October 30, 2003

Women at Work

Interesting article in the NYT magazine this Sunday about The Opt-Out Revolution. On the surface this is about women who, after Ivy League educations, high-powered professional degrees, years of achievement and promotion in the workplace, choose to leave their careers for "the mommy track". As the article says "women are rejecting the workplace" and "26 percent of women at the cusp of the most senior levels of management don't want the promotion".

But what struck me when reading it, is how much the article resonated with me as a man — and with things I've seen and heard my male friends say and do. Perhaps part of what's going on is the larger story of the death of the career. As the women say,

All that coming and going, they say, is the entire point. ''This is not permanent,'' Kresse says. ''It's not black and white; it's gray. You're working. Then you're not working. Then maybe you're working part time or consulting. Then you go back. This is a chapter, not the whole book.''

Van Hooser says: ''I am not a housewife. Is there still any such thing? I am doing what is right for me at the moment, not necessarily what is right for me forever.''

Likewise, most of my male friends tend to be on non-traditional career paths. They don't want to work 9-to-5 at a steady job for 40 years. They switch jobs, take time off, start businesses or non-profits, consult, work part time, write, study, take care of family (dogs), etc. With 7.5 years at Fulcrum, I have the longest tenure of anyone I know from my class at school — and I would be out of here in a minute if I didn't get to pretend to be the boss most of the time.

So, perhaps, there's something bigger going on. Is it driven by technological change? The transition to the service economy? The requirement of our "flexible" economy? Or is it a cultural ripple effect from the feminist revolution — the unleashing of a new group of employees on the workplace making all workers take a look around and say "Hey, this ain't that great." I don't know, but this may be another step towards a Free Agent Nation.

Posted by richard at October 30, 2003 09:43 AM

I definintely say it is the ripple effect of the ideals of feminism -- rippling through corporations, leading all of us to questions the constraints of traditional gender constructions in favor of choice, self-definition, autonomy for EVERY gender, sexual preference, lifestyle, etc. A maturity of feminist theory that leads us to recognize that men are constrained by their gender boxes, too, and that women rejecting the traditional constructs of femininity in favor of male models doesn't neccessarily lead to better outcomes for personal happiness or social betterment.

So more and more individuals reject the notion that we'll all be fulfilled living the life of the "company man." In some ways, it may be easier for women to act on that realization. But before we sign up for the "free agent nation," let's not forget that our social and political system still depends on permanent salaried work for the provision of health care, social security, and that second income to support the part-time stay-at-home parent.

Posted by: Julia Ott at October 30, 2003 08:57 PM

The more things change, the more they stay the same. There is something really good about people doing what they want to do-whether it be real or imagined. There is something good about the natural order being repeated. There is something good about someone who's most important contribution is the "health" of the next generation. There is great good in trying to do the right thing every day!

Posted by: at November 3, 2003 11:32 PM