Amanda Bennett a columnist for the Washington Post, contests that if you are ambitious, you will be punished. If you focus on your career, no man will have you. Even if you do marry, you’ll never have children. And if by some miracle you do manage to have kids, you are going to ruin them. In every case, you will end your days regretting your choices.
[Be pretty, but not too pretty: Why women just can’t win]
Let’s look at some of the myths:
MYTH 1: Career women will become old maids.
Women who postpone marriage to focus on their careers will end up old, crazy and alone (Newsweek, in a cover story titled “The Marriage Crunch”) took it all back 20 years later.
MYTH 2: Even if you do get married, you’ll die childless.
“A painful, well-kept secret,” is what Sylvia Ann Hewlett called it in an article in Harvard Business Review. More recently Harvard Business School released a survey of its own graduates — people who might reasonably be considered a good proxy for “successful.” How many female baby-boomer MBAs were childless at the time of the survey? 21 percent.
Amanda Bennett goes on to say: So, yes, hard-charging, better educated women are less likely than average to have children. And according to a more recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the rates of childbearing among so-called “successful” women have begun to soar: “Across all educational groups, childlessness has either remained constant or declined in the past two decades, with the biggest declines occurring among more educated women.”
MYTH 3: Okay, you have kids. Now you’re stressed and overwhelmed.
Not quite. Research shows that both men and women have more leisure time today than ever before. What’s more, working women have actually increased the time they spend on child care. The researchers posit that the real sources of the “overwhelmed” feeling are factors other than work. One is the more fragmented ways we spend our time. We also have ever-expanding menu of things we can choose from to do, making us feel as though we’ll never get to them at all, even though we don’t need to. There’s also the fact that a lot of us secretly want to be busy, because we’ve come to associate “busy” with “important.” Women talk themselves into feeling too busy, and into talking about too being busy. Then they feel like they are too busy because they’ve told themselves they are.
MYTH 4: All this work and freedom has brought you nothing but misery.
So how about the fact that, despite our success, we are all secretly miserable?
Why value career and independence if one of the things it has made us is unhappy?
Anne-Marie Slaughter, in “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” asked that question.
Despite women’s gains in wages, education and prestige, “women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men,” Slaughter writes, citing the paper “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness.” Women are less happy, it is true. And the study shows that the decline in happiness is no different if you are a working woman or stay-at-home mother.
“A common suspect for the source of women’s declining happiness is the burden of balancing children and a career. … [but] there are no statistically significant differences in the trends for women with and without children … if female unhappiness is rising due to the extra pressures of combining home and market work, then one would suspect that the decline in female happiness would be particularly large among women in their peak child-rearing years or women with young children in the home.”
MYTH 5: You’re happy, but congratulations! You’ve ruined your child.
The evidence all around us is that it’s just not true that they gain satisfaction at the expense of their children’s happiness.
In her book “Perfect Madness,” Judith Warner cites studies that support the notion that there wasn’t much of a difference between children of working and non-working mothers.
MYTH 6: OK, so you managed both. But you don’t count.
Can a woman have a career — even an ambitious, intense one — and still raise happy kids without going crazy herself?
We seem committed to believing this even in the face of multitudes of evidence to the contrary. The only problem is that so many women are managing to have high-powered careers while raising kids, and seemingly doing it well.
Amanda Bennett concludes: Why do we continue to punish ambitious women with these scary scenarios? Aren’t there enough real barriers to women’s success that remain — gender stereotypes; different standards for evaluations; the relative inflexibility (still) of most workplaces; the financial penalty women pay if they don’t negotiate; and the social penalty they pay if they do. There have been tremendous gains for women over the past 40 years, so why discourage young women from standing on the shoulders of the accomplishments of the generations that went before?
You can’t win if you don’t show up.