As a millennial woman, I take issue with recent media reports that suggest that women in my generation are either voluntarily sacrificing their professional ambition or burning out in significant numbers by the age of 30.
These types of stories support the postfeminist media backlash that has been floating around since the advent of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s. The idea is simple: The modern professional woman is overworked, stressed, harassed, and in a chronic time crunch. Moreover, the only way she can relieve this pressure is to minimize or redefine her ambition and accept more essential notions of femininity.
Growing up, I was told that I could “have it all.” I could be anything I wanted to be because I was just as capable as a man. I could also get married and start a family if I so desired. Of course, in order to have it all, I would also have to agree to take on the oft-cited “double shift.” I can be equal in the male public sphere as long as I take care of the female private sphere too.
This begs the question: How am I supposed to run a marathon if I am carrying around twice as much weight as the guy next to me?
These media reports don’t help me answer this question. In fact, it seems like they’re meant to scare me into thinking that I had better relax with this whole ambition thing because I am obviously overexerting myself in order to hide the unhappiness that I undoubtedly feel inside. After all, at 27, I only have three short years left before I burn out.
The problem with these reports is not only that they ignore significant sociocultural factors, such as the double shift, that contribute to so-called burnout but that they also tacitly endorse gendered notions of corporate life and refuse to positively acknowledge choices that exist outside of that structure, such as leaving a corporate job to start your own business.
In other words, they focus on the wrong issues. The central question shouldn’t be whether it is a sacrifice or a compromise to step away from work in order to achieve better work-life balance. The question should be why society is forcing only women to make this decision. Why are we preventing men from redefining their ambition and choosing to be more actively involved with their families?
Moreover, why are women of my generation being depicted as the only ones facing questions of job fulfillment and unhappiness? Are all millennial men totally satisfied with their jobs?
It is in both men’s and women’s best interests to seek a balance between their home and work lives. However, the issue is usually framed as a distinctly female one.
As a millennial woman, I look forward to the day when work-life balance is perceived as a genderless issue, when the corporate employment structure is not built around the wants and needs of a constructed male image, and when my ambition to have it all does not place the responsibility on my shoulders alone.
This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Jennifer M. Perdomo.
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