Wednesday, October 5, 2016

If a woman finds sanctuary in her work, does that make her less real?

A friend of mine read a recent blog post that I wrote about Hillary Clinton, and emailed me her passionate support of my viewpoint. It seemed an innocuous and pleasing email, until I realized that my friend endures an injustice that I hadn't often considered. My friend, let's call her M, was particularly taken with a New York Times article cited in the blog post called Why Is Clinton Disliked?. This article, penned by David Brooks, essentially determines that Hillary's overwhelming issue is that she isn't intimate enough to the public because she is a workaholic.

Brooks goes on to say that for people who are "consumed by their professional activities," the "professional role comes to dominate the personality and encroaches on the normal intimacies of the soul." This comment made me wonder, are men frequently expected to engage in "intimacies of the soul" in our society? I think not. Brooks is thus likely criticizing women "workaholics" in particular, as opposed to workaholics in general.

The idea of this article deeply troubled M. She is extraordinarily career-oriented, and she was particularly bothered by the ending of the Brooks article: "Even successful lives need these sanctuaries — in order to be a real person instead of just a productive one. It appears that we don’t really trust candidates who do not show us theirs." To this, M responded: "Which begs the question: what if a person finds sanctuary in their work? Does this make them less 'real'?" She was worried, in particular, if it made her less real. I'm worried it might make me less real, too.

This worry led me to dig into a question that I thought feminism and our great nation had answered long ago: what do we think of passionately working (er . . .'workaholic') women? What I found was horrifying. I found a Huffington Post article  called 10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being A Single, Career-Oriented Woman in Your Twenties, whose main gist was to discourage women from being career-oriented in their twenties, because, "you’ll wake up one day without having a husband or kids, which is not what you wanted." This article also contained this gem:
6. Men who you meet socially will not necessarily love your success (they may even be intimidated by it). 
Remember the bell curve? Well, you’re toward one end of it. And there’s a good chance that a lot of people who you meet socially won’t be on the same end of that bell curve as you. Suddenly, you’re either at work with your equally-achieving, married male colleagues or you’re out at the bar dancing to 2 Chainz. Not great.
To be fair, the author of the above article had recently been dumped for being 'career-oriented.' However, I couldn't believe her words. I thought that she must be the only person on the internet following so heartily in Phyllis Schlafly's footsteps, but of course not. While British media messages encourage women to 'get fertile,' here in the US, Penelope Trunk encourages you to find a partner fast. Here, a working mother loses custody of her children to their father, unemployed for years, who she had "begged to get a job" to help support the family. This is apparently very common.

But what are women to do in a world where they are seen as less reliable, or less hire-able because of the assumption that they are less invested in work than men? And how are women to rebound when they're also seen as breaking the rules if they do put in the extra hours, succeed, ask for higher pay, or promote themselves?

It seems a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation to me. So what can M., who loves her work, is captivated by it, who finds her work a sanctuary, do? What can I do?

I think the best we can do, as women, is to find encouragement and power in a variety of places, and continue to do what feels the most right for our own lives. One of the places both M. and I find solace is in the professors we admire. These are professionals on the forefront of the fight for disability rights, women's rights, privacy rights, and more, and they still fight for their work-life balances-- whatever that means to them. Sometimes life can be work and work can be life and that's OK, too. One admirable professor, Thomas Joo, says this about the study of law:
The lawyer learns to speak the language of the law, and in that language, he or she not only speaks the law, but also speaks about the law. Or, to put it another way, the difference between law and zoology is that zoologists do not train to become elephants. Nor do elephants bother studying zoology. But legal education requires learning both to think like a lawyer and to critically analyze that method of thinking—in other words, to become both elephant and zoologist.
Professional women must do this, too. We must learn both to think like "the ideal worker" who excels in systems built to embrace men, and we also must learn to critically analyze that method of thinking. We must resist the pressure of patriarchal work environments and look with a critical eye at their legacies. Yet we must still try to live our own ideal of success and fulfillment in the patriarchal system as it is, despite being shamed or seen as "less real." What other choice do we have than to be both the elephant and the zoologist?

This tactic of changing the system from within it might just work, too. Perhaps, with innovations like "Worker Coops" and "Results-Only Work Environments" (ROWE was developed by two women), the woman who finds sanctuary in her work may be the wave of the future. Go M., go! Keep your nose in your appellate briefs and books and articles. Publish as much as you can. I believe in you. In my eyes, you are the best kind of real.


Flamingo said...

Kyle Kate,

I can't believe how insidiously sexist these articles are. The journalist dumped for being career-oriented actually wrote "I came off as very career-oriented in a way that was not-so-sexy and attractive to a successful man [...] If I want a masculine man, I need to exude femininity". I find it outrageous. She completely dismisses the possibility that maybe the guy she dated was just not right for her. She generalizes her experience in a dangerous way, almost giving the advice not to be career oriented.
I'm glad you pointed out the ridiculous thesis of these articles.
Plus, they seem to forget that everyone is different and some people are very attracted to intelligence - sapiosexuality is a thing! Why would you want someone who does not value your intelligence at all as a partner?

Thank you for mentioning ROWE and the Workers Coops. They seem to be interesting innovations, even though the ROWE concept is a bit vague in my opinion (probably on purpose though, consultants need to keep their secrets I guess). Giving the power to change policies to the workers actually affected by them sounds like a great option! It sounds like democracy applied to the workplace.

Joan Maya said...

Kyle Kate,

Thank you for such an interesting piece! First off, thank you so much for sharing Professor Joo's quote. I really liked it because I think it speaks to the experience of those in the legal profession of learning a new way of thinking - which I find often will change a person inside and outside of the office. For women this may mean that they take the critical thinking they learn in law school and use it in their daily life, which is something I am sure the author of "10 Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Single, Career Oriented Woman Your Twenties".

To the question you posed of whether being a female workaholic makes one less "real" I would respond: Absolutely Not! In my humble opinion doing what makes you happy and fulfilled is as real as a person can be. Maybe you will wake up twenty years later "without a husband or kids"....but that could be exactly what you wanted in the first place. While the pressure to "settle down" is still very present for women today, I think we are also increasingly seeing women who at least entertain, if not pursue, the idea of not having children or a spouse so they can focus on their careers. Hopefully this path will be more socially acceptable for the women who want it in the future.

Julie Maguire said...

Kyle Kate,

Thank you for this post about the very real struggles career-oriented women face.

It is expected of women to strive for marriage and a family but, for some women, that is not the case. There is a great deal of admiration to be had for anyone who dares to go against the norm. However, it is a commonly used phrase that a woman can be "married to her job", a saying I strongly dislike. Even though said woman has not expressed an interest or desire to aspire to marriage, society must still try and fit her in that bracket. Surely saying she works full time would suffice?

In relation to the woman who was "dumped" as a result of her career-driven attitude, an interesting study was reported about on the Huffington Post website < > that demonstrates that while a man is attracted to a "smart" woman, he will simultaneously be too intimidated by her to actually engage. It concerns me that being an independent, intelligent woman is still a thing to be discouraged in case a man will not like you as a result.

Kyle Kate Dudley said...

Thank you everyone for your comments! Julie - that article is so fascinating (and a bit creepy, if you ask me). It seems the instinct toward male dominance, control, or hierarchy goes deeper than we think - even to the depths of a first date or encounter. Eek! Thank you so much for your insight.