When did women start to think they had to be wonder women?

9780374298753_p0_v4_s260x420I have been reading Deborah Spars book, Wonder Woman: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection.  It is an interesting read particularly for me because Deborah is only two years younger than I am.  I like the beginnings of each of the chapters where Deborah gives us a little color on her own life and the choices she has made before she backs it up with research and data.  After all, she is the President of Barnard University and professors just can't help themselves. 

When I think of women entering the workplace I start during WW2 when many women got on the production line to help and after that well many decided working was a really good thing.  Many women went into either the nursing profession or became teachers.  Then just as most things happen some of those women wanted more and they began to move into other professions.  These women taught their daughters that they should go to a good school and get a good job in any profession.  And so they did.

Yet along the way there was a sexual revolution and everything changed.  Women could have sex freely without the concern that they might get pregnant.  They could prolong their desires to get married and procreate.  They could have power jobs and be power women as long as they wanted to but those desires that women had 50 years ago to have a partner or a husband and perhaps have a family have not gone away.  Society might have changed but in many ways the front end has changed but I am not sure the back end has totally changed.  Deborah writes about this and backs it up with pretty strong data.

There is this one chapter in her book that has really stuck with me.  It is an advertisement that took place when I was growing up that certainly had an impact on me.  It was for the perfume Charlie.  The ad portrayed a tall svelte blond haired woman with high heels and a flowing black suit with a white blouse underneath.  She is moving forward with a brief case in one hand and a few kids in tow with the other.  The tag line was essentially how she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan and never ever let him forget he's a man.  

So essentially you can do it all.  When I think of that now I just gag.  Then I am sure I thought I can be like that.  Yet nobody told me exactly how you had to pick up dinner to make it, that the children were not miracously bathed, cleaned and clothed, that I had to go buy that suit in order to have one or that by attempting to do all that stuff I would rarely have time for myself and I would look like I had not slept in years. 

Deborahs book is a worthy read.  She documents the changes that have taken place for women since we were kids.  There is no doubt that women have more control of their lives and more opportunities available to them.  There is one thing that I do believe is incredibly important for women who are young and just starting out  in their lives be it just graduating from college or starting their own company which is do not put your personal life on hold for your business life.  We might have the ability to do it all but if you are 30 and you haven't had a kid yet then freeze your eggs.  Women have been balancing their lives as far back as hundreds of years when they ran the family farm.  The content might have been different but they had to figure out then too.  Can we all be wonder women?  I know at times I certainly try but I am very glad that I did not let my business life ( which has always been a huge part of my psyche ) get in the way of my personal life. 

We do not have to be wonder women we just have to be honest with ourselves about what makes each of us as individuals happy filling our own needs and desires to be everything we can be.  Not sure that includes frying the bacon up in the pan but at least these days we can order it on line and have it delivered. 

Comments (Archived):

  1. Julia

    Your last paragraph should be how everyone lives their lives, not pressured to Lean Inβ„’.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Thanks Julia. I obviously agree. Everyone should do it as they see fit.

  2. johndodds

    I’m intrigued if it was this book that prompted your statement about women entering the workforce during WW2?I’ve no idea why that sentence caught my eye and I certainly have no expertise in this area, but I was surprised when some quick googling revealed that in the US 28% of women were already working in 1940 and that while there was a significant uptick during and after the war, more than half of the women drawn into the workforce by the war left at the end of the decade.Perhaps this points to women from middle income families being the new entrants and may be the answer to the question in your post title, while women from poorer backgrounds weren’t thinking in terms of having it all, but rather in terms of doing what was necessary for they and their family to survive.None of this is to disagree with your typically smart advice, but more an admission of my ignorance and a hope that some of your readers might be able to shed more light on this.

    1. Gotham Gal

      my guess ( again a total guess ) is that many women who entered the workforce in order for their family to survive found that they enjoyed working. In turn they talk their daughters to work and expand their minds.

      1. pointsnfigures

        At the NationalWW2Museum.org, they do a lot of research on the make up of the civilian workforce and how it related both to the women’s movement and the rise of the civil rights movement. Very interesting stuff. Many of the jobs that were created during WW2 were lower skilled-welding for example. New workers could pick up those tools and be taught quickly. At the Mobile Alabama shipyard there was violence between blacks and whites. At the New Orleans shipyard where they made Higgins boats, women, blacks and whites were paid the same wages, shared the same bathrooms and lunchroom. Fascinating. Worth a trip there.

        1. Gotham Gal

          I had no idea there was a museum dedicated to this. very cool

  3. LE

    which is do not put your personal life on hold for your business life. Agree with that 100%.Manhattan has really the perfect convergence of a few things that makes it especially difficult for women (not that it’s not hard in other places but I believe it’s much harder in Manhattan).a) There is so much opportunity and excitement in living there (keeps people in the city and makes them reluctant to leave).b) There is a balance in favor of men and dating there. I’ve heard that men have so many women to choose from they don’t even like to travel from the east to the west side.c) It takes so much more money to raise a family in NYC metro than in most other places. So you really need to have a spouse that also earns a good living in order to even be in the game (if you want to call it that).So a women who concentrates solely on her career will have an especially hard time getting into a relationship. Finding and keeping a relationship going is really an almost full time job in itself.One bit of advice I have for women. When you find someone and are dating draw a line in the sand. Don’t hang on waiting and waiting for years and years. Men get complacent. I’ve seen to many women in long relationships that aren’t anywhere close to ending up in marriage. The man can easily at a later age find another women. For the women it’s not as easy.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Chicago has better odds for the women ; ) More men here than women.

  4. Laura Yecies

    I remember that commercial and yes “gag”! I do believe women can have families and challenging careers but that image is impossible. Thanks for the tip on the book – just downloaded to my Kindle – look forward to reading it over the holiday.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Would love to hear what your thoughts are after you read. Enjoy the holidays.

      1. AMT Editorial Staff

        That ad! Yep. So created the allure of doing it all. Glamor. It worked. I’m 43. I wonder if without some sort of “fantasy” clouding reality, would anyone have kids AND career? The reality is NOTHING like the fantasy. Likely also a reason for the very high divorce rate.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Fantasy and media are a very powerful combo

  5. Jessie Arora

    With all the pressure to ‘LeanIn’ this post is so refreshing. As someone in her early 30s with 2 small kids I’m constantly struggling with what I want my professional life to look like now and later and you sharing your experience is inspiring. Thanks!

    1. Gotham Gal

      Don’t lean in, lean up.

  6. falicon

    I’ve pointed out how much I like this thinking and your championing of it in the past but once again you’ve earned plus infinity points (and kudos). THANKS! πŸ˜‰

    1. Gotham Gal


        1. Gotham Gal

          great post. so appreciate the kudos! truly.

  7. awaldstein

    I spoke to my mom about this the other day.Her answer was the same–that she did what made her happy which was to have a family.Different because being lower middle class pre war, economics were the driver that set the tone and the choices. She dropped out of school to help support her parents family, but taught herself secretarial skills which she worked at her whole life.She did what made her happy even thought her choices were much fewer.Quite the women.

    1. Gotham Gal

      definitely quite the woman. there is more pressure on women to be wonder women vs doing what makes them happy. there is absolutely nothing wrong with women who got a great education and decide to stay home and have kids. if it makes them happy that is all that counts. just as the woman who choose to work part time or full time or not have kids. we should all do what makes us happy.

      1. awaldstein

        I’m in 100% on this.An experience living with an entrepreneur bootstrapping a food business. Balance is not a black & white concept by any means.

        1. Gotham Gal

          Balance is unbalanced

  8. AG

    I love the message that women shouldnt let their business lives get in the way of their personal (bc as mentioned, this is the new challenge for women and it’s a scary one) but I’m not sure how realistic it is. Do you think most women could do what you did i.e. jump off and jump back on to great success? (what Would happen if a women left her job or didn’t pursue it as aggressively for a time and during that time, she got divorced? What If when she comes back to the table, she’s no longer as competitive for jobs as her peers?) I worry that indulging one’s personal life is just not that doable–especially in the City where the cost of livinv is so high. Buy i definiyely have seen first hand the danger in putting the personal on hold Do you have more thoughts on this? I’d love to hear them.