Economy · Personal Essays · Women

Two views on why women aren’t getting to the top

Some intense debate this week about women holding down successful careers–from very different, but perhaps complementary, angles.

  • Elizabeth Wurtzel (author of Prozac Nation) ranted on The Atlantic‘s website about mothers who purport that their work amounts to a “job” in the vocational sense–and accused these women (1%-ers, specifically, whose well-to-do urban husbands afford them the luxury of leisurely motherhood) of negating the hard work of other, less affluent women.

Wurtzel: “Most mothers have jobs because they need or want the money and fulfillment; only in rare cases are they driven by glory. To be a stay-at-home mom is a privilege, and most of the housewives I have ever met — none of whom do anything around the house — live in New York City and Los Angeles, far from Peoria. Only in these major metropolises are there the kinds of jobs in finance and entertainment that allow for a family to live luxe on a single income. In any case, having forgotten everything but the lotus position, these women are the reason their husbands think all women are dumb, and I don’t blame them. As it happens, fewer than 5 percent of the CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, 16 percent of corporate executives, and 17 percent of law partners are female. The men, the husbands of the 1 percent, are on trading floors or in office complexes with other men all day, and to the extent that they see anyone who isn’t male it’s pretty much just secretaries and assistants. And they go home to…whatever. What are they supposed to think? They pay gargantuan American Express bills and don’t know why or what for. Then they give money to Mitt Romney.”

  • And a personal essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former Director of Policy Planning (2009-2011) for the Obama Administration, lays out why it is still simply impossible for women to achieve balance between their equally-demanding careers and family lives.

Slaughter: “Can ‘insufficient commitment’ even plausibly explain these numbers? To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. Consider the number of women recently in the top ranks in Washington—Susan Rice, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Michelle Gavin, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle—who are Rhodes Scholars. Samantha Power, another senior White House official, won a Pulitzer Prize at age 32. Or consider Sandberg herself, who graduated with the prize given to Harvard’s top student of economics. These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.

What’s more, among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men. A simple measure is how many women in top positions have children compared with their male colleagues. Every male Supreme Court justice has a family. Two of the three female justices are single with no children. And the third, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, began her career as a judge only when her younger child was almost grown. The pattern is the same at the National Security Council: Condoleezza Rice, the first and only woman national-security adviser, is also the only national-security adviser since the 1950s not to have a family.”

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