It’s Not Women Who Need Fixing

Written by Emily

Every time I read about women fighting tooth and nail to build women up in their careers (see Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter, et al), extending hands and their voices through media megaphones to challenge workforce discrimination and cultural stereotypes, I cheer.

And then I secretly wonder if I’m a number in their statistics– a woman who needs saving, who needs someone else’s voice to lead her away from June Cleaver and towards the “new modern woman.” I hope not!

All good here.

Statistics reveal women aren’t flooding “power” positions in the work world. There are far fewer women CEOs and COOs. Sadly, some people think these statistics mean it’s women who need fixing. Maybe, like LaMotte suggested in her article for Forbes, instead of looking for flaws in women, we need to re-focus and fix the flaws in America’s work habits and corporate identities. But that’s a cultural shift we seem unwilling to make. We want Women to fit in as it is. We don’t want to make accommodations. We prefer to say, “Ladies, you can do this if you just want it enough. Work harder. Work longer. Be assertive.” Instead of: “We provide on-sight childcare, job-sharing opportunities, flexible hours, etc.”

Women are receiving more advanced degrees. Awesome! As it should be. Just because this doesn’t translate to CEO of Google or Facebook, doesn’t mean women are failing. We need well-educated, well-rounded employees, but we also need well-educated, well-rounded mothers who will raise kind, socially-aware, curious, ambitious children. Let’s embrace women who want to learn, to really understand, to create, to question. Let’s embrace women who want to be part of the conversation. And let’s not judge them if they choose to go home to their children or their significant others rather than back to the office (or to the office at all).

Whether intentional or not, even today, our actions and our words suggest that women are passive objects holding positions instead of active, decision-making agents in their own lives. I know so many women who, when faced with the opportunity to take the next step in their careers, have chosen not to. Again, it’s not the women who need fixing. Maybe there’s more flexibility where they are. Maybe they WANT to pick their children up from school or make dinner (GASP!). Maybe they don’t define themselves by their careers at all. Perhaps they define themselves by their volunteer work or hobbies or by any number of other things that don’t provide a paycheck.

First, let’s treat women as individuals and not as a mass audience with the same wants and needs. Let’s ask each woman: “Do you WANT to be the CEO?” If the answer is truly “no,” then that has to be okay. No judgement or downcast eyes. If the answer is “yes,” then let’s don our excavation tools and crack away at the archaic ideals that are holding her back. Go! But while we’re at it, let’s tackle workplace conditions and expectations for all employees, so that people can live balanced lives–not just women, everyone. And let’s not make apologies for wanting a life outside the office.

Let’s fight until we can’t lift our arms so women CAN assume any position they want–and get paid what they deserve to be there. Yes. But we need to stop assuming we understand what Women need or want or how they should behave (in a corporate setting or otherwise).

To me, feminism means allowing women to choose, providing the tools to choose and then giving them the freedom to choose. I didn’t realize feminism was only for women who work outside the home or who strive to be president of a company.

I thought feminists knew the measure of a woman, of a human, is not her status, or the sum of her parts. Well, this feminist knows that. And that is the feminism she’ll teach her girls.

14 comments for “It’s Not Women Who Need Fixing

  1. Mary
    March 27, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Nicely put!

  2. Catherine Pasierb
    March 27, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Very well said!

  3. jkf3
    March 27, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I agree completely, Em, well said!

  4. Emily W.
    March 27, 2013 at 3:06 pm

    Amen! It’s so ironic that you wrote this piece. Just yesterday I read an article in the WSJ that infuriated me. In the article,” ‘Lean In’ and the Era of the Inconvenienced Mom” the author was essentially equating moms spending more time with their children to helicopter moms. Really? Women want to spend time with their family…how shocking and absurd! It states that “educated women” are now spending 9 more hours per week with their children than in 1995 and equates this increase to “intensive parenting.” Again, really? Spending more time with the people who matter most in the world to you does not mean you are hovering over their every move. The author was basically saying that our children are an inconvenience to our rise in our careers. My question is, if we don’t spend more time with our kids than who does?

    I was a little fired up. Wish I could link the article, but it is on an app and I can’t find it online :/

    • March 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm

      I read it!!!! Yes. Yes. Yes, Em. I am so glad you are reading about this and getting fired up!

  5. Mea
    March 27, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    Well put, Em!

  6. March 27, 2013 at 10:52 pm

    The problem is how America treats men, not women. We “expect” men to be the breadwinners, to work long, hard hours… and then we have the gall to condemn deadbeat dads? America makes deadbeat dads by creating a culture (or allowing one) in which women are seen as the nurturers. If we start respecting and encouraging men to regard family above career, then we’ll get somewhere.

    • March 28, 2013 at 1:02 am

      I think there’s a problem with how women and men are treated and represented. And I think we “expect” women to have careers, work long hours and be fully-present, hands-on mothers. America excuses deadbeat dads but not because it sees women as nurturers. Some women are nurturers. Some men are nurturers. That’s wonderful. We need to focus on creating progressive workplaces that accommodate the nurturers and anyone who chooses to excel in his/her career while leading a full, well-rounded life. I think there is more of an expectation from women (a sign of feminism at work, I think) for their partners to be present (and I think many men want to be present), so the “having it all” conundrum belongs to all of us. I certainly agree with you that we need to continue to encourage men to take active roles in their families, but it’s a shame to think we’ll only see change by shifting the focus to men.

    • Mea
      March 28, 2013 at 8:52 am

      Molar mother, there’s no excuse for deadbeat dads! And, I think society expects much more from women these days. Yes, being expected to work long hours and be the breadwinner is a stressor, but what else do they have to worry about after that? It’s okay in our society for men to work hard and long hours, and then expect nothing from them when they come home. But women are expected to do it all, no matter how hard they work!

      • March 28, 2013 at 11:17 am

        That’s what I’m saying — we say it’s “okay” for men to do that. It’s not okay. Our society needs to shift so that we expect everyone — male and female — to be equally present in a child’s life.

        Think about it. Fathers who abandon their children are chastised, but it’s not considered taboo. Mothers who abandon their kids? People are appalled, shocked, enraged, outraged, etc at the notion!

        I got maternity leave. But where was my husband’s paternity leave? When I returned to work, people felt bad for me, wondered how I managed to do all that work. My husband had to return to work 5 days after the baby was born (and two of those days he had to take unpaid). How many people asked him how he managed? Maybe 20% of the people who asked me?

        Society makes dads like this. So let’s fix the problem..

  7. March 28, 2013 at 11:35 am

    EXACTLY! ….the space here isn’t large enough for me to say everything I want to so I’ll just leave it at that!

  8. April 9, 2013 at 8:03 am

    This post is much appreciated. As a teacher before my little guy, I would have LOVED to job share. So many districts discourage it, as I’m sure do other professions. I applaud the stay-at-home dad, who goes against the grain. And the SAH mom, I applaud you (me), too. Why do we have to choose job OR parent?

    • April 9, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Thank you for commenting! Job sharing is such a luxury, isn’t it? I wish more professions were willing to make it an option. I was lucky enough to teach in a district that offered part-time positions. And I applaud you, too, for choosing what’s best for you and for your family. You nailed it: why do we have to choose job or parent?

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