Tag: feminist movement

Feminism and the Workforce

I am writing this using my touch typing because honestly I can’t see much.  My eyes are puffy and sore.  I’m not sure if this is normal.  I will call the doctor in the morning to find out.  I know a week to 10 days of recovery is not uncommon.

I just finished reading The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella for the 6th or 7th time.  It is not an award winning book plot-wise but I think it is funny and when I’m sick or feeling down I reach for Kinsella’s writing every time.  I listened to it on audibook and lately I’ve had a lot of time with my audio books 🙂

So, the main story behind this book is a woman named Samantha is just about to be made partner in a prestigious corporate law firm in London.  To get to this point she regularly logs 60+ hours and never has time for social gatherings or even time to think for herself. She doesn’t know how to toast a bagel, iron a shirt or replace the bag in her vacuum. The only time she gives to herself is an occasional viewing of the Waltons for comfort.

Then through a massive mistake Samantha panics, flees to the country and ends up working as a housekeeper in a big lofty house. It is admittedly ridiculous but if you can get behind all of that fluffy plot and think about the questions Kinsella is asking, it is a thought provoking book.

It touches on one of my favorite topics- work.  Why we work, how we work, what motivates us to work, how does money, power, control figure into work?  What do we lose in work? What sacrifices are worth making for work and which one’s aren’t? How do we find that elusive balance between work and life?  These are all questions that fascinate me.

Kinsella’s book made me think about work and feminism in a new way and has left me pondering…

My entire life I was taught in school that pre-feminist women were disenfranchised (which they were) and unhappy mainly because of their unequal share and positions in the workforce.  Men had the power and money at work; therefore, they had the eventual satisfaction and happiness. By confining themselves to the home in unpaid labor, the traditional woman, could not contribute all she could to the world; thereby leaving her unhappy and unfulfilled.

I remember reading Betty Friedan:

“Each suburban wife struggles with it alone. As she made the beds, shopped for groceries, matched slipcover material, ate peanut butter sandwiches with her children, chauffeured Cub Scouts and Brownies, lay beside her husband at night- she was afraid to ask even of herself the silent question– ‘Is this all?”

I wonder if Mrs.  Friedan would have the honesty to ask this same question of a lopsided career woman like Samantha in the novel who works, works, works?   Couldn’t you make a similar list full of the daily deadening tasks of the career woman and ask the same questions at the end? I wonder what she’d think of such a problem?

In some ways the modern career woman asks the Is this all? question even more frequently than her predecessors because they attempt to do all in the work-world and at home. One commenter on this very blog said of her life:

“I feel…I don’t know…a societal pressure of sorts to make mothering a priority. As a working mom, I feel as though I have two full time jobs (and neither gets done to its full need). No one is pressuring my husband, or men in general to find a better balance between work and home”

This highly stretched living ends up leaving a lot of women feeling that they do many things but don’t do them particularly well.  I think every woman has moments where she feels mediocre because she’s pushed too far, too fast, with limited time.

When I was young (high school or college aged) I readily assumed my greatest accomplishment in life would be from my work. Nobody ever said ‘you will get your greatest satisfaction from your hobbies or from serving in the community’.  Think about it- what do we ask children about their future lives?  It’s what do they want to be someday, what do they want to do for their job.

People at church said I’d get the most fulfillment from my family but this was largely ignored as passe sentiment by the young me.  Also family is not a controllable outcome; therefore, depending on it for your contribution to the world can be a risky enterprise.  Work is at least more in our control.

In the book, Samantha finds, to her surprise,  that not working actually gives her the most joy and fulfillment- taking weekends off and having a life are what make her truly happy whether her work be in the domestic or corporate sphere.  This seems to defy everything I was taught as a young girl?  Fulfillment from the weekends? Those are just for play?

For both men and women, the world is telling us to focus on work, work, work but our hearts are almost always telling us  life, life, life.  Easier said than done.  Whether your a teacher, nurse or accountant, work has become such an overwhelming part of most modern woman’s lives.  For someone like me this is especially true as I work from home.  I think this leaves most women feeling unsatisfied with a huge part of their lives. Just the opposite of what the feminists told me.

I think feminism added another layer to the work myth by saying that great female accomplishments in the workforce would make our entire society better.  So now its not working for your own happiness but your entire sex and even all mankind. If we have a normal but necessary job it can feel like such a let down- like you haven’t done that one thing you were called on to do in this life, when you may have, just not at your paid employment.

I work hard but it is way down the list of my greatest accomplishments.  I get satisfaction from everything else in my life and that motivates me to work, not the other way around.

Maybe some women have these great empowering jobs but nobody I know.  Most work to provide sustenance and to allow them to pursue their true passions in the rest of their lives.  Maybe men already knew this for hundreds of years but they’ve had more time to evolve mechanisms to cope with the demands of work?

I’m just throwing this out there, but maybe feminism missed the mark when they focused so much on work as an equalizing force? Maybe our problem wasn’t working in the home verses working in the office but just a general lack of self-worth and recognition?  I guess we have more options now which is certainly a good thing but it also can leave women floating in a sea of undecided and unmet aspirations.

Why is it any less ennobling to dedicate one’s life to something we might not get paid for?  Does getting paid somehow eliminate the ‘Is this all’? For instance, why does having my life work be this blog seem somehow lower than what the feminist theology espoused? It has all the elements of an empowering voice, freedom of expression, and ability to influence others that the housewife role supposedly denied women.  Why does the fact it is unpaid make it any less important for a life?

I don’t think it does and I think the scores of workaholic, frazzled, stressed out women out there would agree with me.  Could it not be the saddest moment of all when you get to the top of the career world and still find yourself wondering what it was all for? I speak only in hypothetical here as I am clearly not at the top of any field or career.

It makes me glad I was taught a bigger answer to that question ‘Is it all?’, an eternal answer. My faith gives my life meaning when the world would see little value. What a great comfort that is.

That said, I still deal with deflated feelings about the workforce and my participation in it.  Anyone else struggle with this? Finding our own way to contribute can be very difficult? Do you struggle in finding value in what you do contribute, or are you left asking Is this all?

Ok. Now I will try to get to sleep and rest my poor eyes.  Got to get back to work in the morning…

Not Ready for Female President

I haven’t done a political post in some time but my thoughts have been on the upcoming Iowa caucus.  I am very curious to see who will emerge as the Republican frontrunner (combined with New Hampshire, South Carolina and Florida).  There are things I like and don’t like about all of the candidates and I honestly have not decided who I like the most.

I relate to Mitt Romney and feel he has the business sense to help get this economy running- like America’s CEO. I also like his dedication to family and traditional values. I am not a fan based solely on his Mormonism, but I must admit I do feel a certain underlying connection when he speaks. I felt the same thing when Harry Reid spoke at BYU and I would never vote for him, so clearly it is not a deciding factor.  I do think that he is good in debates and will present a formidable candidate to Pres.  Obama.  I also think he is a smart choice for Republicans because he has experience working with democrats to get results.  He is a compromisor (sometimes too much so) but after 4 years of uncompromising liberalism I can live with a moderate Republican.

That said, closest to me in positions is Michele Bachmann who as a fellow tea partier believes in a small federal government with greater rights going to the states.  For example, programs like education should be handled at the local, state level.   Bachmann has also been consistent in her support for marriage, minimal spending, against raising the debt ceiling and supporting pro-life legislation.  The interesting thing is whenever I talk to my Republican friends who mirror my political opinions they all say that Bachmann is ‘unelectable’.

Why is that? Part of the reason is she has some polarizing positions that won’t attract moderates, but I also think that America is not ready for a female president. 92% of American’s say they would elect a female president, but I don’t know if that statistic pans out to actual candidates.  A 2007 study found  “that a significant percentage of people are hiding their true feelings on questions related to female candidates for the presidency….While women candidates seem to be making some strides in races for many offices…the office of the presidency may be difficult to reach.”

Why would people be resistant to a female president?  Well, I think the problem lies that a female candidate has to have everything that a male candidate needs plus they need to prove their leadership abilities (something that is a given in most men).  A woman must also prove that their family is not a barrier to their work (something that has been thwarting women in many careers for years).

Also, all of the female candidates so far have been criticized for their styles in ways men are not. Someone like a Hilary Clinton is too much of a pantsuit wearing unfeminine witch (I would use another word but I have a family friendly site!) or in the case of Sarah Palin you are too much of a prom queen, too fluffy.  Men are not judged by such a shallow filter.  For example, John Edwards was criticized for his $400 haircut and his fluffy internet video getting ready for a photo shoot; however, it was only a momentary laugh and it did not seriously hurt his candidacy.  If it had been a woman with the video getting primped and spending $400 on a haircut she would be immediately dismissed as a joke.

Anne Kornblut author of ‘Cracked Ceiling: Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin and What It Will Take for a Woman to Win describes what is an ‘electable’ female candidate:

“I’ve played this game with myself for a long time. She is completely impossible. She would have served in the military and stayed home and raised her children full-time. She’d be married to someone with money, and she’d have some business experience. There’s just no way she could exist. There are too many demands on this candidate.

But joking aside – she’d be authentic, which would need to be true of a male or female presidential candidate. She’d cross the credential threshold – she’d have demonstrated that she’s qualified, and she’d be a communicator. Those are the areas where women have sometimes struggled.”

The problem is there will always be a male candidate with similar positions without the barrier of being a woman.  What political party will take the risk on a female candidate when you can pick a male without that risk?

I really wonder if the democratic party (a generally more progressive party) cannot elect Hillary Clinton with all her leadership experience is there an electable candidate out there?  I really don’t know.  I certainly believe there are many candidates that are capable and would do a great job but are they electable?  I just don’t know.  I wish they were but I don’t know.

It is generally seen acceptable for a woman to be chosen as a vice presidential choice and perhaps this is a first step but perhaps not.  Since the first vice president the office has been seen as  “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived”.  Women have always been the supporters of men and is that not the role of the vice president?  Of course, there is always the potential of becoming president as the vice president (happened 9 times in our country’s history) but it is still the silver medal of political power.

The problem is not that women couldn’t do the job, its that people subconsciously feel they can’t do the job as well.  It may be unfortunate but true that people still see maternal affection and feminine virtues as weak and fragile.  I happen to believe they are strengths and provide an empathy that is not as present in most men who have not spent time caregiving in their lives.  In addition, not all women, or all mothers, are the same, even if they are perceived as being the same or as having the same weaknesses.

Just as men shouldn’t be looked at as one voting block, women should be seen as unique individuals with different strengths and weaknesses.  Unfortunately, I don’t know if this will ever happen.  I hope it will, but again my fear is there will always be a male candidate that doesn’t have to overcome these barriers.

What do you think about this issue?  Are we ready for a female candidate?  If so, why do you think the candidates so far have failed (assuming Bachmann does not get the nomination)?  What can be done to create a viable female candidate? Who do you think should run that hasn’t? Do you feel that motherhood is more of a barrier for women than fatherhood is for men?  What other barriers need to be breached and how can that happen? Do you feel resistant in a woman’s ability to lead? (Be prepared to defend yourself on that one!) Do you think that a women would make a better or worse president?  If so, why? I would love to hear your perspective.

On a lighter note, there have been 2 female presidents on network shows (Commander and Chief and 24) so that’s some headway. Now for life to imitate Hollywood!