The work days kept getting longer and longer, and the women walked away from six-figure incomes. Typical comments were: "I don't want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm." "I don't want to conquer the world; I don't want that kind of life."
One easily predictable explanation for this attitude is, in one Belkin quote, that many women never get near the glass ceiling because "they are stopped long before by the maternal wall."
These women don't admit that they abandoned the work force because their children needed them. They said they opted out because "life got in the way"; they were "no longer willing to work as hard, commuting, navigating office politics," and "balancing all that with the needs of a family."
One woman told Belkin that she is just not interested "in forging ahead and climbing a power structure," and "that is one of the inherent differences between the sexes." She quickly caught herself after making such a politically incorrect statement, adding, "to turn that into dogma is dangerous and false."
One woman from the Atlanta group staunchly maintained that "the exodus of professional women from the workplace isn't really about motherhood; it's really about work. ... Quitting is driven as much from the job-dissatisfaction side as from the pull-to-motherhood side."
Princeton University, a former male citadel, is now run largely by women, and Belkin interviewed the president, Shirley Tilghman. Commenting on her current crop of female students, she said that for every one "who looks at an Amy (Gutmann, the provost) or an Ann-Marie (Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs) and says, 'I want to be like her,' there are three who say, 'I want to be anything but her.'"
The feminist movement was always elitist; it was about getting political and corporate power for educated women.
But it turns out that the workplace, like child care, has its drudgery, its long hours, its repetitious duties, its demands that an employee accommodate herself to the schedule of others. Maybe the home is a pleasanter and more fulfilling work environment than the office, after all.
I wonder if someday a feminist will ever say the office is "a comfortable concentration camp," as author Betty Friedan famously described the home of an affluent suburban housewife in her landmark 1963 work, "The Feminine Mystique." Or if a feminist will ever admit that there is an eternal difference between men and women in their goals and in how they want to live their lives.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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