In a recent podcast, Barnard College President Debora Spar encouraged young women to pursue only what they were truly passionate about because, she claimed, trying to live life according to other people’s perfectionistic superwoman standards only leads to unhappiness. Spar encouraged young women to be realistic by stating that there were only so many hours in a week, and that it would be better for today’s young women to focus heavily either on a career or a family, in order to achieve happiness and success.
I very much appreciate Spar’s concern for the well-being of young women today, and her voice seems to echo the concerns of my own mother about the importance of setting limits for oneself so one can be happy with what one has. For her, it is often an issue of concentrated good quality of life in one area versus mediocre quality in many different areas. However, I would encourage Spar to remember that young women today need to be able to dream of and work towards a better world as well. Yes, we should be setting our own expectations for ourselves, and yes, there ARE only so many hours in a week, but there are ways that our in which our government and family structures could support women more so that achieving more in multiple self-chosen areas would be easier for women.
One of Spar’s best moments during her podcast is when she recalls her early days as a feminist when women would actually unite to fight together for a cause. Spar says that many of today’s young women are so individualistic that all they focus on is starting an NGO before they graduate college, but she states that the unfortunate fact is that NONE of these NGO’s seem to work together! It is true that in today’s world, women still struggle to maintain both a family and a career or other combined lifestyles, but we must look to the future for ways that would make achievement in all areas of life easier for modern women.
In light of this, I would like to combine Spar’s insight about banding together to fight for a cause with a bit of modern thinking about our current state of affairs, I would like to ask some questions. What would the world look like if women banded together to fight for state-funded childcare? What would it look like if more men felt more emotionally and financially free to be stay-at-home or part-time stay-at-home dads? What would it look like if all of our nation’s LGBTQ couples had access to marriage or partnership benefits that would allow them to take care of their children legally and officially share the responsibility of childcare? What if we started looking at problems from an intersectional lens? What if we started battling oppression using an intersectional lens, considering women’s race, class, gender and ability and other backgrounds all together in order to try to afford them more and better opportunities for achievement.
Spar is on to something when she mentions the ineffectiveness of strong feminist individualism. We live in a consumer culture where individualism is prized and where people are turned into products to be bought and sold based upon how much they do or do not produce. It is a trick of this system to try to get us to think that we are not all connected, and that there are not enough resources to go around. We know that there is enough to go around. This system keeps people oppressed by creating the illusion of division and then setting wildly unrealistic standards of perfection into place for women, or other oppressed people, setting them in competition with their neighbors who should be their friends and companions in the fight. So my call to you is this young women: Band together to fight for your rights, as our foremothers have been doing for years. Your strength is in your numbers when you fight together against oppression and for opportunities for women to make achieving success in multiple areas an easier and more viable option.