Since the women’s movement started in the 50s, but forever before that as well, American women have been trying to figure out how to get parity with men in the public and professional sphere. In this effort, women have at times sought to mimic men, both in style and substance. This approach often boils down to wearing power suits and not talking about your family. To be considered as competent as men, women have downplayed gender differences. (Similarly, racial and cultural differences in minorities were often downplayed in favor of integrationist politics and policies in the 70s, only to give way to multiculturalism and pluralistic approaches born in the 80s.) But repression rarely works long term, and many women have complained that this kind of feminism has led to the devaluation of women’s contributions in all spheres, including to her family.
Therefore, I was much heartened today to see reports of evidence that women with families actually add to the work environment and society at large. (Take that, Bloomberg!) It turns out that being a well-rounded person with loving relationships makes you more productive. It’s not all about the number of hours chained to a desk. As Ann-Marie Slaughter wrote earlier this year, women striving to stay on track professionally have often done so at the cost of their most important personal relationships.
Hopefully this report is the start of a trend, a change in our approach to work. I recently started applying to full-time jobs after a few years’ mommy gap. When I mentioned this to my husband, about the blank spaces between jobs on my resume, he said, “Soon, you’ll be able to put ‘Mom’ on there as a job, and list out all your responsibilities.” Does anyone really doubt that becoming a parent is one of the great learning experiences we have as humans? Why should we be punished for working in this arena as well?
At the rate the world is changing today, we all need to heed Darwin’s call about adaptability: this is the true measure of survival of the fittest. It’s not about getting the most toys – it’s about learning how to use the jack in the box as a dining room table. We have to be well-rounded individuals, wearing different hats, transitioning and learning in our ever-changing roles. Yes, the 1% can sit around and wait for someone to turn on their computers and write their correspondence and wipe their asses. But the rest of us better learn how to do all of it: men and women.