I *heart* powerful, accomplished women–women like Marissa Mayer, the 4-month old CEO of tech company Yahoo!, who was hired for her latest position when she was pregnant, gave birth two months ago, and then went back to work two weeks later. I also admire Sallie Krawcheck, a woman who was once known as the most powerful woman in finance, and whose name is currently being bandied about in the media as one of those in the running to becoming the next head of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Yeah, having a family is nice, but I want a high-powered career, money, power, and respect, too. What’s so wrong with that?
Apparently, depending upon whom you ask, there is quite a bit wrong with that. When Marissa Mayer said that she only planned on taking a two-week maternity leave after giving birth and that she planned to work through the entire leave, she was roundly criticized–oddly enough, some of the harshest criticism came from self-proclaimed feminists, who felt that Mayer’s decision was setting back the movement to gain paid, extended maternity leave for women.
Writer, serial entrepreneur, life coach, etc., etc. Penelope Trunk attended a Forbes Executive Women’s Forum in 2007 where she was scheduled to speak. Sallie Krawcheck was also a speaker and answered questions from the audience. At the time, Trunk was a working woman with a stay-at-home husband; she asked Krawcheck the following question (in bold) during a Q&A:
I have a stay-at-home husband and it’s a train wreck. How do you work that out in your house?
I had a stay-at-home husband and he went back to work. My first husband could not get over it and I had to choose another husband. I would come home from a meeting and I’d say sorry I’m late and he’d roll his eyes. As soon as you get the eye roll you have a problem And in fact, he was having an affair. That was a waste of four good years, and I was cute then, too; I should have dated a lot more men than I did. I got a much better husband the second time around because I had had practice making decisions with imperfect information.
Another forum attendee asked Krawcheck:
How do you handle leaving the kids when you travel?
The thing with the kids is to show no fear. If you show fear, they can smell it. Say, “I love you and I can’t wait to see you, but I love my work.” I cry when I close the door. I went to China for two weeks. The kids were okay; I bribed them. I waited to tell my daughter until I took her to the American Idol concert.
In the comments section on Penelope’s blog, comment after comment lambastes Krawcheck as being selfish, uncaring, and a bad mother for seemingly choosing career over being a wife and mother. Except, Krawcheck appears to be a great wife and mother–her current husband hasn’t issued any public complaints. And odds are that her children are exceptionally well-taken care. However, to some people the only way that children can be well-taken care of is if the biological mother is the one doing the taking care. The complainers say that a woman who serves her family food that a chef cooks can’t care too much about her family–unless she actually puts her hand in the pot, she must not love her family.
When it comes to women, people equate sacrifice with love. Why are we still fighting the antiquated notion that a woman who has little-to-no desire to be a stay-at-home mom must not love her kids? If I had a huge house I would want it to be kept clean–I just don’t want to be the one to clean it. If I had a husband I would want him to have freshly pressed suits from the cleaners–I just don’t want to be the one to have to go to the cleaners. And of course I want my family to have freshly made, nutritious meals–but, since I don’t enjoy cooking on a regular basis, what’s wrong with paying someone else to cook those meals?
There is nothing wrong with desiring to make home and family the center of your universe. On the other hand, there are women for whom a husband and kids are just two pieces of the puzzle that fit together in order to construct a picture of a happy life. Sallie Krawcheck and Marissa Mayer are two of those women. I’m one of those women. And I just wanted to take a moment to say that women like us–Sallie, Marissa, and I–love our family just as much as women who forsake high-powered careers.
Jamila is a Senior Editor at Beyond Black and White. She is also a full-time student in an MBA program. Follow her on Twitter @jamilaakil