ER: I’m going to generalize here, so slap me if you want – but that’s partly a problem of women being horribly self-critical. At the end of the day, men don’t say, “Oh my god, I did not make the quinoa salad as well as I should. The dressing was terrible and the kids … I only read them three stories instead of four.” They don’t beat themselves up. They have a tremendous capacity for getting on with things.
The voice inside our heads that tells us that we’re not doing everything well – you know, you should put a pillow over that voice and suffocate it.
SN: Yes, but there’s something engineering that self-criticism, that voice. Hillary Clinton is a great model. But she’s also kind of off the curve. All the research says that you’ve got to stay in the job market, even if you have a kid. If you leave, you come back with a far lower salary and you don’t catch up to colleagues who didn’t leave. Life may be long – and it is a good lesson to think, “I don’t have to be all those things right now” – but in terms of sheer financial survival,and having babies before your eggs wither ... the crucial years are short.
SM: There’s a biological imperative for women, no doubt. And Anne-Marie Slaughter, when she was trying to do it all in Washington and was having that hugely high-powered job, her husband was doing a lot of the childcare.
That is a huge difference from Ms. Friedan’s day. The young men I see, including my own son, they’re just more involved in childcare, in everything. They’re also stepping back from their careers in lots of cases.
It is incredibly hard when you have small children. When I had small children, I promised myself that I was going to be available to my kids when they had families of their own, and yet here I am – I have two little granddaughters who are not quite 2, and I do help, but I’m working. So should I be giving up my job so I can do that?
ER: You’re a grandmother and you’re beating yourself up about this. The change in 50 years is incredible, though – from feeling like your life might have lacked meaning to now, sort of, could I have a tiny bit less meaning, please, for a day? Thank you.
Focus: Some things are scarily the same, though. Ms. Friedan's critique of the "cult of the child" – unfulfilled moms over-investing in their kids, and naturally ruining them in the process. Helicopter parenting circa 1963?
SN: That made me laugh. Just like all the articles today on how we’re screwing up our kids.
SM: She interviews all of these women who have more and more children because it gives them something to do; it’s almost as though each new child is a new beginning. What’s happening, I think, with a lot of helicopter parents, is that there are fewer children, and so there’s more pressure to make each one of them the best you can do.
ER: Let’s go back to Hillary Clinton, because I think we’re all fascinated with her. Especially when she was the First Lady and was so demonized for being “unfeminine,” hard-charging.
People really did not like her, to the point where during one presidential campaign her advisors made her do a recipe-off pitting her chocolate-chip cookies against Barbara Bush’s. Or, god, that book, Dear Socks, Dear Buddy: Kids’ Letters to the First Pets.
SM: You remember when she was Hillary Rodham Clinton? She dropped that name, and started to wear hair bands. … I mean, it’s a long, long evolution.
ER: Say what you will about Susan Rice, but when she was being considered for the post of Secretary of State there were a lot of stories going around about how she was too abrasive for the post. She had no supporters within Washington because she was, once again, too ambitious, not a team player – all these words that are still so negative when they’re used in connection with a woman in her career.
And there’s still a larger issue: One of the big problems facing young women is economic. Look at the paper’s Board Games series and see how few women – I think it was 10 per cent in 2011 – sit on the boards of major companies in Canada.
And how difficult it is just to ask for a raise. There was just this study saying the best way to get one if you’re a woman is to be apologetic, self-deprecating, sort of stumbling into it through traditionally feminine behaviour. Which I find just so disheartening.
God, and we’re just talking about middle-class women like us.