I read two thought-provoking articles this weekend that I thought you might enjoy, even though I’m not sure I agreed with all the points raised:
The first, What You Learn in Your 40s in the New York Times was full of nuggets like these:
- “Eight hours of continuous, unmedicated sleep is one of life’s great pleasures.”
- ”There are no grown-ups. We suspect this when we are younger, but can confirm it only once we are the ones writing books and attending parent-teacher conferences. Everyone is winging it, some just do it more confidently.”
But, perhaps my favorite was:
- “‘Soul mate’ isn’t a pre-existing condition. It’s an earned title. They’re made over time.”
Then, I read Women at the Top by Marcia Angell in this month’s New York Review of Books, a review of Alison Wolf’s: The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World. Angell is my mother’s age and writes about my (our) younger generation which makes for interesting reading, to say the least. She writes:
From earliest history right through the 1950s, there was a transactional element to marriage. In return for the security and protection and social approbation the husband provided, the wife provided sex and children and management of the household. If the man was wealthy and the woman beautiful and charming, so much the better. Of course, there was often love and companionship as well, but throughout history, as Wolf writes, “sex proffered, sex withheld were the main assets that girls possessed … All that changed almost overnight when the birth control pill hit the market in the early 1960s…Reliable contraception also made it feasible for women to undertake long years of education and commit to careers in a way that had not been possible before, and they began to be encouraged by, of all people, their fathers—their “besotted” fathers, in Wolf’s words…As families became smaller, fathers became more ambitious on behalf of their daughters, since in a two- or three-child family they might have no sons. By the 1980s, women were entering the upper echelons of society on their own, and many had high enough incomes to have children without marriage and support them, if they had to. Sex, marriage, and children no longer had to go together.
I found this to be a fascinating cultural/sexual history and context for the seemingly endless debates about leaning in/opt-ing out/work life balance. I have a funny perspective on all of this since in the last five years as fate would have it I have 1)worked full time, with a full time nanny, 2) stayed home full-time with my child and 3)worked part time with a patch-work blanket of sitters, and what I can say with confident sincerity is that each experience was full of pleasures and guilt in almost equal measure. Nothing about being a mom (or dad) is as simple as leaning-in or opting-out and all the options are full of hard work and doubt.
Quite a bit later in the article Angell tackles what is given up as a result of what she calls the “cult of overwork”: as it turns out: cleanliness, sex and sleep (see What You Learn In Your 40s above, HA!):
In a New York Times article titled “The Case for Filth,” Stephen Marche concludes, “A clean house is the sign of a wasted life, truly. Hope is messy: Eventually we’ll all be living in perfect egalitarian squalor.” Despite the hyperbole, there is something to this view. Since housework takes time these couples just don’t have, I think lowering neatness standards is sensible, even though it is sometimes hard on us grandmothers, who grew up rating ourselves on our cooking and the appearance of our homes.
I hope both articles are of interest to you and I’m curious what you think, too. PS: I couldn’t resist the somewhat gratuitous shot from Working Girl that appeared in the New York Review of Books piece. JUST LOOK AT ALL THAT HAIR!!