Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thoughts From the Thermocline

Tonight’s cocktail is called the Thermocline, in honor of the fact that today the heat index is 109F, I’m one of a million people out of power in the D.C. area, and the only sensible thing to do is lie on the floor in the basement and enjoy the wholesome goodness of alcohol. I know, you’re going to say that people should avoid alcohol when there’s a danger of hyperthermia, but it’s 70 degrees in my basement, McDreamy is a real doctor and everything, and he says it’s OK, and oh, by the way, suck it, unless you’re here to restore my power.

To make this drink, I infused vodka with Earl Grey Tea, mixed with muddled pineapple and a dash of simple syrup, added ½ oz of lime juice (you could go with more), shook with ice, and served over more ice (we found a 7-11 that had ice and filled up a big cooler). It’s delicious, very cold and tart and summery. And, as a southerner, coming from where sweet iced tea is a summer staple, I’m glad to find a way to include it in an adult beverage.

Oh, how did I infuse the vodka? It’s really simple, y’all. I just poured a generous quantity of vodka in a jar and left 3 tea bags in there overnight. I’m going to add more tea to see if I can amp up the flavor.

Last week, the Atlantic published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter about why, exactly, women can’t have it all (“it all” being defined as career and work/life balance for women – and here we’re talking about highly educated middle- and upper-class women – with children). I’ve read many articles and blog posts about what Ms. Slaughter said or failed to say, and I don’t want to re-tread that ground, but at the same time, I totally wanted to kiss Anne-Marie Slaughter on the mouth after reading her article, and here’s why.

When I was about to give birth to Tweak, my first baby, I learned that my then-employer was requiring that I return to work 8 weeks postpartum. The HR person who delivered this news to me was stunned that I wasn’t grateful not to be ordered to drag myself in from Labor & Delivery with the umbilical cord still trailing on the sidewalk behind me.  I’d been working at this job for just under a year, so the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) didn’t apply to me. The FMLA gives women who’ve been working for the same employer for at least a year 3 months of maternity leave (4 months in the District of Columbia where I was working), unpaid, except to the extent you’ve accrued sick or vacation time, or your employer offers paid leave as a benefit. This is, by the way, crap compared to the rest of the industrialized world, but I digress.

The end result was one pissed-off feminist. Because I’d done everything right. I went to fancy schools. I studied hard. I got good grades. I paid my dues in the workplace. And it would have taken my employer more time and expense to hire someone to replace me and get them up to speed doing my job than it would have to simply give me another 8 weeks of leave. But I was out of luck. I am a real lawyer and everything, and I’m treacherous when crossed, so I found a way to make my employer extend my leave time. I kept that job for another 2 years, until I had Tink and faced paying more in child care than I was earning after taxes. And again, I was angry about this, though at least the organization that I was working for was not-for-profit and doing good things in the community, and I’d willingly foregone higher wages to work there instead of at a law firm. But still, I had no immediate options for work/life balance, and I became acutely aware that very few of my peers had figured it out, either.

I identify as a feminist because I believe women should be treated equally to men in society and the workplace, I want my daughter to have every opportunity that would have been available to her if she had been a boy, and I want my son to treat women with dignity and respect. Feminism promised me that I could have a professional life that few women in my mother’s generation could have envisioned, if I put in the effort.  And I did put in the effort, even if it sometimes meant working twice as hard to be considered almost as good. But then I became a mom, and suddenly feminism wasn’t there for me.

Feminism has done amazing things for women in school, in politics, in the workplace, and on the athletic field. It has worked to eliminate domestic violence, sexism, discrimination, and reproductive injustice. But it hasn’t figured out what to do with motherhood. 

It seems like there’s always someone within the feminist movement who wants to blame mothers for the fact that women haven’t advanced more. Lately people have been mentioning Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, who said last year in a commencement address at Barnard College that women are hurting feminism by failing to show sufficient drive. Around the time Tink was born, a woman named Linda Hirshman published a screed called “Back to Work: A Manifesto.” She then went on 60 Minutes and said that women who leave career paths to stay home with their children are single-handedly responsible for feminism’s demise. How can women advance as a group, she asked, if women can’t get to top levels of government, industry, etc., where change is made? To paraphrase, those of us who at any time prioritize parenting above profession are dirty, dirty whores who should be deeply ashamed. At some point, I threw my shoes at the TV. Then Tweak threw his little shoes at the TV and said, “dat lady natty bish,” so I decided to watch my language.

I was glad to see Ms. Slaughter calling out feminism for what it has so far failed to do for mothers, while simultaneously articulating the expectation that it can and should do more. I felt like she was speaking for me, even though I possess not even 1% of the badassness that Anne-Marie Slaughter has in her left pinky toenail. My goals are far more modest than reaching pinnacles of power and influence, but even if they weren’t, the last thing I need is to be emotionally battered by a legion of battle-axes in the name of feminism.

What it boils down to is a form of hazing in which the last generation of feminists says, we went through hell, so you will, too. That generation worked their asses off and put up with a multitude of indignities to eliminate professional and educational barriers to women. Now, Gen-X and Gen-Y women sail obliviously down those paths, and we have the audacity to complain about having to sacrifice family time and quality of life for professional advancement, which the last generation simply viewed as a natural cost of doing business. In my view, the last generation rants that my generation of women isn’t driven enough because they think we’re ungrateful. Instead, though, what we really want is to move on and build on what the last generation did, not to continue to re-live their struggles.

What IS that, and why did you bring it to our meeting?
Slaughter makes a key point that the status quo in the workplace is unfair to everyone, not just to women. Women in my generation aren’t asking for permission to slack off; rather, we want to change a system that presupposes that if you have children, you have a stay-home spouse or a highly paid nanny, and you don’t expect to participate in your home life very much. All other things being equal, most moms simply can’t compete with someone who is childless or who has a stay-home spouse. And the women who do make it into the professional stratosphere are almost always childless or achieved the bulk of their ascent when their children were almost grown. The rest are extremely wealthy and/or lucky.

It shouldn’t have to be that way. Slaughter’s article makes a number of suggestions about how to change workplace assumptions and create a new societal expectation that everyone - men and women - should be equally responsible for domestic and child-rearing responsibilities. I think it’s a good start. Most of all, I think it’s the most productive direction in which to proceed, because vilifying women who get tired of flinging themselves against the glass ceiling isn’t working.

In conclusion, I want to thank Anne-Marie Slaughter, if she’s reading. And if she wants me to, I really will totally kiss her on the mouth. Failing that, she at least deserves a cocktail tribute. I'd start with a Thermocline.


  1. From the XY perspective, I've always been perplexed by the "battle ax" flavor of feminism that seems to try it's hardest to essentially BE LIKE men...or what they imagine men are like. That attitude seems harmful to women because it doesn't value a female identity and worse, by acting like the traditional male professional, nothing is being done to stop a vicious cycle...hence, the quandary of what to do about parenthood. Here's my question: Are those "battle ax"-type feminists raising their sons to be driven, ruthless professionals without expectation of domestic responsibility? Or, are they raising them to demand more paternity leave, social equality and professional balance? My guess is they are doing the former...and that perpetuates a cycle that's harmful not only to the younger generations of women but to society in general. We must subscribe to and demand a social contract that values raising the next generation. And, in the reality of mandatory dual, income households; that starts with valuing parenthood.

  2. hi. as a farmwife in rural alberta, canada i see, on a very basic level the unequal balance of power. men and women farm the land together - plowing, planting, harvesting, and working cattle. men are called the farmers and we the wives are called helpmates. if a marriage ends in divorce, people, men and women, always side with the husband. they fear the wife will take land or half of the herd of cattle. it is a sad thing to witness.
    but on a happy note i found you and your blog through the promote your blog on thoughts from paris. i would love for you to visit my blog and follow if you like it

    new follower bev

  3. Hi, Bev, and Happy Canada Day! Interesting that the farm isn't simply seen as a marital asset to which both spouses are equally entitled, just like a house or a joint bank account or anything else. I'm glad you found my blog - I just looked at yours and had to LOL at your entry about your mom. I totally get it.


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