Women Aren’t Broken, Let’s Stop Trying to Fix Them

I have a few obsessions and one of them is a reflexive distaste for the idea that any problem that women have can be solved by women being … different. Better. Using different words, getting more education, standing up for themselves. The list goes on and on.

This editorial in today’s Sunday Review articulates one specific piece of this — the basic idea that if women asserted themselves they would get the raise, the promotion, and would not be a victim of harassment. This is all nonsense of course since women do ask for raises and promotions and definitely say “No.” to harassers. But the myth persists — if only they asked … more nicely, less nicely, some other, unspecified but definitely different way.

The writer flips this entire notion on its head — maybe the problem isn’t women. Maybe it’s men. Or, to put it better: maybe prizing everything men do, say, think while also denigrating everything about women is the actual problem.

I remember thinking this when Kate Middleton married Prince William. There were stories about women planning to get up at 3am in the US, organizing viewing parties where everyone would dress up and drink tea, that sort of thing. And then the stories and commentary inevitably turned to criticizing the frivolity of it all. Women just want to be saved by a prince. Caring about a huge, expensive wedding is just so … shallow.

And yet. When men go to some kind of sporting event in a crazy outfit with the teams logo and colors painted across his face that is viewed as silly, perhaps, but not as evidence of some basic lack of value. We certainly don’t believe that a guy who engages in this kind of trivial ritual can’t also command an executive meeting on Monday. 

It’s not easy, but it is possible

Photo credit: Jared Soares for The New York Times

In the tributes to Cokie Robert there were many mentions of her pioneering work as a women in journalism. 

But I was struck by a comment from Mary Louise Kelly, a reporter for NPR on the Brian Lehrer Show:

What resonated with me here in the NPR newsroom yesterday was listening to all of the 20 and 30 something women who as I say many of whom did not know her or did not know her very well they were all talking about her as a mother and as a woman as much as her journalism. And how she did not make it look easy or effortless to do both, to be a great journalist and be a great mom, but she made it look possible. Which, when she was doing it, her kids were young, was revolutionary. And which is still really hard. Making it look possible is a very powerful way of kicking doors down.” 

Making it look possible is a very powerful way of kicking doors down.

I try to model this in my own life and career. No, it’s not always easy to be the CEO of a start-up nonprofit, with two kids, a husband with an equally demanding career. But it IS possible. And it’s also full of joy, at least for me. 

So, thank you, Cokie, and the many other amazing women who show us that it is possible to have a rich, full life full of professional accomplishments, warm family relationships and faith (she was a devout Catholic). When you focus on what matters to you and to those you love you can have it all, all at once.