Women, Go Take Over the World! Or Don’t.

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.” –E.B. White

Two items came to me this week:

1. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, was the commencement speaker at Barnard College. An excerpt:

“As we sit here looking at this magnificent blue-robed class, we have to admit something that’s sad but true: men run the world. Of 190 heads of state, nine are women. Of all the parliaments around the world, 13% of those seats are held by women. Corporate America top jobs, 15% are women; numbers which have not moved at all in the past nine years. Nine years. Of full professors around the United States, only 24% are women.”

And later:

“Men make far fewer compromises than women to balance professional success and personal fulfillment. That’s because the majority of housework and childcare still falls to women. If a heterosexual couple work full time… the woman will do two times the amount of housework and three times the amount of childcare that her husband will do. So it’s a bit counterintuitive, but the most important career decision you’re going to make is whether or not you have a life partner and who that partner is. If you pick someone who’s willing to share the burdens and the joys of your personal life, you’re going to go further. A world where men ran half our homes and women ran half our institutions would be just a much better world.”

2. A book called Radical Homemakers, recently excerpted and reviewed by the Englewood Review of BooksI haven’t read the book, but here is the germ of an idea that started the author, Shannon Hayes, down this path:

“If you have learned to live on less in order to take the time to nourish your family and the planet through home cooking, engaged citizenship, responsible consumption and creative living, whether you are male, female, or two people sharing the role, with or without children, full or part-time, please drop me a line and tell me your story.”

And a summary of the book, from the review:

“Hayes spends the first half of the book persuading the reader as to why “reclaiming domesticity” is an honorable and necessary pursuit in modern America. She convincingly argues against the consumeristic, extractive culture of today. Hayes paints a picture for the reader of a third way – one in which the responsibilities associated with building and maintaining a loving and safe home are valued over an increased salary, more stuff and a better title.”

So. In #1 we have a compelling vision of the need for women to be out in the workforce, leveling the field, and serving as leaders in industry and government. In #2 we have a vision of a world in which healthy families and communities take precedence over the big job and our traditional ideas about Making a Difference.

Am I right to see these two visions as perpendicular to one another? Or at least, in creative tension (or just tension) with one another?

And what does a woman do who finds both visions equally compelling?

That would be me, by the way.

I’ll say more about this at some point, but I wonder what you hear in those two visions.

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12 thoughts on “Women, Go Take Over the World! Or Don’t.

  1. Grace says:

    No coherent thoughts to offer, but hoo boy do I hear you.

  2. Ruth Everhart says:

    Amen, Sister. I’m hoping you’ll figure it out. My only thought is that different models perhaps rise to the service at different stages of life. Full of irony, of course, such as having more time to cook when fewer people to cook for.

  3. Deb says:

    I’m trying to wrap my head around it as well. This morning a friend posted a Beyonce’ video that suggest that women “Run the World”… yet they were all dressed in (what my kids call) “ho clothes” and shaking it to sell their bodies not their talents.

    So on the one hand, we have the marketing of sexual desire and beauty… and on the other, a frustration with the glass ceiling that women seem to encounter as leaders. If we don’t call out this kind of stuff, it will never change!

  4. Lisa says:

    I love the work of Bonnie Miller-McLemore who sees parenting as a spiritual practice in and of itself. So I think the compromises made by parents for their careers are a part of their spirituality. And – it is counterintuitive in an ultra competitive society.

    With that said, change in terms of equality for women is slow and if we are not careful – a slippery slope.

  5. Rachel says:

    My first reaction is that they both advocate for more involvement. Radical Homemaking places itself in opposition to merely running the rat race for superficial “rewards”; the commencement speech also seems to value contributing to society as a whole more than just personal gains. For all that it frames working together in partnership with one’s life partner in terms of career advancement, that degree of equality in a realtionship bears a value of its own.

    As far as balancing one’s own conflicting desires of which arena of influence to pursue, I chose to segregate my life in terms of stages. When I was younger, I was very involved in political activism (I did advance on the first Clinton campaign, worked for UN reform, etc.) I chose to let go of most of that side of my life when my son was born. I still stay in touch with some of my activist friends and colleagues and maintain a couple of websites on their behalf, but I have accepted that, right now, my focus is on nurturing my family and community. I have been introducing Hunter to ideas of ways individuals can make a difference in the world, and I am looking fwd to us being able to do more things together as he gets older.

    And, after he goes off to college, perhaps I’ll dive back into the fray more deeply again. We’ll see.

  6. Sarah says:

    I’m one who found/finds both visions compelling,and who attempted/attempts to navigate the ages and stages of my life in ways that worked/word for me. Hard work. Not perfect. Struggle. Rewarding. Frustrating. Changes/changed over time.

    I wonder if each generation of women is faced with its own need to navigate this path – I know my mom and her peers did, and so did my grandmothers (both of whom were teachers for parts of their lives, with children at home – so both worked outside the home) My mother did not work “for a paycheck” after she had children but worked for 5 years before she had children – and was one of those very engaged women of the 50s-70s – church, school, community, social causes, etc.

    Throw in becoming a single parent when my sons were 5 and 8 in that mix and voila – talk about a time of reshaping the vision of work/home balance…

  7. […] is a follow-up to my post from last week about the importance of women being in the workforce in order to effect change, and the equally […]

  8. Beverly says:

    I’m on the Radical Homemakers bandwagon, and very happily so. That said, I am now working (again) 1/4 in pastoral ministry (mostly behind-the-scenes stuff) from home. Though there are gonna be some very busy times, this balance feels about right.

    Read both Linda Hirshman and Shannon Hayes in Boston Review and found Hirshman’s argument pretty infuriating. Yes, we women need to be “out there,” but I personally feel very strongly about the value of being “in there” while children are growing up. The Web and social networking and such allow us to be “out there” and at home, and that, I think, is a pretty enlivening place to be.

    Until I’m convinced otherwise, I’m firmly convinced that parents and those closest to one’s children are those best qualified to love and rear them. Daycare has its place, but not (in my opinion) as a first resort.

    As we build community and protect families (what ever form they take), sustainable, redemptive social change can happen. It is happening.

    • MaryAnn says:

      It’s interesting. Our child care provider is a neighbor who lives four houses away. We did not know her well before our children started going there. But had we decided “parents or close friends only” when deciding who would care for our children while I worked, we would have missed out on getting to know a truly outstanding, loving and caring individual who has brought so much to our lives and our children’s lives. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg thing for us.

      And while I agree we need to be discerning when it comes to our children and who/what they are exposed to, I don’t personally resonate with the language of “protecting” families. I think our culture has becoming entirely too fear-based.

      That said, I’m glad you have a situation that you’re personally happy with. That’s really what this all comes down to, isn’t it?

      • Beverly says:

        What fun to participate in a discussion topic so dear to my heart. I see your point about the value of being open to quality childcare where it is found…especially if it is four houses away.

        I agree about our culture manifests a lot of fear. Let me be clearer about what I mean by protecting families. I think I am speaking of honoring children and, indeed, all people. Perhaps what I’m thinking of relates more to the idea of maintaining boundaries, as you’ve written about in a more recent post.

        I believe many contemporary families, including my own at times, do not have a lot of practice in the disciplines of saying yes and no. I’m re-reading Wendy Wright’s “Sacred Dwelling,” and finding much richness there. I do think it is important that families (extended, same-sex, heterosexual, etc) see themselves as traveling a sacred path, one that deserves time, attention and resources. Most families I know have to advocate for themselves a whole lot in terms of setting aside time to be together and paring down needs enough to be able to spend some time away from work.

        In terms of vacation and parental leave, we could be a whole lot more like Canada, Europe, and some other places, ya know ;).

  9. Donna says:

    I was introduced to this site today through the forwards of two friends. I’ve spent the last few minutes reading and have been nourished by what I’ve found. Thank you.

    I just reread my comments…my apologies if I’ve offended blogging etiquette with the length of my comment. I’m new to this world.

    I was a full time pastor when I met my husband. After a few years it was time to discuss “Maternity Leave” with the session. One elder asked, “Doesn’t workman’s comp cover that?” To which another responded, “I think we’d be hard pressed to prove this happened in the line of duty!”

    I took a few years off when Laura was born. When she was three I worked full time again while my husband was in seminary. This was followed by the extraordinary opportunity to co-pastor with my husband until he felt called to ministry in a totally different avenue. (He’s an executive at the Cumberland Presbyterian Center). By the time we moved to Memphis, TN for him to serve at the Center we had two children and I again worked part time on staff at a local congregation. There I stayed until I was forced to resign due to a disability.

    Serving in ministry outside the home truly made me a better mom. I was energized and had more to offer my children. Now roles have changed and my girls do a lot to “take care of” me physically and spiritually. My youngest brings me a bulletin every Sunday without fail. Since I can no longer physically go to church I use it as a devotional tool. That’s a story for another day.

    I do not feel my children have suffered because of any of my professional choices. In fact I believe I’ve taught them a few things. For instance they have learned to raise their own voices at the sight of injustice. Today Laura is downtown Memphis giving Burritos to homeless persons as part of the “Burrito Ministry”. On the side of sacramental household chores the girls have seen their father take his turn with the laundry and the dirty dishes. I hope this influences their choice in a spouse if they make that choice in the future.

    The choices that I have made that brought enrichment to my life may not be the same choices another “mom” would make. But, I’ve been told my choices have shown other women that they have more choices than they may have considered. Proudly those women include my daughters.

  10. […] follow-up from my recent discussions about motherhood and […]

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