Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Trophy wives v. CEOs

I recently began reading "Are Men Necessary?" by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. In the first couple of chapters, she muses whether 1970's feminism was all a bust, what with young women today returning to the fashion of taking their husbands' last names, and things like that.

The women of my age she interviews consider the feminism of their mothers' generation too harsh and humorless, and wonder if some of the feminine mystique has been lost by women trying to climb the corporate ladder and split the check.

I understand where they are coming from, as it is an argument I have had with my mother before. "What's wrong with being a housewife?" I would say. "Maybe women are meant to nurture their young and cultivate a nice household. Maybe working too hard is a strain on the family."

And indeed, women of my generation often saw our mothers stretched thin by working 50 hour work weeks and coming home to make dinner. How wonderful, then, to have the day to yourself to run errands, and perhaps a whole hour or two to plan a nice dinner?

I was raised as a feminist, but I first began noticing these anti-feminist tendencies in myself after college. I remember seeing a Colorado Rockies baseball player's wife on TV, and being so impressed with her perfect body and expensive blond hair and nails. I wanted to become that, to cultivate a perfect femininity in myself to attract a testosterone-laden, tall mate--for life. I loved, and still love, to study the art of being a woman--knowing what color purse is in this season, knowing what herbs support the reproductive system, having as many perfumes as possible available on my shelf to choose from. I think this gets at the crux of what women my age are seeking, we want to be softer women than our mothers were allowed to be. We want to be able to slow down, and iron linens, and have leisure time.

My mother recently attended law school, and she saw a major trend to a return to pre-feminism days among the students. She talked to many 24 and 25-year-olds whose plan was to get a law degree, get a husband, spend 20 years raising children, and then return to the work force with their two-decades-old law degree, and no work experience.

And this, she pointed out, was naive. Employers will much prefer to employ young people just out of law school, or people who have 20 years experience in the workforce.

Which brings me to my mother's point. Even if you do decide to take the homemaker route, you'd best have something to fall back on. Because you don't know if that lawyer or baseball player husband of yours will leave you once your boobs start sagging. Especially if you are attracting mates in your twenties primarily with your looks, and primarily with the intention of marrying rich.

1970's feminism was not a bust, then, but something we twenty-somethings had best pay attention to. As my mom pointed out, being a housewife was not romantic for everyone in the 1950's. Some of them were beaten, some of them had children that were beaten, and some had alcohol or drug-addicted husbands. And they couldn't go anywhere because they had no way of supporting themselves.

So we've got to realize that the big feminism wave has made homemaking a choice for us, and we'd better be damn well appreciative. We still might not earn as much as men, but we can get to college, we can get in the office, and with the right resourcefulness, we can get the corner office. And then we can brush it all aside and decide to become a soccer mom.

But if you do decide to become a soccer mom, have a backup plan, says my mom, and says me. Take computer classes, network, and read the paper. Work part-time. Improve your skill set.

Because you never know what the future holds.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A few more points: some people find work in the home very satisfying and fulfilling, and some find the need for more stimulation. Sometimes the person with better earnings potential is female, and sometimes two incomes are needed to provide the life the family wants (or needs to survive). Finally, I do not think women have cornereed the market on nurturing, and many guys get a lot out of a deeper level of parenting than often occurs when one person does all his work at the office and the other does all her work in the home.