never married, over forty, a little bitter

the race

Life is a race, Sandberg is telling us, and the way to win is through the perpetual acceleration of one’s own labor: moving forward, faster. The real antagonist identified by Lean In then is not institutionalized discrimination against women, but women’s reluctance to accept accelerating career demands.

Sandberg assumes that the feminist question is simply, how can I be a more successful worker?

If resistance to working harder is the problem, then it follows that work, in Sandberg’s book, is a solution. Work will save us; but, the reader may be asking, from what? By taking note of the forms of human activity that do not appear in Lean In, we see that what work will save us from is not-work: pleasure and other nonproductive pastimes. “Framing the issue as work-life balance—as if the two were diametrically opposed—almost ensures that work will lose out,” Sandberg writes. In response to the threat of work losing out, she goes on to outline how one transforms one’s life entirely into work. There is no not-work, or pleasure, in Lean In. Aside from the possibility of having better sex with one’s husband after he has assisted with household chores (work makes everything better, including sex!), Sandberg does not mention pleasure. Sandberg assumes instead that the feminist question is simply, how can I be a more successful worker?

Take Sandberg’s perspective on the family. A successful working mother on the Sandberg model awakes at 5:00 a.m. to answer emails before preparing kids for school, returns home for dinner with her kids (which, like her job, is a duty the mother has to be promptly on time for), and then gets back into her email. “Once he was down at night, I would jump back on my computer and continue my workday,” she writes, acknowledging the fact that, by Silicon Valley’s own hand, “technology has extended the weekday.”

At this point in the text, what could become a critique of the new economy’s round-the-clock work imperative becomes its opposite: resignation to work’s all-consuming nature. “Facebook is available 24/7 and for the most part, so am I. The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or a vacation are long gone.”

For someone with fewer family demands than Sandberg, freedom is depicted not as a pleasure but a problem to be resolved by getting a family. The single woman goes out to a bar goes not to have fun or be with friends (the main reason most women I know attend a bar), but to find a husband with whom to procreate. “My coworkers should understand that I need to go to a party tonight…because going to a party is the only way I might meet someone and start a family!” Astonishingly for a book published in 2013, there are no self-identified lesbians, gay men, or even intentionally unmarried or child-free people in Lean In’s vision of the workplace. It’s not clear why Sandberg thinks that everyone should be in the business of getting a family, since the book argues that family gets in the way of work. But it seems that Sandberg can only imagine the dreaded “leaning back” as a product of family demands. Who would take a vacation voluntarily?

the muddle

Or perhaps one more big social policy push can bring full gender equality. Mothers in northern European countries work at rates about ten percentage points higher than American mothers do. However, they largely work at “feminine” part-time jobs because Scandinavian policies make it easy to work part-time but costly to stay home. American mothers mostly work full-time or not at all because part-time jobs here, sociologist Alex Janus suggests, have difficult hours, low pay, and negligible benefits. The Scandanavian model seems, despite great egalitarian efforts, to reinforce female-first care-giving.

But marriage markets aren’t as simple as pairing eligible men and women together at random. Even in places where the average earnings are a little higher among unmarried women, a few simple sorting preferences produce (straight) couples that overwhelmingly lean male-dominant. The most important preferences are for race/ethnicity and education: most couples match up along these lines. Within racial/ethnic and education groups, men earn more at every level. On top of that, the male partner is usually a few years older. With those parameters set, men will earn more in most couples. If you add an additional preference for higher-earning men within a couple—which is still what most people appear to want, whether they say it explicitly or not—then the male-dominant skew in the resulting marriages is even stronger.

Take Atlanta. Among childless full-time workers there, unmarried young women earn more than unmarried young men, but Census data confirm that just-married men’s incomes are higher than just-married women’s. Three-quarters of Atlanta couples marry on the same side of the college/non-college divide, and in cases where both spouses have college degrees, women earn more in just one-third of couples. Overall, only 38 percent of newlywed Atlanta couples have a higher-earning wife. As these couples advance along their careers, that percentage is unlikely to rise.

The growing prevalence of breadwinning wives is an important phenomenon, but it is not the end of gender inequality as we know it, and that prevalence is not irreversibly increasing.

second class

Two good posts on the Prop 8 debate:


In 2010, I read carefully the ruling that overturned Prop 8 in California, and wrote, “Does the Prop 8 Ruling Make the Case for Ending Marital Privilege?” The specific points I made were:

The Ruling Extends Marital Privilege to Same-Sex Couples, But It Allows Discrimination Against Single People to Continue

The Ruling Condemns Legislation Based on Stereotypes and Private Moral Views, But Perpetuates Stereotypes and Private Moral Views in which Married People are Regarded as Superior to Single People

Really? Science Shows that Married People Are Healthier and Happier, and their Kids Are Better Off? There’s Truthiness in those Claims

pricing out

This is a problematic piece for a number of reasons, not least of which is that most college men are not looking for wives (oh and also the writer herself is divorced, proving that life is never so simple), but I do find I agree with this:

I am the mother of two sons who are both Princetonians. My older son had the good judgment and great fortune to marry a classmate of his, but he could have married anyone. My younger son is a junior and the universe of women he can marry is limitless. Men regularly marry women who are younger, less intelligent, less educated. It’s amazing how forgiving men can be about a woman’s lack of erudition, if she is exceptionally pretty. Smart women can’t (shouldn’t) marry men who aren’t at least their intellectual equal. As Princeton women, we have almost priced ourselves out of the market. Simply put, there is a very limited population of men who are as smart or smarter than we are. And I say again — you will never again be surrounded by this concentration of men who are worthy of you.

Of course, once you graduate, you will meet men who are your intellectual equal — just not that many of them. And, you could choose to marry a man who has other things to recommend him besides a soaring intellect. But ultimately, it will frustrate you to be with a man who just isn’t as smart as you.

half and half

I just turned down another job offer from my former employer this past week. It was an agonizing decision, as I was sorely tempted, after having had some time off, to get another paycheck rolling in as well as benefits. But I would have had to move to another part of town, giving up the things I do enjoy here, and the hours of the position would have been extremely difficult for me to handle. I would have had to commit to the job for several years, thus continuing to move in a direction I don’t think I want to be moving in.

Half my friends advised me to stick to my original vision; the other half advised me to take the job. Ultimately it brought up, and came down to, questions of values. I’ve been reading I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron and related quite strongly to this passage on p. 132:

Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over: Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it’s your last, or do you save your money on the chance you’ll live twenty more years? Is life too short, or is it going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? And where do carbohydrates fit into all this?

In the past, I would have totally taken the job; I would have gone for the large paycheck. But as they say, insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results. I’ve been mostly practical for twenty years, and in that time, I lost my fertility (assuming I had it in the first place) and watched jealously as other people followed wild and impractical dreams. One friend of mine spent the past five years working on a novel and just recently re-entered the workforce; I feel like it’s now my time to take a little break. I will need a healthy amount of money in retirement, but besides that, what am I saving money for? If I were to die tomorrow, my one nephew would already inherit a good amount.

Here’s some other passages I loved in I Feel Bad About My Neck relating to Ephron’s decision to move out of an apartment she adored but that had become way too expensive. It is how I feel about leaving Los Angeles. Pp. 81-83:

Unrequited love’s a bore, as Lorenz Hart once wrote. It had taken me significantly longer to come to that realization in the area of real estate than it ever had in the area of marriage, but I was finally, irrevocably there. Since I was involved in a one-sided love affair with the building, falling out of love was fairly uncomplicated.


So we prepared to move. We threw away whole pieces of our lives… We felt cleansed. We’d gotten back to basics. We’d been forced to confront what we’d outgrown, what we’d no longer need, who we were. We’d Taken Stock. It was as if we’d died but got to sort through our things; it was as if we’d been reborn and were now able to start accumulating things all over again.


Within hours of moving in, I was home. I was astonished. I was amazed. Most of all, I was mortified. I hadn’t been so mortified since the end of my second marriage, and a great many of the things that went through my head apropos of that marriage went through my head now: Why hadn’t I left at the first whiff of the other woman’s perfume? Why hadn’t I realized how much of what I thought of as love was simply my own highly developed gift for making lemonade? What failure of imagination had caused me to forget that life was full of other possibilities, including the possibility that eventually I would fall in love again?


But then she writes:

On the other hand, I am never going to dream about this new apartment of mine.

Because I’m returning to a city I’ve already lived in, and a smaller one at that, I wondered if it would ever inspire me to dream again, but, thankfully, small dreams and hopes are in fact starting to form.


I still firmly believed that babies are amazing, important, wonderful things. But abruptly I understood I didn’t want another baby, not really. I wanted to be a mum to baby Conrad again. Specifically, I wanted to be 31 again. I was suffering from a mid-life crisis; a kid-life crisis. Is it possible that middle-aged women yearn for babies not because they want a baby per se, but because they want to be the woman they were when they had their babies; a desirable, vibrant, important young being. It’s exactly the same as a guy buying a convertible car or chatting up his secretary. It’s about resisting the inevitable. Ageing.

I discussed my theory with friends. “Oh yes,” admitted one. “It’s just so wonderful being pregnant, everyone is interested in you.”

“Yes,” added another excitedly, “and you’ve got a purpose.”

“You feel so alive. So far from death,” contributed a third.