Elsa Walsh is the author of “Divided Lives: The Public and Private Struggles of Three American Women.” She is a former Washington Post reporter and New Yorker staff writer. This essay is adapted from a speech she delivered at St. Mary’s College of Maryland on April 5.
In my years as a journalist, I have written and spoken a great deal about women’s lives and struggles, and wrote a book about the conflicts facing successful female professionals. But today, 16 years into life as a working mother and 23 years into a marriage, I’ve come to question many of the truths I once held dear. The woman I wanted to be at 22 is not the woman I wanted to be at 38 — not even close — and she is certainly not who I am now at 55.
Every few years, America rightly plunges into a public and heated discussion about women and feminism, work and family. The latest round has been stoked by Sheryl Sandberg, Anne-Marie Slaughter and Marissa Mayer, who have become symbols and participants in the argument over what women want. Yet, I find it to be a narrow conversation, centered largely on work, as though feminism is about nothing more than becoming a smart and productive employee and rising to the top.