Saturday, June 23, 2012

Feminism Means the Right to Choose

The incomparable Peggy Lea sang, "I can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan, and never let you forget you're a man." A 1980s Enjoli perfume commercial added a few more lyrics, including, "I can work 'til 5 o'clock." The idea that women could do it all had some feminist in an uproar.

Kathryn Hepburn never married, never had children, wouldn't dream of it. She knew women couldn't have it all, and chose a career over marriage and family. Okay, we must temporarily forget the amount of time and energy she invested in her drunkard, married long-time love Spencer Tracy.

Have we  come a long way?
In 1989, broadcast journalist Meredith Vieira joined the 60 Minutes news team. She was allowed to work part-time for two years in order to care for her infant son. When her two years were up, she became pregnant and asked to have the part-time arrangement continue. Executive producer Don Hewitt decided to hire a full-time staffer. Thus ending Ms. Vieira's career with CBS, and adding to the controversy of the "mommy track."

It's an old debate that continues to this day. Facebook executive Sherry Sandberg went viral with her Internet speech. "Sit at the table," she said. In other words, women aren't participating enough. They need to put up their hands and say something like, "Yes, I'm here; I'm capable, and I want to play with the big boys." She always stated women need to choose their partners well, and pointed out that partners who bring home equal paychecks and share home responsibilities equally have fewer divorces than couples who have relationship inequity.  Her message is clear. Stay in the game.

On the other hand, Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female Director of Policy Planning at the US State Department, left her job after two years to spend more time at home. She wrote in an article for The Atlantic titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." She believes that the system needs to change, for both men and women. There ought to be room to pause along the way, take time out and continue on when family life permits. Corporations and government need to have more family friendly policies. Personal and professional life needs greater integration. Rigid work schedules need to be loosened up and hierarchies relaxed.

Funny, when I was in university, way back a generation and a half ago, we were talking about work, emerging technology and flextime. Seems like it hasn't happened. Women may have more opportunities than every before, but Ms. Sandberg is sitting at the table, and it is a lonely place. Have we come a long way? I’m really not sure.

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