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Women, careers, big cities, and other thoughts

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maid

I’ve been thinking a lot about women lately.  I’ve seen a couple articles floating around online about the role of women in the workplace, with children, and so on.  Penelope Trunk talks a lot about it in her blog (which you can Google because I’m still undecided whether I want to link to her).   While I’m convinced that she’s having a mental breakdown, in the meantime, she is running a company and taking care of two children, one of which is autistic.

There are studies about whether being married makes a woman happier.  There are articles about whether women can balance working, being a mother, etc.  And there are whole books about womens’ psychology and how we react to each other, why women are mean, and what we do to get ahead in our careers. What I’ve been thinking about most lately is work-life balance and how I see it reflected in my life, as well as the lives of the women I work with and interact with on a daily basis.

Do women necessarily need to foresake marriage and children to have a career? That’s the ever-present question in Washington, DC, and in all big cities, where the most single women always are.   When I moved here, I didn’t realize how many women in my age group were single.  But here is the map:

singlemap(from The Boston Globe)

Look at how many single ladies are waiting to put a ring on it on the East Coast, as well as in the South.   The women remain single, and they remain single for longer, into their early thirties.  I run across this all the time, both in personal and work life. In DC, women work.  They work for consultancies and non-profits, for intergovernmental bodies and Senators, and they work at amazing job opportunities for ridiculously long hours.  Then, they go to graduate school.  And they get PHDs.  In their free time, they go out to really cool clubs, meet cool people, and dance until the early morning.  And then, they dish about it on weekends with their girlfriends over mimosas.  Then, they go get a manicure.

I spend my days finishing my work and then brainstorming about whether I have enough energy to make dinner (because I usually don’t plan out a menu a week in advance because I am Lazy) and worrying whether we will have to go grocery shopping.  Then, I try to get home as early as I can because I want to spend more time with Mr. B since I don’t see him for eight hours and Life is Short and You Should Spend Time With Your Loved Ones (but, more likely,  I probably want him to give me a foot massage).  After that, we go to the gym, together, and maybe watch a movie.

Being married in DC at age 22 seems, well, kind of uncool.  It seems like a hassle, something that prevents people from doing what they really envision in life.  Obviously, I don’t see it that way, or I wouldn’t have spent 4 hours alternating between doing the hora, Russian techno dances, and desperately wanting to get at least a little bit drunk at my own wedding.  I think marriage is great, as well as important in the long scheme of things.  But there is always the perception that being a young(er) married woman pursuing a career is weird, because no one even starts thinking about marriage here until they are 25.  If you are married when you are young, you are either really religious, or in the military, but nothing in between.

I think the one place this is an exception is any community of young Russian professionals.  As I’ve said before, Russian Jewish (and Russian) immigrants are probably the most conservative immigrant group without being religious.  Early marriage is preferred, and as a result, was never unnatural to me.  I remember my mom telling me she got married last out of her group of friends, at 24.    Anytime I meet Russian people my age, for some reason, I always feel a little more comfortable telling them I’m married, as if they won’t judge me.

Anyway, this blog post isn’t going in any conclusive direction.  I just wanted to bring up some issues of age, marriage, and career that I’ve been thinking about lately.  It’s probably time for my foot massage, anyway.

5 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. OK, I’m making a rash assumption here. After all, Mr.B may well be the cleaner, washer and ironer in your household. However, stepping boldly into the lion’s den, I note you wrote:

    “whether I have enough energy to make dinner (because I usually don’t plan out a menu a week in advance because I am Lazy)”

    And some people wonder whether feminism still has any relevance today.

    Reply

  2. @heady

    He’s not the main cleaner, washer, and ironer. We usually split those tasks, depending on what’s going on that week. Sometimes we have competitions over who’s the better ironer. Because we are nerds.

    Otherwise, I’m not really sure what you are saying with your comment: that feminism is relevant because I make (or don’t make dinner?)

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  3. Vicky, it’s uncanny. This is the second post of yours that I’ve read and again, you touch issues I’ve wondered about. Your question:

    //Do women necessarily need to foresake marriage and children to have a career?//

    The way I see it, it’s really hard to strike the perfect balance. I can tell you as a wife, mother and a working individual, that in spite of all your education and rationality, there does come a point in time where one is made to realize what’s more important to one. Obviously, I speak for myself. It’s been my conscious decision to stay with both my kids till each was at least 2.5. And that was more because I wanted to be with them than “they needed me”. I’ve had friends who put their 3 month old babies in childcare and resumed work – again of course, consciously. It’s what they wanted and they’re happy.

    I feel ultimately it boils down to what means more to you as an individual – would you rather always satisfy the need of your intellectual fulfillment, or would you be willing assume the role of a domestic caregiver for a while? The way I see it, if I’m good enough, I can always go back to working once the kids are slightly older. But I’m not going to be able to watch the subtle, gradual changes my newborn will go through to turn into an independent toddler. If we label that as a science, it could be – and is – a very fascinating experiment.

    The irony is I’ve seen “career-minded” women (read, those who find stay-at-home moms uncool) who are montessori teachers – what’s the difference? You’re doing the same work that they are, using your resources and creativity, teaching problem solving etc. – only, with your *own* child!

    I know someone who very cockily told me once, “I can’t even think of marriage yet, I’m only 28″. I have no issues with her not wanting to think of marriage just then, nor about her being “only 28″. It was the implied “because” in there that amused me. Being married is purely a state of mind – you go for it when you think you can handle the whole deal. Some are ready for it at 22 and juggle marriage, the world and careers wonderfully. Some are unsure even at 46.

    I’m extremely passionate about the work I that do. Even then, if I were to go back in time and hypothetically choose between single & working Vs. married/family & non-working, I’d without a moment’s hesitation jump into the latter.

    (Ok, I think I have (1) strayed from the topic of your post and gone completely tangent and (2) indulged into an unnecessarily lengthhhhhhy comment. Well, at least you know now why I refrained from commenting on the topic of your other post :-|)

    gauri

    Reply

    • @litterateuse Great minds…. ;)

      Thanks so much for your insight from a mother’s point of view, which I don’t have yet, and therefore can’t fully attest to. As always, your comments stand on their own in terms of wisdom, so I don’t have much to add, except to say right on!

      Reply

  4. Wow. So, um, to try out some Jewish slang I know, um – Shvester!! (Did I do that right?)

    I’ve been reading a lot about this topic lately on the altdotlife forums, as well as a few other spots I frequent on the web, and, of course, thinking about it in my own life. Aditya and I married when I was 21. TWENTY-ONE! Not that unusual for the Midwest college we met at, frankly, but incredibly weird to all my friends & family from California, and also to the people out here in DC. I won’t even speak of the looks I got in my Ph.D program at Gtown, especially from the female professors when they realized I’d taken my husband’s name (mainly for the fun factor of being white with an Indian last name, but that’s neither here nor there).

    Not only do I sometimes get the attitude that it’s uncool to be married before 30, I also get the vibe that it’s somehow unprofessional, or that by admitting I’m married, I’ve signaled that I actually don’t belong to the social/cultural strata that my outward appearance and key indicators (job, education, etc) would otherwise suggest.

    I don’t have any conclusive thoughts on this, other than that, like litterateuse, I find the balance right now between job, husband, dogs, and personal hobbies difficult, and I don’t expect it will get any easier when we throw a kid or two into the mix.

    Reply

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