Thursday, April 29, 2010

Succeeding away from ourselves

Anne Mulcahy, BusinessWeek:

I loved every minute of being CEO. The biggest surprise is how hard it is to give it up. I would have thought I'd be running out the door once the place was in shape. I almost understand why so many successions go badly. It's really hard to give up power. You get up with a bounce in your step every day because you know you can make a difference.

I went from being "I just want to be a CEO" to understanding that I have to be an advocate for women. There's a responsibility that comes with the position. If you don't speak about the need to focus on the progress of women, who will? Maybe we've reached a degree of parity at the entry level, but we clearly don't have that in the executive ranks—or in government, for that matter.
...
I don't know yet what the word retirement means. I've always said I wouldn't be head of another public company, and I'll stick to that. I'm a one-trick pony. I've got other things I want to do. I'm chair of the board of Save the Children. I'm not looking to make any more money.

Hobbies? I have none. I used to make them up when people would put together those lists, just so I could sound more interesting. My life has been invested in this job. It's bittersweet, but I feel really fortunate.

Here is an example of today's "successful woman," whose "life has been invested" in her job. She has no hobbies -- she made them up so she could sound interesting! -- but she has other things she wants to do; for instance, charitable work, now that she's "not looking to make any more money." She feels fortunate -- but the fortune is bittersweet.

What kind of success comes to women by putting institutional preferences ahead of their own?

For liberal feminism, the question is whether women are unduly discouraged from doing so! A woman's total talents must be subsumed by her occupation, with no reserve left for herself, or she will be seen as less than a man. Women should gain equal reward in their role as servants -- but not servants to their own needs; this is the lesson that liberalism, with its "equality under the law," inevitably leaves us when laws are not written by women.

We can play at feminism by insisting on "equal rights" in the workplace, or we can make the workplace an outcome of the people who work within it. Any authentic feminism would not settle for putting women on equal terms with men in circumstances that are broadly dismissive of both, with consistently worse outcomes for women.

2 comments:

Rachel said...

For liberal feminism, the question is whether women are unduly discouraged from doing so!

The alternative into which we are pushed still amounts to putting other preferences ahead of our own. At least allowing servitude to one's boss, instead of one's husband, provides a wider range of ways in which that servitude might be accomplished and at least gives the illusion of agency.

A woman's total talents must be subsumed by her occupation, with no reserve left for herself, or she will be seen as less than a man.

No, and she will be seen as less than a man. But at least she will have his narrow range of choices for how to survive in this world, instead of the sole option of depending on his.

Changing the nature of the workplace would not solve sexism. As much as the two causes overlap, they're not the same.

JRB said...

Rachel,

What interests me is the way in which liberal feminism, insofar as it is liberal can't be feminist, for the simple reason that it precludes independence for women. It just substitutes one kind of dependency for another. Your observations bear this out; naturally, I find myself in agreement with them.