4.10.12 I had a working mother, but as a kid I mostly thought of my mom in terms of what she did (or did not do) when I was around her. I remember her dictating news stories, in the early mornings, from the yellow pad where they were composed across the crackling phone lines to London, where they were filed by typists, all women. I remember the rushed mornings, as she got us ready for carpool, hurriedly pulling on hose, finishing her makeup, and cramming her tortured feet into a pair of pumps. But the bulk of my mother’s work life was obscure to me. I never heard about all the times she walked into a room full of men and had to ask herself if she was up to it, or of the times when she was on deadline and got a call that I was sick or hurt or in trouble.
According to recent data highlighted in the past few weeks by a Time magazine story and the White House Forum on Women and the Economy, women are earning more than than they ever have. But the numbers also show they still don’t earn as much as men do (77 cents on the dollar), and they’re still woefully underrepresented in leadership roles in business and government. If my mother’s generation was focused on doing what men could do–better in most cases–to earn acceptance into a male-dominated hierarchy that claimed a basis in meritocracy, my sister’s generation has been more cautiously picking its way across the divide, trying to balance an increasingly competitive and exhausting work cycle with the complex challenges inherent in living as empowered women, not reactions to their mothers or their mothers’ mothers…or men.
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons…but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters,” said Gloria Steinem, famously and problematically, hinting at the dialectical peril of thinking past gender. This week’s feature focuses on two spaces in which women are running their own businesses on a collaborative model that emphasizes flexibility and shared creativity. Rather than feminizing the principles, better to celebrate the women who practice them.–Giles Morris