I want to start today’s discussion by addressing the tension that seems to cause discord between working and stay-at-home Moms whenever we talk about our situations. I think that a lot of it comes from projecting our own personal situations, beliefs, circumstances, desires on to others. But I also think some of it is embedded into the way we frame the discussion itself. Namely in the cliché phrases “having it all” and “stay at home mom”. And let me preface this by saying I am not calling any of you out for using these terms, up until, like, yesterday I never even thought about any of this and used them regularly. I probably will continue to out of habit, but I think it is worth considering.
I think the notion of having it all, some universal ALL, is one of the most destructive ideas at play here- for reasons I will go into later- but also because when framed in such ridiculous terms, if working women are trying to have it all, women who don’t work must therefore NOT have it all. All requires more and less. And the subtle assumption is that women who work in the home have less and strive for less. I think this sneaky little judgment puts stay-at-home moms on the defensive from the beginning of the discussion.
And then there is that term: “stay at home mom”. Maybe I am being nitpicky or overly PC, but I don’t think so. I think that the things that need to change for the situation for women to improve, requires us to shift our core beliefs and attitudes surrounding office work and homemaking. That can’t be done if we are still promoting those stereotypes with our language. Maybe instead of stay-at-home moms we should call it “be-at-home-moms”.
Stay is passive. Like you came home from the Hospital on maternity leave after giving birth and just plumb forgot to leave the house again. And I know that could not be further from the truth. BE-At-Home-Moms don’t just find themselves there. In my experience they come to that decision after a great deal of thought and planning and do so out of a desire to actively raise their children.
I whole heartedly believe that the #1 thing that needs to happen for women to have a fair shot at pursuing a career with a family, is that we need to truly respect the job of raising children and managing a home life. Sheryl Sandberg talks about it in her TED talk, and it is the biggest thing I have learned on my journey so far: If you want to balance a career with your family, your partner needs to be working with you toward the same balance. Since we are debating traditional roles here (I wish I could offer a perspective on a same-sex balance, maybe some of you can contribute that in the comments), that means that we need our male partners to split the work at home. If we look down on women who work in the home, men are not going to see it as estimable work that that they should share in.
But all of that is jumping ahead a bit, although I think it is necessary to lay that out there so that we all feel comfortable and honored in this discussion. So what is the problem we are talking about here? Let’s revisit the stats I posted yesterday:
- “190 heads of state—nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, women at the top, C-level jobs, board seats—tops out at 15, 16 percent”-Sheryl Sandberg
- U.S. Companies owned by women generate $1.3 trillion in revenue and employ 7.7 million people. But they lag when it comes to the million-dollar club: Just 1.8 percent of women-owned companies hit that mark vs. 6.3 percent on the male side. 1.6 million female-owned companies have annual revenue of more than $50,000.
- “Consider that 17% of women-owned business owners don’t have employees- a major influence on why they can’t increase revenue, Merlino says, citing U.S. census statistics”
- “Consider that women entrepreneurs are the fastest-growing group of small-business owners. What’s more, women own nearly a third of all businesses (29 percent), but they bring in only 4 percent of all U.S. revenue and 6 percent of all U.S. jobs”
What does this mean and why should we care? Well going point by point here is what that all means to me.
- If women are under-represented at these high levels of the workforce, companies and governments are missing out on the unique gifts and perspectives women would bring to the table. If women are not players at this level, the smartest, most educated, best-paid jobs; the women who typically have the choice to work in or out of the home, they cannot affect change for women who do not have that choice. We cannot influence company or government policies if we are not in positions of influence.
- Combining the last three stats: Women are already collectively a huge force in the economy. The ideas, skills, and motivation are there. We are starting businesses, but we are either not aiming for higher levels of success at an alarming rate, or we are not able to reach higher levels of success at an alarming rate. I suspect that a portion of these numbers represent mothers whose primary goal is to be at home (see what I did there?) but who have found a way to supplement their family incomes, and/or carve out some time to still pursue other work on top of raising their families. And for those women, this is not about challenging for them to do more yet. This is for those of us who have chosen work outside of the home, and who have either put a cap on our own success due to perceived limits, lack of ambition as some would suggest, lack of opportunity as others have posited, or perhaps a lack of understanding of what is possible, what is at stake, and how to get there. And THAT needs to change, because what women have here is a prime opportunity to be a positive force in turning around the US economy. We already have established the businesses, we need to start to grow them, to hire employees and provide jobs. Could you imagine the good it would do for female empowerment if we were responsible for turning the economy around?
Maximum respect, mon.
Speaking with Jamie, she echoed the belief shared by Sandberg and many others that part of the problem at least lies in a lack of female ambition. And before people freak that anyone is hating on their gender here, let us remember that one of the single most prominent trait of successful people is a perceived internal locus of control. In studies across the board it has been shown that successful people assume full responsibility- credit and blame- for their success. There is a power in believing that the cause of our problems lie within us, because then the power to change is within us as well.
I happen to agree that part of the problem has to do with female ambition, not necessarily a lack thereof, but of a female discomfort with ambition as a trait. First of all, there is the widely cited fact that success and likeability are positively correlated for men, and negatively correlated for women. There are generations of fairy tales and parables warning of the risks of female ambition: Snow White, Adam & Eve, Black Swan…
“This stereotype- one that shows ambition as a power-hungry need- implies that the pursuit of mastery and recognition is likely to cost more than it can possibly deliver. Characters like Nina [black swan] imply that ambition will cost a woman all her meaningful relationships; it will push her to the breaking point; it will twist her priorities, pervert her desires, and betray her dreams”.
One of the articles I suggested addresses the various issues that arise around women and ambition. The author starts out by saying that even though she has interviewed dozens of successful women across all fields, that Catherine Zeta-Jones was the only one who openly owned her ambition in stating that she wanted her own Oscar on the mantel by her husbands.
Get it, girl.
The author continues to make the case for a female discomfort with owning their ambition with quotes from Oprah, Hillary Clinton, and Condoleeza Rice that all to demonstrate an overbearing modesty that seems to plague even the icons of female success in this country. Why?
“One reason women hang back is what Feldt calls a lack of “intentionality.” “It seems that from their earliest days, boys know they’re supposed to have a specific interest; they can decide to be and do whatever they want,” she says. “Girls are now told they can be and do anything, but they’re much less likely to be taught that they should have a life plan that’s intentional. Girls are socialized to be reactive; boys are socialized to be the askers, girls the askees. Such patterns have been documented by observers like Fels and psychologist Mary Pipher, the author of Reviving Ophelia. Further, when females do develop a plan, they’re less likely to muster the confidence to pursue it, according to the experts. “A man looks in the mirror and says, `I’m going to run for office.’ He doesn’t question whether he should or shouldn’t do it; he doesn’t question his qualifications,” says Feldt, who teaches a course in women, power, and leadership at Arizona State University. “Women are more likely to say, `Something is wrong, and I want to help fix it.’ But women are more easily dissuaded. If a man sees one thing he can do, he applies for the job. If a woman sees one thing she can’t do, she doesn’t.”-Scarlet A
That was long, but there was no way I could paraphrase that as well. For me this rings so true. I was always told that I could do and be whatever I wanted, but I do not think I was actively pushed towards that goal in the same way I would have been were I a boy. I have also always strived to know my weaknesses, and while I believe that is important, I think I have hidden behind them. I realize now that I always equated success to financial gain, and it felt arrogant and greedy, and unnecessary for me to pursue that. I think I was also scared, knowing my weaknesses, of what people would say if I admitted I was ambitious. That I was delusional, that my efforts were just some vanity project (which, by the way, people have gone out of their way to tell me), that I was selfish for promoting my dreams now that I have a baby to take care of. Male ambition reinforces essential male qualities: having balls, taking it like a man, Manning Up. Female ambition does not have those same associations, instead we get Nina in Black Swan. I think that is changing, but I think it needs to change faster. Luckily, Beyonce is here to help.
There is a lot more I could say, this discussion is so expansive. But I am going to stop here for today. I think I am going to pick up again with this tomorrow based on your feedback, and hold off on the solutions until Thursday. So what do you think about the topic today? What rings true or sets off your bullshit alarm? What else do you think we need to address on the problem end of the issue?