Feminists’ Olympic-Sized Frustration with the Work-Family Conundrum

Part of what makes the Olympics so enthralling is that it’s the final chapter in so many individual stories. All these athletes have made incredible sacrifices in pursuit of an Olympic dream. They’ve invested countless hours and significant financial resources to train for their sport. A few hours in Rio de Janeiro will determine for many whether all the sacrifice was worth it. Some will feel that all their hard work was justified. But undoubtedly some others will regret having spent so much of their lives pursuing a goal that didn’t live up to their dreams.

This is how life is. Most of us don’t have Olympic-size dreams, but we are all in the business of allocating our scarce time and resources in pursuit of happiness. We all run the risk that we will realize we could have used our time better: we may end up wishing that we’d spent more time at work advancing our careers, or more time smelling the proverbial flowers, since the payout at work wasn’t so great after all.

Modern feminists seem particularly frustrated by this reality; they also appear to believe that the right mix of public policies can alter this basic human condition. Take Judith Shulevitz, writing in the New York Times. Her recent essay, “How to Fix Feminism,” laments that in spite of the feminist movement’s many successes, women still struggle to balance their desire to reach the heights of professional success with their desire to care for family. To address this, she calls for a new version of feminism:

Let’s call it, for lack of a better term, “caregiverism.” It would demand dignity and economic justice for parents dissatisfied with a few weeks of unpaid parental leave, and strive to mitigate the sacrifices made by adult children responsible for aging parents.

Shulevitz struggles with what this revolution would actually entail. She discusses the possibility of creating a societal expectation that parents stagger their careers: First, mom takes five years off from work to focus on family life, and then Dad does the same. She wants the government to credit caregivers for Social Security, even when they aren’t paying taxes. She certainly wants more than just 12 weeks paid family leave, and presumably sees the government providing major funding to make these extended leaves of absences economically feasible and to give parents the “dignity” that she feels today’s system doesn’t afford.

Yet even if policymakers adopted these purported policy solutions (and let’s ignore, for the sake of argument, the economic effects of these proposals, which would be significant and result in women having far less economic opportunity) one suspects that Shulevitz would still be dissatisfied. After all, such a system may make it economically feasible to take more time off, but opting out of work would still be a sacrifice. Other people—particularly those without children—would continue to work more hours and therefore get further ahead. And this seems to be the root of what really frustrates Shulevitz.

The modern world gives us lots of opportunities to compare ourselves with others. This isn’t limited to the work world, where we can read about women and men earning eye-popping sums of money and attending swanky conferences around the globe. Parenting is increasingly its own competitive sport. Parents (but particularly moms) jockey to give their kids the most enriching, fulfilling, nurturing, healthy childhoods, which we assume will give those favored offspring a leg up in adulthood.

People who dedicate themselves fully to one arena, whether that’s work or parenting, are almost always going to achieve more in their chosen specialty than those of us who dabble in both. That seems to gnaw at Shulevitz:

Women like me who scale back in the face of impossible expectations feel themselves morphing into caricatures: attachment freaks, helicopter moms, concerted cultivators, neo-traditionalists. These stereotypes are just plain sexist, but I don’t know many mothers whose careers, paychecks and sense of self-worth haven’t been eroded by all the compromises they’ve had to make. Our worlds have narrowed; our bank accounts have dipped below the minimum balance; and our power within the family and the world has dwindled. We’d be quick to tell you that we wouldn’t have done it any differently. Still.

Maturity requires understanding that we can’t win every competition. Just as the most dedicated athlete seeks to increase her odds of success by training 10 hours a day—which puts those with lesser dedication to the sport at a competitive disadvantage—talented people willing to work 12-hour days deserve extra compensation for their extra contributions to the business. And stay-at-home parents who run the PTA or homeschool their children will probably end up doing more for their kids than the average parent.

Most of us are going to end up somewhere in the middle, and we hope to strike a balance that seems right to us. The good news is that society has become more innovative and created many more options for how we allocate our time. However, that doesn’t change the basic fact of life that our time is finite, and that not everyone can win a gold medal in everything they do. Contra feminists, the answer to this isn’t more expensive government policies; it’s a reality check.


  • aberqueen

    This is part of the new progressive tactic to abscond money from the private sector to fund initiatives the govt can’t afford.

    We’ve come to the mistaken belief that companies exist to employ people. Company benefits are viewed more like entitlements, the cake instead of the icing.

    NEWSFLASH: Your employer is not your Mommy or Daddy and is NOT obligated to take care of you!

    The private sector is being targeted to have profits re-directed and annexed as part of the federal coffers in the name of social/economic justice. Private money will become public funds via regulation based on social agenda, not urgent need.

    Americans can’t be asleep at the wheel on this. This could be the end of freedom and America as we know it.

  • conor_ob

    You can pretty much bank on the fact that any New York Times piece with the word “family” or “feminism” in the title is going to conclude with a call for more of other people’s money.

  • jacknine

    Let me write the short version: I want other people to pay for my personal decisions so I don’t have to. That wasn’t hard, was it.

    • elkh1

      A shorter version: I want other people to pay for my “pursuit of happiness”.

      An even shorter version: Everyone slaves for my happiness.

      • carla5731

        Not only does she want people to pay for her pursuit of happiness, she wants everyone to conform to the government’s overarching definition of happiness. Feminism has done an excellent job creating generational dependence among women.

  • orthodoc

    I want I want I want. Buy me get me give me. Now.

    This is the mentality of a toddler. Ms. Shulevitz, girl up and grow up.

  • Fantastic article – the only one word I’d change is “deserve” where you say: “the talented people willing to work 12-hour days deserve extra compensation for their extra contributions to the business.”

    It’s not that they deserve more, it’s that their contributions will yield relatively more, like the athlete that trains for 10 hours a day yields greater athletic results.

    Understood that “deserve” in this context is a turn of phrase, but I’d have suggested that edit if I were the editor.

  • Tomas

    There is literally no social safety net for men. If you’re a man, try collecting Medicaid, Food Stamps, or some other government support.

    It must be nice to daydream about taking a 5 year hiatus from work and not expect any consequences.

    • LucreMagnus

      You wouldn’t opt for the pilot, neurosurgeon, trial lawyer, or tech worker who had just come back from a 5 year hiatus?

  • SGT Ted

    Feminism is a supremacist movement seeking to transfer female entitlement expectations from a spouse to the rest of society. .

  • LucreMagnus

    “Still.” Meaning, “I never reconciled my life choices, I resent my kids, I never matured enough to realize that I can’t have everything, so someone should pay me.”

    • Steve Skubinna

      It’s so much better being a man, and have “society” hand us everything we want and need, right?

      Yup, I well recall the day my Dad took me to the secret clubhouse of the patriarchy, showed me the secret handshake, whispered the magic words of power, and handed over the keys to the universe. I’ve been farting through silk ever since!

      • LucreMagnus

        Good one. Yeah, its one big party working and dying earlier. But there seem to be a lot of sensible smart women as this article shows. I should have been more careful when I got married.

      • Charlotte Wiggs

        Thank you for a laugh this afternoon.
        Love it.

      • A Smith

        Now you know how we Jews do it!

  • ss396

    In other words: “I want free stuff. I want rewards for things that I haven’t accomplished. I want someone to give me the things that I want.”

    Sounds a lot like my teenagers.

    • Steve Skubinna

      Except that your teens don’t have jobs with the NYT. Tell them to quit slacking!

      • ss396

        Heh. Actually, they both have jobs. But that doesn’t stop them!
        (In truth, I’d like free stuff, too. I just don’t expect to get any of it.)

  • Steve Skubinna

    Sure. Because men have never ever, in all of human history, faced trade offs.

    You want equality? Get back to me when feminists decry the gross gender imbalance of occupational injuries and deaths. Don’t see many of them clamoring to crash through the glass ceiling in the oilfields, or logging, or commercial fishing, or the maritime sector. I wish all men could have comfy high paid gigs whining in the pages of the NYT, but somebody’s got to build and maintain the roads and buildings and provide the electricity and haul away to garbage and fix the toilets.

    Life is just so unfaaaaaaaaair.

  • qet

    I don’t understand. Words like “narrowed,” “dipped,” and “dwindled” suggest decline from a summit. But I have yet to hear of any feminist at any time proclaiming the summit had been reached. So I would like to know what time period Shulevitz considers the golden age for women–the age of work-life balance, nonstop dignity and fully equal power at home and abroad. Then I will be better able to evaluate her claims about narrowing, dipping and dwindling.

  • Brook River

    Now address Zika and the Olympics

  • Brian Gulino

    Childcare and housework, which is the work associated with what is referred to as family life, has a way of expanding to fill the available time. If you quit your job to be a stay-at-home parent, your house will probably be a lot cleaner and they will know you at the PTA. Whether your kids will be better off is a different question. In the U.S.A. we seem to be creating a more labor-intensive form of childrearing: volunteer at school, coach little league, drive kids to private lessons, etc. along with a standard of domestic cleanliness unknown to our parents. Children have not noticeably benefited from this any of this.

    • rabidfox2

      I doubt that they are much hurt by it either.

  • mnemonicmike

    It’s hard to get a real life when you spend so much time whining about being a victim.

    • rabidfox2

      Ain’t that the truth! And it doesn’t just apply to feminists either.

  • Terenc Blakely

    Feminism denigrates traditional female roles. Seems kinda sexist to me.

    • patriarchal landmine

      more importantly, traditional male roles.
      and non traditional male roles.
      and anything else men might ever do.

      • Luke

        Dumbass. Don’t you know? There can not be sexism against men. Tisk, tisk. lol.

  • M_in_DC

    Carrie Lukas is right: life is about making choices. Women aren’t the only ones who live with the consequences, either. People who excel in their careers often sacrifice the quality of their home lives. I recently watched a documentary about the last astronaut to walk on the moon, Gene Cernan. In it, he acknowledges he wasn’t there much for his family. Like many of his fellow Apollo astronauts, he and his wife (at the time) divorced. He made a choice to put his career as an astronaut first. I don’t hear anyone talking about giving male astronauts a five-year break so they can spend time at home while their wife gets her career going.

    By the way, Shulevitz has more choices than most. Her husband is the former Dean of Columbia University’s School of Journalism. They’re not exactly paupers. Most women would love to have had the choices she had.

    • SGT Ted

      Modern feminism is about pleasing the demands of entitled privileged women.

      • patriarchal landmine

        and women are more miserable than ever.

  • Larry J

    I’m a 59 year old man. The only time in my life that I was told I could have it all was by an old Michelob beer commercial back in the 1980s. We all make trade offs and compromises. That’s life.

  • Perhaps the most important advice for young women is to understand the tradeoffs that come with career choices. The truth is you can always get a job, but the most important of life’s opportunities only appear in early youth.

    I provide a simple roadmap for today’s young ladies to know about before making those fateful career decisions :


    • soconserv

      Just read what you post in your link. You are 100% correct. Saving it for my daughter.

  • patriarchal landmine

    as the great barbarossa stated: “feminism didn’t ruin women. it explained them.”

  • Chris Prestridge

    So, iow feminist have their equality and have decided they don’t like the choices men have always been making thus, we must change the rules at someone else’s expense, because, equality. Um, ok. News flash, welcome to the real world, the world of equality.

  • Greigio76

    Women and feminists should stop trying to explain away their disappointments. It is actually quite tiring and ridiculous. It also makes no difference. Women have a tiny window to make their plans. By 30, most women are washed up and can’t have babies anymore. Their consolation is a lover that will not marry them and that’s a feature that they want until they turn 40. You can’t fix time and money. On the other hand, I’ve made tradeoffs too as a man. I just choose to not dwell on it forever and ever.

  • Herb

    our power within the family and the world has dwindled

    That is the dead give-away line: feminism isn’t about women; it is about power and they hate following their desires costs them (in their mind) power.

    That they fail to understand the power that comes from being the primary caregiver of the next generation is probably the saddest part.

  • Raptor Jesus

    ‘If it had been up to women to invent civilization we’d still be living in mud huts’.

    – Camille Paglia

    • K.E.Miles

      So true. Men build everything. Feminists should get down on their knees and thank God for the patriarchy.

    • Wooby

      Mud huts full of useless throw pillows and decorative towels…..

  • Scott Hanson

    Women, compared to men, are much more sensitive to & influenced by opinions & social expectations. Shorthand for this has been said as “women are herd animals”. So much of a the Feminist Complaint Industry operates on the premise of “I imagine someone disagrees with me, or not everyone has dropped their own desires & taken to advancing my desires, so society is no damn good.”

    The foundation of all Leftism is everyone should join Leftist in setting fire to society so we can build Utopia. Leftist whisper in every groups’ ear “I wouldn’t take that, if I were you. Why don’t you and them fight”. Leftists have a well-practiced plan for gaining control after The Revolution starts. The rest of us just have some complaints but no plan. The Left’s Plan will not fix any of your problems. For them until The Revolution comes “the worse the better” is good enough. If they can get more people angry or increase anger among anyone, they feel they are closer to The Revolution. They daily hammer at the Load-Bearing Walls of Western Civilization.

  • John Greene

    Feminists deserve their unhappiness.

  • disqus_sBKZDGKiG8

    Women want stuff from men. Feminists say they don’t need it. Right.

    The whole game is about extracting resources from men. It is very simple.

  • Burnsie

    Why demand a “societal expectation” that parents stagger their careers? Just do it, if that’s what you want. What’s stopping you?

    Oh, you need to force YOUR beliefs on everyone else. You want everyone to buckle down to your idea of utopia whether they like it or not. And that includes your husband, I’m sure.

  • Eldrick Wo

    reality sucks-i sure wish i could run around with my head in the clouds,but bills.

  • Jeff H

    Gee, I’m glad so many of our policies these days are the result of female unhappiness.