I’ll be honest, I bought Debora Spar’s book, Wonder Women, in part because of a New York Times review that quoted her as saying,
I was walking in National Airport, I had a very big interview. It was actually with the C.I.A. I was feeling very professional, and I was wearing my graduation suit, sensible shoes and I had this briefcase. There was a man walking towards me in the airport, a good-looking older man. And as he passed me, he said, “Wow, what a pair of tits.” I said, That’s it, they’re going off.
I picked up the book in Barnes and Noble expecting to hate it, thinking to myself,
“Right, just what the world needs, another wealthy, white woman executive who has had every possible break in her life, who represents maybe 1% of women telling women what they need to do.”
In the first few chapters, so far, the book is okay. I give her credit that she tries to be aware of her privilege, saying honestly that she has never been poor and doesn’t really know what it’s like to not be able to feed your children, that she has been married for twenty-five years to a supportive spouse and never had to cope with being a single parent, compromising her career for her spouse and all those other problems of the 99%.
Still, she does over-generalize, saying that by the time she was in college Title IX had passed, women had the vote, all these battles for rights had been fought and won and that “Women of my generation ….” did not consider themselves feminists because they saw feminists as angry people who hated men and never shaved their legs. I looked it up, Spar is five years younger than me. She graduated from college six years after I did and received her Ph.D. the same year (I worked as an engineer for five years between my MBA and my doctoral program). I would think we are of the same generation and I never thought any of those things. I saw feminists as people who made it possible for me to compete in sports in college and in the world championships, to work as an engineer and to get an MBA. I consider myself a feminist because I believe that women should have equal pay for the same work, equal opportunities to attend school or to play sports. I shave my legs when I think about it and I just had my sixteenth anniversary for which The Invisible Developer surprised me with a new wedding ring with rubies and diamonds. Not necessary at all but appreciated.
I was talking to my sister about this, who also considers herself a feminist, and she said,
“Wow! If I was walking through the airport and a man said, ‘Nice tits!’ I think I would accidentally spill my coffee on him. And if I wasn’t carrying a cup of coffee, I’d go and buy one to spill on him. Having my breasts surgically removed would be the last thing that would occur to me.”
You want to not be taken seriously in America as a woman? Try coming from a poor family, being African-American, Native American or Hispanic. Unfortunately, there is no surgical cure for that, although some people “pass as white” if they are light enough, change their names, cut their hair or whatever it is they need to do to look professional enough.
Dr. Spar’s choices have paid off for her. Although we earned our doctorates the same year, she is president of Barnard College and I’m not. Sometimes I buy a book because I want to try to understand a mindset that is completely foreign to me – and hers is one of those books. Everything from the choices she made as an adult to the toys she played with as a child are hard for me to understand. I didn’t have Barbie dolls as a child because we couldn’t afford it. My daughters had few Barbie dolls because I told them, “Barbie is stupid.” Darling daughter number one had a few because her paternal grandmother bought them. The Perfect Jennifer and Darling Daughter Number Three had a few, which, after watching The Addams Family, they primarily used for cutting their heads off. The Spoiled One never had any Barbies because her sisters were in high school and college by the time she was old enough to want one and they told her, “Barbie is stupid.”
My point, and, by now you may have despaired of me having one, is that for me reading Spar’s book is as foreign an account as of a woman living in America who chooses to wear a burka, not work and not drive a car. Yes, I acknowledge that choice is your right, but it leaves me shaking my head and wondering, “Why would you choose that?”
Perhaps your husband owns all the oil fields in Saudi Arabia, is richer than God and you could afford to buy The Grove. Or maybe you’ll get to teach at Harvard and then become president of Barnard College. So, by some accounts, you’re very successful, and I hope you’re happy with yourself, both Mrs. Saudi Arabia Oil (hypothetical) and Dr. Debora Spar (actual), and I say that most sincerely.
In the same New York Times article, Spar comments that teenage girls are exhausted by trying to be “perfect”, take all of the AP classes, get high SAT scores – without acknowledging the hypocrisy that her college (and its six sister clones) , require exactly that for admission.
Maybe I was home sick with the measles and missed school the week that they indoctrinated us all that we had to fit in some mold or we would never be successful in life.
If so, thank God for the measles.