Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The "Woes" of the Modern Woman

You’ve come a long way, maybe?
by Natalie West Criss
Assistant Editor
Metro Business Chronicle
October 2004

At no other time in history have women enjoyed more freedom than in present-day America. We not only have the right to vote and own property, we work in executive positions with corner offices alongside men for equitable pay and control our personal lives in unprecedented ways.

Now, before you brace yourselves for yet another feminist diatribe or a red-white-and-blue display of blind patriotism, consider the treatment of women throughout history and ask yourself: Why does the modern American working woman seem so unhappy?

For an answer to that question, we need look no further than the 1970s...the decade that brought forth not only me, but the pervasive myth that women can “have it all.” Following on the heels of the Indulgent 80s, the teenage women of the Me Generation were raised on the expectation of career success and bought the idea of sexual equality with men sold by the media. Having it all morphed into entitlement as we were groomed to expect challenges based solely on gender. Our boldness and bright cast on the future was eclipsed only by our Day-Glo wardrobes and big hair.

Upon graduating from college, beginning our careers and perhaps juggling a few suitors, we had it all planned out: work for ten years to establish our careers, then maybe get married and have children. Now in our 30s, reality has come home to roost. This is not the life we signed up for, many complain. What went wrong? The answer you get depends on where you look.

According to a study published in April 2002 by Harvard Business Review (“Executive Women and the Myth of Having it All” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett), working women are unhappy due to career-absorption: establishing ourselves professionally takes precedent over all else, lulling us into a state of denial until we wake up one day with no husband, no children and an unfulfilling career that we’re not even sure we ever liked.

Danielle Crittenden, author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, says being equal to man doesn’t make us men, therefore we should stop emulating them. Embracing our differences and reclaiming our feminine dignity, says Crittenden, is an empowering experience denied modern woman by the very foundations that supposedly liberated us.

In Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America, Myrna Blyth details how magazines and news media sell unsubstantiated hype convincing women that, although unfairly victimized by society and understandably overwhelmed by stress, true happiness is just one zen manicure away.

These are insightful (and incite-ful) pieces of the puzzle, but the underlying issue of managing the overwhelming array of choices we’ve been afforded remains to be addressed. What is “all” and why do we have to have it? Can we take it in pieces or is it only available in two sizes: all and nothing?

The women’s movement attempted to give us choices meant to empower, not entrap, us. When we fail, we (or women we know personally) react by claiming victim status, dramatically swooning over the mounting stress, or beating ourselves up for not being good enough. We’ve set up an impossible situation with no winners.

Speaking of winners (and whiners), I recently watched an episode of “The Apprentice” in which the predominantly female team exhibited classic victim behavior. When confronted with a budget busting expense, one woman reacted to the male vendor by saying, in the presence of other men, “You’re raping me, here.” I could go into a full-length analysis of the non-literal professional, social, and political applications of that word and how its use sabotages productivity via distraction.

The charge that put the team $5000 over budget had not been clearly agreed upon or confirmed in writing; but rather than negotiate like a professional equal or learn from this valuable experience, an Apprentice candidate chosen from thousands for her education, skills, and presence automatically invoked the ultimate crime against women perpetuated by violent brutes. In the infamous boardroom, it got worse. The female project manager claimed she was unable to focus on the budget because of the stress caused by an allegedly unstable team member. Another stammered excuses in the presence of four Proctor & Gamble executives (three were women). It was sickening.

From cut-throat New York to savvy, southern Mississippi, women must realize that the battle has already been fought and decisively won. When surveying the future before us, we can lay aside the unrealistic expectations, the shiny badges of persecution, ad hominen attacks and the use of “woman” as a weapon so we can truly–once and for all–live freely for ourselves by making choices and accepting consequences; not like a man, but as rational, productive humans.

Unless otherwise cited, all original articles appearing on this blog are property of Natalie West Criss ( Business Ink, Inc. and Metro Business Chronicle). To submit requests for publication, contact natalie@metrochronicle.com.

1 comment:

Shurleen said...

This was an absolutely great article! Wow! Thank you. It's time someone said it, and you said it well.