In her new book, “Wonder Women,” Spar joins the ranks of ambitious, accomplished super-moms — including New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter and Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg — in the discussion of work-life balance, the future of feminism and the futile pursuit of “having it all.”
All three agree that having it all is a myth, but they package their ideas and solutions differently. Spar, late to the game, reflects notions from the other two authors. She urges young women to stop blaming themselves, think like Sandberg (be ambitious, make a game plan if you want a child, and be prepared for trade-offs) and address institutional barriers in the workplace, as Slaughter suggests. Spar’s approach of staking out a middle ground may offer wide appeal but ultimately packs less punch than the other two writers.
The feminist revolution of the 1960s expanded women’s choices and championed gender equality. We could have sex without commitment, children if and when we wanted them, and limitless career opportunities. But instead of being liberated by feminism’s gains, Spar argues, the new choices led women into a perfection trap. Overwhelmed by the abundance of possibilities, women started believing they should be not only as good as men but better — at everything, alone and at once.
“We took the struggles and the victories of feminism and interpreted them somehow as a pathway to personal perfection,” she writes. “We privatized feminism and focused only on our dreams and our own inevitable frustrations.”
Chairwoman of the board and Betty Crocker in the kitchen. Mom of the year and a vixen in the bedroom. If you work hard enough, you can achieve anything — right?
At least, that’s what many of us have been told since we were in diapers. Millennial women, like myself, have been assured that we can be attractive, smart and successful at the same time. Disney princesses and Barbie dolls dressed as presidential candidates reinforced the philosophy that physical perfection was attainable along with career and family fulfillment. Helicopter parents guided us to participate in multiple student organizations and sports, and gave us participation trophies when we failed.
Although a baby boomer, Spar empathizes with the millennial dilemma and warns that society’s destructive demands undermine progress. Let go of your guilt and fear and give in to moderation, she advises. While Spar offers comfort, she is short on solutions. She identifies the pressures and can only suggest how women like me can reduce them.
“Little girls want to be princesses,” Spar writes. “Big girls want to be superwomen. Old women want and fully expect to look young.” Yes, of course. And that’s not all, she says. “We want more sex, more love, more jobs, more perfect babies. The only thing we want less of, it seems, are wrinkles.”