In Defense of Millennial Women

December 05, 2011

As a millennial woman, I take issue with recent media reports that suggest that women in my generation are either voluntarily sacrificing their professional ambition or burning out in significant numbers by the age of 30.

These types of stories support the postfeminist media backlash that has been floating around since the advent of the women’s rights movement in the 1960s. The idea is simple: The modern professional woman is overworked, stressed, harassed, and in a chronic time crunch. Moreover, the only way she can relieve this pressure is to minimize or redefine her ambition and accept more essential notions of femininity.

Growing up, I was told that I could “have it all.” I could be anything I wanted to be because I was just as capable as a man. I could also get married and start a family if I so desired. Of course, in order to have it all, I would also have to agree to take on the oft-cited “double shift.” I can be equal in the male public sphere as long as I take care of the female private sphere too.

This begs the question: How am I supposed to run a marathon if I am carrying around twice as much weight as the guy next to me?

These media reports don’t help me answer this question. In fact, it seems like they’re meant to scare me into thinking that I had better relax with this whole ambition thing because I am obviously overexerting myself in order to hide the unhappiness that I undoubtedly feel inside. After all, at 27, I only have three short years left before I burn out.

The problem with these reports is not only that they ignore significant sociocultural factors, such as the double shift, that contribute to so-called burnout but that they also tacitly endorse gendered notions of corporate life and refuse to positively acknowledge choices that exist outside of that structure, such as leaving a corporate job to start your own business.

In other words, they focus on the wrong issues. The central question shouldn’t be whether it is a sacrifice or a compromise to step away from work in order to achieve better work-life balance. The question should be why society is forcing only women to make this decision. Why are we preventing men from redefining their ambition and choosing to be more actively involved with their families?

Moreover, why are women of my generation being depicted as the only ones facing questions of job fulfillment and unhappiness? Are all millennial men totally satisfied with their jobs?

It is in both men’s and women’s best interests to seek a balance between their home and work lives. However, the issue is usually framed as a distinctly female one.

As a millennial woman, I look forward to the day when work-life balance is perceived as a genderless issue, when the corporate employment structure is not built around the wants and needs of a constructed male image, and when my ambition to have it all does not place the responsibility on my shoulders alone.

This post was written by AAUW Leadership Programs Intern Jennifer M. Perdomo.

AAUWguest By:   |   December 05, 2011

4 Comments

  1. Marti J. Sladek says:

    Perfect. And sadly, I could have written it myself…40 years ago.

  2. Ruth says:

    My mother told me to be the woman behind the man, running the company from the administrative assistant or executive secretary position. It was a man who told me to never learn to type.

  3. Maria Pascucci says:

    Great article! I left my job in corporate America to start my own business for two main reasons, neither of which the media really covers:

    • Launching my business gave me a platform to lead with integrity in alignment with my strengths and passions;

    • I wanted to create a career to give myself and my husband flexibility and freedom. Right now, my husband has a full-time job and freelances on the side as a graphic designer. As I grow my platform, serve more and earn more, my husband will have the choice to leave his full-time job and launch his own design business, or work full-time with my company. Men can win when women win. It doesn’t have to be a battle.

    Running a company and running a house is a lot of work, but I’m grateful to say that my husband equally shares the responsibilities. I do think more Millennial men will follow in his footsteps so we women won’t have to face the second shift alone. We Gen Y millennial women and men were bombarded with media images growing up, but I also think we’re pretty media educated and savvy. Our generation defies stereotypes created by the media and we largely create our own paths.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with ambition, it’s chasing perfection that gets women into trouble. We face internal and external pressure to do it all, be it all, and excel at it all at the same time. The pressure to be perfect is the real barrier to leadership, along with women carrying the brunt of the second shift. Being a high-achiever will carry you far. Jennifer, keep going! Your voice needs to be heard.

    As someone past the age of 30 (gasp), I can say with confidence that my ambition hasn’t withered. Neither will yours 😉

  4. Celia Garcia Perez says:

    Well said, Jenny. I am sure your husband also shared some of the burden with you (since as feminists we know how to motivate our loving partners to do what is right!) Still we can all learn from your words and use them as inspiration to continue to seek the help from our male partners that we deserve, and to re-design the flawed employer/employee framework.

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