the sheets on the kids’ beds does not matter to a guy. The sheets don’t have poop on them, so they’re clean.”

  34. Jo Ann LeQuang
    Jo Ann LeQuang says:

    I’ve seen both men and women trivialize their career openly. I once interviewed a man for a manager position. Throughout the interview he told me over and over how he would never stay late, he guarded his personal time, and, oh, he needed to leave early every Thursday afternoon for Little League. He even said these were non-negotiable points. He never told me his qualifications–and he had no questions about the job other than if it paid a bonus and when. Of course, he didn’t get the job–I gave it to the woman who told me what her skills and qualifications were and a few ideas she had related to the position. So the overt trivialization of one’s career to personal life happens on both sides of the gender fence although I agree, it’s far more common among women.

  35. Michelle Glover
    Michelle Glover says:

    I agree. I think that may be the reason women like myself that work for a large company innately understand that this culture may not be the best platform for women to shine. I believe many of us are becoming entrepreneurs and forming our own rules.

  36. Rod
    Rod says:

    Here’s a quote from Caitlin Flannagen in *Atlantic* magazine:
    “What we’ve learned during this thirty-year grand experiment is that men can be cajoled into doing all sorts of household tasks, but they will not do them the way a woman would. They will bathe the children, but they will not straighten the bath mat and wring out the washcloths; they will drop a toddler off at nursery school, but they won’t spend ten minutes chatting with the teacher and collecting the art projects. They will, in other words, do what men have always done: reduce a job to its simplest essentials and utterly ignore the fillips and niceties that women tend to regard as equally essential.”

    • tj
      tj says:

      Or, to flip it around, women waste a lot of time doing frilly stuff outside the essence of the chore which needs to be done.

      But yeah – even if we stipulate there’s a chore gap, let’s not chalk it up to sexxxxxxxxxxism – it’s more a matter of efficiency and level of “done”.

      Good post, P – love how red pill you’ve gotten

      • tj
        tj says:

        @Paxton – absolutely – altho I’m not sure “irony” is the word I’m looking for here – perhaps “delight”?

        I’ve noted this before with P – and I happen to like it. Commonsensical approaches to life are a good thing.

        But yeah – you mean there are differences between the sexes? GASP. You must be smitten for this1!!1!!11 Or at least reedumacated and attend sensitivity training!!!!!! lulz

        Now then – I must return to my ogling position at the back of the yoga studio….

  37. Rikki
    Rikki says:

    I agree with your post. School should teach “there is a wide range of paths in adult life, and many have nothing to do with book knowledge and high IQ.” Schools standards are focused on going to college. I have seen many good students flounder aimlessly after high school because all school taught them was information they would need in college and they either could not afford college or this was not what they wanted out of life. It did not teach them life skills or what options were there without going to college.

  38. Danielle
    Danielle says:

    I am surprised to see there are still people who believe that men and women are not simply equal, but also the same. I believed this as child because it is what I thought it meant to be a feminist. But it took only a few years out of high school for me to determine that men and women are NOT the same and NEVER WILL BE the same. Women usually care more about other things than just typical American measures of success, especially once children enter the picture. Many women’s values completely, and unexpectedly, shift after the birth of child.

    I do think that housewifery and child-rearing does not get nearly enough respect. People are constantly trying to judge gender equality issues by how well women do in the work place, or hiw many women are in the hard sciences, or how much women get paid. It is so frequently about workplace issues, and little else. I sometimes feel the entire feminist/gender discussion in and of itself totally devalues what most women (with children) really care about. Workplace issues matter, of course they do. But I feel we should gauge much more by how well women do in the home, how much support we have there, and how well our culture supports us in the home and in raising children.

  39. Dave
    Dave says:

    Over the years, I have often disagreed with your “average” approach to things–rejecting the view that we are unique. But in this case, you perfectly describe the reality of the world we all confront. Yes, the exceptional person will say “that’s not me,” but the fact is, it doesn’t matter. The culture fits what you describe. For those who chafe and rebel, consider first you must understand and accept how things are…and forget about how you think that ought to change, but rather, what that reality means for you and what you want to do with your life.

    So many of us suffer from the delusion that life is or should be fair.

  40. Alan
    Alan says:

    “I know that’s a stereotype, a cliche. But it’s a cliche for a reason.”

    All stereotypes are more or less true. There is no committee that meets every Tuesday to dream up stereotypes. Stereotypes come from observation. If groups didn’t have observable characteristics, there wouldn’t be any stereotypes.

  41. Ellen Ensher
    Ellen Ensher says:

    The street goes both ways. Just as women have been shown to not make the same amount as men, women get hired into the job market more willingly. The over correction to appear not-sexist causes employers to seek women. Even the recent campaign Mitt Romney was quoted improperly of having binders of women. This shows us that employers seek women to appear not-sexist. Seems very counter-intuitive. I bet that is due to men and women not being treated the same. So I’m not really inclined to agree with the first point.

  42. Anne
    Anne says:

    When my youngest child started kindergarten I took the day off to take her to school, pick her up from school, and spend Mommie time with her. My boss asked me “How many more children do you have… gonna do this for all of them?” The implication was very clear taking a vacation day for a First Day Kindergartner was ridiculous. The next week the VP of the company took a day off to send his son to kindergarten. What do you think the conversation was?? “Oh……he is such an involved dad!!”

    Really???!!!! Are you KIDDING me???!!!

    Women and men will NEVER get the same treatment in the workplace. Women will always be viewed as “less than” if you are a mother while dads get a Father of the Year Award.

  43. Jane Ilene Cohen
    Jane Ilene Cohen says:

    A very thoughtful article, Penelope. I agree the issue really is what do you value. It’s never about anyone being a victim. As we become increasingly more conscious in our human evolutionary process, I believe we will less and less allow ourselves to be controlled and dictated to by structures and mores that really have nothing to do with what actually matters.

  44. Jim C.
    Jim C. says:

    I think it’s an oversimplification to say that, in the workplace, women keep their heads down and do tasks while men engage in socializing. There’s more to it than that.
    Both sexes play politics, but they do it by different rules. To men, who are more direct and frank about it, politics female-style looks underhanded, sneaky, and dishonest. It’s not, in most cases, but that’s how a guy sees it. However, women do seem to start office rumors more often than men do, in many cases with malice aforethought. Men’s politicking resembles baboons grooming each other for lice — there’s a set of rules that are clear to any guy. Women’s rules are harder to fathom.

  45. María Fernanda
    María Fernanda says:

    It is sad but it is true. I think things have changed in the last years and that today more than ever women want to be successful in their careers and many just prefer having a great career instead of having a family. But if women do want to have kids it is a reality that they have to do some sacrifices including their carrers. Hopefully some day we will really be 50/50 at work and at home.

  46. Rebecca@MidCenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidCenturyModernRemodel says:

    And the comments are in some ways better than the post. Home run! I love the last line. I sometimes feel sorry for myself about what might have been. But I don’t know it would have been, and honestly, I love what I have now. No sniveling.

  47. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Amen sister. But we are still 20 years from admitting that it’s true.

    I often wonder if Shakespeare’s Seven Ages of Man had included a section for women. One stage would have included the schoolgirl going delightedly to school.

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