Home > rant > Women, marriages, and the rat-race

Women, marriages, and the rat-race

September 3, 2012

There were two articles in the Economist a couple of issues ago which involved women. First, there was an article about marriage rates, saying they’re down all across the world, and showing this graph:

As an explanation, the Economist suggests some possibilities:

First, women are often marrying later as their professional opportunities improve. Second, thanks to increased longevity, bereaved spouses are outliving their partners for longer than the widows and widowers of yesteryear. And third, changing social attitudes in many countries mean that the payoffs of marriage—financial security, sexual relations, a stable relationship—can now often be found outside the nuptial bed.

Let’s call that last possibility the “payoff” reason for not getting married, and rephrase it like this: women are saying, I’d rather not, thanks.

The second Economist article talks about why women don’t rise to the top of companies. It gives us some numbers:

America’s biggest companies hire women to fill just over half of entry-level professional jobs. But those women fail to advance proportionally: they occupy only 28% of senior managerial posts, 14% of seats on executive committees and just 3% of chief-executive roles, according to McKinsey & Company, a consultancy.

Again, as explanation, the Economist suggests some possibilities:

Several factors hold women back at work. Too few study science, engineering, computing or maths. Too few push hard for promotion. Some old-fashioned sexism persists, even in hip, liberal industries. But the biggest obstacle (at least in most rich countries) is children.

Do you know what I’m not seeing? I’m not seeing the payoff reason listed. I’m not seeing the possibility that women decide I’d rather not, thanks.

Considering what we know about internal culture at places like McKinsey & Company and other consultancies, or finance firms, or technology firms, etc., I’m wondering why that wasn’t listed.

Remember, these are educated, smart women being hired at these companies. They have lots of options in general, so I’m not willing to to assume they are all just going home to take care of their kids once they leave their corporation. More likely, they’re leaving because they decide it’s just not going to be their best option.

And yeah, it is hard to have kids and work, but that’s not the only reason to leave a large corporation. Take for example the heroine of the article, Marissa Mayer, the new CEO of Yahoo! (emphasis mine):

Ms Mayer of Yahoo! is an inspiration to many, but a hard act to follow. She boasts of putting in 90-hour weeks at Google. She believes that “burn-out” is for wimps. She says that she will take two weeks’ maternity leave and work throughout it. If she can turn around the internet’s biggest basket case while dandling a newborn on her knee it will be the greatest triumph for working women since winning the right to wear trousers to the office (which did not happen until 1994 in California).

WTF?! She’s an inspiration to who, HR at her company? Who does that? She’s gotta be psychotic – but wait, that’s what’s selected for. I’d like to see another article come out where the Economist asks the question, Why are smart men willing to spend their lives in the quest of leading these companies, considering how awful the conditions are?

In any case, I personally would like to go on record saying Marissa Mayer is not a role model for me.

You know who is, though? This woman I met when she was 80, who had just learned to be a professional potter, and had had various totally fascinating careers before that, including as a ship-builder. She had five kids. She ran away with her current husband at 40. Since I met her she became a writer. My god, this woman is amazing.

Women, and some men, have the power to re-invent themselves, to become more and more interesting and creative as they grow older. That is, to me, inspiring. They are my role models. Keep learning! Keep exploring!

I’m not asking you to agree with me on what is inspiring, but I am asking the Economist to be consistent. If we can manage to believe that not all women see the point in getting married, then can’t we stretch ourselves, just a bit, and imagine that not all women can see the point in staying inside a corporate machine for their entire lives, slowly losing their identity and their ambition in the petty internal rat-races of the idiosyncratic culture of whatever firm they happen to belong to, just so, at the end, they can have too much money and not enough time? Sheesh.

Categories: rant
  1. suevanhattum
    September 3, 2012 at 9:04 am

    And have a kid who doesn’t know mama. I hope she has a stay-at-home husband or wife, who the kid will get to bond properly with.


    • Karen Louis
      September 5, 2012 at 5:12 am

      Mayer doesn’t have that kind of luck. Her husband, Zack Bogue, is a trained lawyer who’s gained a reputation as a good investment manager and has recently started a venture firm that has an interest in the usual line-up of tech firms. That’s a job that will take a lot of time, a lot of travel, and a lot of board-level investment in each company.

      Of course, they’re both rich, so they can easily afford to hire all the help they need, but your point about how their child is going to know (or not know) mom and dad is well-made.

      A couple of months ago in The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/), former Assistant Secretary of State Ann-Marie Slaughter made the case that women still can’t have it all (where ‘all’ meant a great job and a great family life) and used her life with her husband, Princeton Political Science Professor Andrew Moravcsik, and her two children, ages 12 and 14, as her core example.

      I look at Slaughter and see an accomplished woman, and I very much want her to succeed for her own sake, but I do not see how it will be possible since it demands superhuman efforts from both her and her husband, and it demands a great deal of flexibility and money in order to make it work.

      Mayer and Bogue are a similar pair, and I fear for their child’s sake that they will give much more to the pursuit of having it all than they will ever receive in happiness or the love of their child.


      • Lee
        September 6, 2012 at 11:39 pm

        You raise an excellent point; the “having it all” lifestyle is not a genuine possibility for MOST people, men and women alike. So I have to wonder why it is that only women are ever told that wanting to have it all is unrealistic?


  2. JSE
    September 3, 2012 at 9:14 am

    To be fair, I think the version of this article about law firms (which comes out at least once a year in one magazine or another) does put front and center the fact that working in a big firm is unpleasant for most people and that it can be rational to choose not to do it if you don’t have to.

    I seriously doubt Marissa Meyer sees what she’s doing as “slowly losing her identity and her ambition.” Without knowing anything about her besides what I’ve read, I would guess that her ambitions and her sense of identity are what’s driving her to take on the Yahoo job. Why else would she do it?


  3. Elaine
    September 3, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    I agree with this rant. I recently left a multinational to go to graduate school not because of the money but because I get to do more interesting work if I have an advanced degree. I still sometimes question my decision to leave a corporate job with good benefits but then I figure in the long run my quality of life would be better than if I stayed somewhere for the sake of security.


  4. dd
    September 3, 2012 at 5:49 pm

    “Women, and some men, have the power to re-invent themselves”
    “Women, and some men, ”


  5. September 3, 2012 at 8:04 pm

    I saw an article some years ago in the American Prospect where Linda Hirshman found that more than half of a sample of career women in NYT wedding announcements from 10 years before had left the rat race. Hirshman concluded that something was horribly wrong with those women and that the feminist movement had to work harder to get them to see the light.

    Too many “opinion leaders” and others with media access treat getting off the corporate ladder as the inherently inferior choice, made only by the confused and the incompetent. I’m glad to see smart people arguing to the contrary.


    • Dave Harmon
      September 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm

      Yup… that falls right in line with defining both “normal” and “excellence” in terms of masculine ideals, and then talking about how women are always neurotic/emotional/weak and naturally inferior.


  6. dd
    September 4, 2012 at 3:19 am


    I don’t know if they are right or they are just inventing everything but I’d love to work just half as much and dedicate more time to myself. I would be happier too.

    This new post-scarcity economy thingy needs to get faster.


  7. Virginia
    September 6, 2012 at 10:38 am

    What really bothers me about this “women can’t have it all” theme in public discourse is what it says about our expectations of fathers. Apparently meaningful participation with their families isn’t part of “it all” for men; involvement with their children beyond provision of resources is entirely optional and at the man’s discretion, more of a hobby than an obligation.
    These quotes seem pretty much in line with the Economist’s unspoken assumption that everyone always wants more money and more power, so that under masculine-dominated power structures of course women will follow traditionally male paths as soon as they get the opportunity to do so. Similarly they’d probably say more money/development/GDP growth is always better. I guess they do this largely because dollars are easy to count, but it’s definitely part of some cycle of commodification.
    And JSE i often read the subtext of those articles about miserable lawyers is “if these poor suckers had gone into finance they’d be making *so much more money*”


  8. September 6, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Debbie, This is a fabulous comment. In the last ten years, I have met many of those awesome women who have led ‘unconvential lives’. I find their enegy amazing and have been given so much love and kindness


  9. Wolf Baginski
    September 6, 2012 at 6:08 pm

    Ms Mayer must be working 13 hours per day to deliver that 90-hour week.

    If that’s her habit, rather an occasional emergency, she’s either an incredibly rare freak, or she’s spending around half the time functionally incompetent, almost as if she were drunk.

    What sort of company can survive a boss in that state?


  10. MarkG.
    February 21, 2013 at 11:34 pm

    Hi, Cathy. Just wondering what your thoughts are on the late “Journal of Neuroscience” finding, that an abundance of Foxp2 protein made women more likely to be talkative. My unscientific hunch as been that women know exactly the isolated, lonely, testosterone culture in engineering (I’m compsci); and they don’t see themselves being happy in that. The women I know are talkative and likely to seek help when needed; men tend to isolate and be information hoarders. Is this genetic?


    • February 22, 2013 at 5:56 am

      Interesting, I’ll think about it. Thanks!



      • MarkG.
        February 25, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        Thanks, Cathy! My thought: It may be that the Foxp2 protein bestows added social ability to women. Thus, perhaps, some women may see engineering/math as not challenging their inherent talents and gifts. FWIW.


  1. September 9, 2012 at 5:02 am
  2. September 10, 2012 at 9:03 am
  3. September 19, 2012 at 6:02 am
  4. September 23, 2012 at 1:49 pm
  5. March 6, 2013 at 7:13 am
  6. January 23, 2014 at 1:25 am
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