Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Define "A Successful Woman"

This is a reposting of a post from last Spring.
Please. I think that this phraze is an oxymoron: there is no such thing as a successful woman, or at least no generally agreed-upon definition of one. If a woman has had a life of fame, if she has been a famous writer or painter or scientist, there's bound to be books written about how unhappy she was in her private life: either she didn't have a partner or she didn't have children or if she had both of these, well, the partner and the children must have been very deprived and unhappy. If a woman led a private life, doing things for her family and local community, she was just doing what was expected of women in general: to be the basis on which other things can thrive without getting any fame or reputation from it. She didn't DO anything, you know, she didn't lead armies or invent the theory of relativity.

Yet the fact is that men who we universally regard as successful have equal 'gaps' in their lives, but we don't decide that this would stop them from being successful. Einstein was a terrible father and husband if the existing accounts are to be believed. Can you imagine how this would be portrayed if he had been female? Her theory of relativity would get quite a new meaning.

Of course any person, man or woman, is successful in a sense if he or she satisfies all important private goals for life. Perhaps being content is a sign of success. But the world at large doesn't define success this way, and we do get rewarded on the basis of the world's definitions, and these definitions make it essentially impossible to be a conventionally successful woman. Then some 'genius' writes another book wondering why women still have trouble getting to the top...

You may have guessed that I have been reading stuff that gives me indigestion. It started with two excellent post about the oh-so-wearing mummy wars at ms. musings (Alas, no longer permalinkable). I'm so very tired with this attempt to pull and yank every woman until they fit into the same standard pattern, and what's more, a pattern that is not humanly/humanely possible to fit. Then I read in a comments thread of another blog about what's wrong with Republican women: the ones who are well known are 'cold ice-maidens' that no man would want or 'too busy and career-ambitious to have had children' if some man did choose them. Come on, give us a break. If the 'cold ice-maiden' had three small children at home, she'd be blamed for neglecting them or she would never have been promoted to her current position of power. You can't win if you're a woman, it seems.