‘I wasted my youth being self-righteous’

In Confessions of a Prep-School Feminist in the New Yorker, Curtis Sittenfeld (she’s female), recalls her days at Groton, where she served as “the self-appointed gender police.”

Ferreting out “examples of boys misbehaving and girls being mistreated” wasn’t difficult because she’d made herself a magnet for boys’ offensive jokes.

As a senior, she wrote a column in the school newspaper about Groton’s Group for Female Awareness. The Washington Post reprinted it, after editing out her positive comments about the school.

Twenty-one years later, Sittenfeld realizes she “cherry-picked examples to support my argument, and I made Groton look bad in ways that weren’t specific to Groton; similar stories could have been told about any other élite boarding school.”

“Looking back, I fear that I wasted my youth being self-righteous; I might be one of the few Americans who thinks she should have spent more of high school cutting class and drinking beer.”

I vaguely remember going to a “women’s lib” conference when I was in high school in the late ’60s and taking offense when construction workers whistled at me. (I had a red dress so short that I later wore it as a shirt.) In college, I belonged to a women’s discussion group. Did we call it a “solidarity group?” It was something like that.

The movement really was liberating for women like me, born in the early 1950s. We didn’t have to manufacture grievances back in the day.

Nobody can ‘have it all’

Women still can’t have it all, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic. She left a high-powered State Department job to return to academia to have time for her children. She wants employers to let people — not just parents — work from home when possible and take time for family needs.

. . . women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years.

Remember the outcry when Felice Schwartz told employers to create a family-friendly alternative for professionals? It was dubbed the “mommy track.”

Men can’t have it all either, responds James Joyner. His wife died suddenly, leaving him with a toddler and an infant.

Not long after my wife’s passing, I was offered a promotion that would have helped bridge the loss of her income but would have required much more time at the office. Professionally, it was a good move. It also made sense financially, even though it would have meant paying for a few more hours of childcare. I nonetheless declined because my daughters needed me to spend that time with them. And, frankly, I needed to spend that time with them, too.

The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to “have it all.” It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.

Of course, most people aren’t going to be CEO or Secretary of State no matter how hard or long they work.

The myth of the good mother

Today’s women face a new form of oppression — the pressure to be a perfect mother — argues French feminist Elisabeth Badinter in The Conflict.  The good mother is a “myth,” Badinter tells The Globe and Mail. “A frustrated mother who is denied her own desires and ambitions is not good at all for her child.”

Ms. Badinter argues that yesterday’s patriarchy has been replaced by the tyranny of a suckling baby, and the pressures of “natural” parenting in the form of drug-free childbirth, co-sleeping, and cloth diapers. Moreover, women’s decision to step out of the workforce to devote themselves to their children is setting the cause of equality back to their grandmother’s generation.

When feminists fought to involve fathers in childrearing, bottle-feeding was “very practical,” Badinter says. Now breastfeeding and co-sleeping make fathers de trop.

The new model of super-parenting might work for some women, she concedes, but it’s not right for everyone. “And to those who don’t feel like adopting motherhood as a full-time job, don’t believe you are bad mothers.”

A retired professor, Badinter and her husband have three grown children.