By Meghan Casserly
Before she was an internationally-known author Candace Bushnell was just a little girl growing up in Connecticut watching her mother get ready for work. “This was a woman whose hair and makeup were done and was already dressed by the time we woke up for breakfast,” the Sex & The City creator recalled last night at a Danbury, Connecticut event to celebrate the women of the area’s chamber of commerce.
The conversation, of course, was on work-life balance, as has become de riguer at conferences these days, whether female-focused or not. (Full disclosure: I asked the question and acted as moderator at the night’s panel discussion).
“She did it all because she wanted to do it all,” Bushnell said. “There was none of this complaining about how she’d make it work—the husband, the job, the house the kids—because she knew it was a gift that she was even able to.” Today’s women, Bushnell alluded, have forgotten the battles of our mothers… and it’s made us a bunch of whining bitches.
Bushnell was raised in what she called the “Mad Men swinging sixties” in upper-middle-class Glastonbury, Connecticut where she said the culture was such that even the whisper of a mother with a job was something of a scandal. “You knew times must be really tough, that something was really bad if Mom was working,” she said. It was from this culture that her mother became something of an anomaly, opening a travel agency with a friend in town that Bushnell recalls as quite successful.
It didn’t go down without a fight. “Oh, I remember the fighting,” the author said, between her father, a rocket scientist (true story, he developed a fuel cell used on Apollo space missions) and her ambitious mother. Who would shuttle the kids to riding lessons? Who would keep the house? For god’s sake, who would put dinner on the table? For Ms. Bushnell Senior, the answer was clear: she would, of course.
“I think she recognized how lucky she was to be able to be a part of the workforce at a time when so few women were,” Bushnell told the audience. And it’s a fair statement: in 1967 women comprised just 14.8% of America’s workers and earned just 60 cents on the dollar (a statistic which, real talk, hasn’t inched up much in the 50 years that followed). Just getting in there was a feat, and one that, if Bushnell’s memory serves correct, was the driving force for her mother to “balance” her work and life without so much as a whisper of complaint.
Are today’s women spoiled then, now that we’ve passed the tipping point to become more than 50% of the workforce? Now that we’ve achieved the goals that our mothers’ generations struggled for have we somehow lost sight of how lucky we are? While I get where Bushnell is coming from, I’m not sure I’m buying it. And I’m not sure the women of my generation are “grateful” for the opportunity to earn a living. These days, it’s just the way of things.
No, I think we’re at a point where we’re like—okay, we’re no longer a minority in this “working” game and so we’re no longer going to paint on our brave and grateful faces over the breakfast table every morning… now we want to be happy about it. The kids, the husband, the job. All the things.
And the truth is something’s got to give to make it happen, whether it’s systemic changes in the workplace or a reordering of gendered responsibilities. It was cool to do 100% of the work at home with a Doris Day smile when less than 15% of us were out there earning.
At 50%? Not so much. ♦