The Summer of my Content

August 11, 2013

Summer sunset on a day I did not work


This morning I stumbled across article that simply won’t get read enough, I am sure. It’s a New York Times article explaining a study of women’s job satisfaction when they are in positions of authority.  In explaining the gender gap in leadership, these social scientists looked at the perceived benefits (not even financial benefits) to women who take on the same positions as men do.

It struck me right in the gut because it felt so true.

For what these scientists discovered was this:  when women advance to positions of authority and influence, they experience fewer benefits and experience more of the downsides of their positions.  Give Joe and Josephine the same job with the same working conditions (forget the cash:  Joe probably gets more of that too) and Joe will get greater respect, greater influence, greater authority, and therefore greater job satisfaction.

At the same time, Joe will get feedback that helps him feel even more male.  Josephine, on the other hand, will likely feel less authority, influence, and respect, while also feeling like she is battling against what people expect of her — simply because she is a woman.

Part of me wants to stay home and blog about this even more, but the other part of me sees that the sun is up, it’s a gorgeous day here in Brooklyn, and I don’t need to work so hard.  It’s the summer of my content, which means ten weeks off, lots of traveling, hanging out with friends, and two happy children gaining independence and making new friends at camp.

At the start of the summer, when I was knee-deep in Sheryl Sandberg’s call-to-Arms, Lean In, there was something about her thesis that felt not-quite-right to me.  Sure, I should lean in, I knew deep down. But having done that once really heavily, at a cost to my family’s happiness, I know that I will only do that again when I’m good and ready.

Then, there was Judith Warner’s piece warning against the dangers to one’s career and potential economic future of taking off work entirely:  “opting out” as Lisa Belkin put it in 2003.  If Sheryl Sandberg wants women to leap for the brass ring — any brass ring — Warner’s piece shows us what happens when women get off the carousel all together.  Women who stop working entirely when they have children take big financial risks and may never get back the careers they left.

(And yes, these sorts of questions about “options” and “choices” and all that really only apply when families can afford to make those choices.  I will never stop being grateful that ours is such a one.)

I recognize that these good years of my family life will slow down my career.  I love my job. And I love this summer, with time to read, time to write songs, time to play with the band, time to do a little freelance writing, and time to think.

With all that time, now I am starting to understand, even more clearly, why stepping back into teaching is working so well for me. Why I have leaned in just enough, but not so much that I crowd out space for everything else.

As Warner’s essay concludes:

“not a single woman I spoke with said she wished that she could return to her old, pre-opting-out job — no matter what price she paid for her decision to stop working. What I heard instead were some regrets for what, in an ideal world, might have been — more time with their children combined with some sort of intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work — but none for the high-powered professional lives that these women had led.”

I grabbed on to that phrase because “intellectually stimulating, respectably paying, advancement-permitting part-time work” is exactly what I have found.  (It’s full time during the year of course, but teacher vacations make it average out as fewer.)  So the next time I’m getting all vexed about the decisions I’ve made, remind me of what I learned this summer.






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