Aspirations of the Top

To all the women: keep strong…
To all the men: Make sure you choose the right one….

Michelle and Barack in Restaurant

 

One night President Obama and his wife Michelle decided to do something out of routine and go for a casual dinner at a restaurant that wasn’t too luxurious.  When they were seated, the owner of the restaurant asked the president’s secret service if he could please speak to the First Lady in private. They obliged and Michelle had a conversation with the owner. 
Following this conversation President Obama asked Michelle, why was he so interested in talking to you. She mentioned that in her teenage years, he had been madly in love with her.  President Obama then said, “so if you had married him, you would now be the owner of this lovely restaurant”, to which Michelle responded, “no, if I had married him, he would now be the President.”


What I find most interesting about this piece is that it brings to mind the saying, “Behind every successful man is a tired woman.” In both the caption of the picture and the above phrase, a woman is serving as a support system. Nowadays, girls are encouraged to step in to the spotlight and be their own support system in pursuit of shinny aspirations of the top, center stage, page one headlines, etc.

Of course, this message of, “don’t let him get in your way and be a do-it-yourself woman” are positive messages to instill in young women. However, I wish to pose the argument that the feminist movement may have gone too far and in trying to guide women to the top have created the illusion that being a support system to a man and not being the CEO but the next step down means that you have failed. Just because Michelle isn’t the President doesn’t mean that she isn’t inspirational; it doesn’t mean that she doesn’t lead and influence the masses; she has by no means failed. Nor have stay-at-home mothers, secretaries, and all of those women who do not have aspirations of the top!

I think that it is crucial to avoid bringing those that were, or are, comfortable with life on the sideline down in the process of breading starters and MVPs. These roles are different, and while it is vital that women have the option to fill either, I think neither one is necessarily more important than the other.

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3 thoughts on “Aspirations of the Top

  1. I support Lindiwe’s assertion here that women must be free to choose their paths in life. To me, the biggest boon the feminist movement bestowed upon successive generations is women’s ability to make educated choices about their futures, and not to be boxed into certain preconceived notions of what it means to be womanly or what a woman must do with her life.
    I spent the weekend with an amazing group of women who look forward to legal and policy-oriented careers, and we discussed the difficulty of balancing relationships with careers. I was left with the impression that different women prioritize these elements of their life in, well, different ways. While I do not judge those who might, for example, put their careers on hold to stay home with children, neither do I think we as women leaders should stop stressing the importance of other aspirations. After all, women have been judged successes in life based on their families for eons. That’s a lot of societal baggage to resist when pursuing, say, the presidency or a partner position at a top law firm. All women should be supported in pursuing their goals. We must, however, also encourage young women to mold their futures for themselves, and to not shelve their dreams for others’ sakes.

  2. bradleyhcwc

    I totally agree with Lili. Feminism is all about not allowing gender to determine one’s path in life, but rather leaving people free to decide when and in what situations they want to play a support role or blaze their own trail. Of course, being able to support the successes of others is something to which we should all aspire to; however, there is a fundamental problem when our only model for how this works is women supporting men. Furthermore, supporting someone else should not mean that you have to sacrifice your own ambitions, whether they be professional or recreational.

  3. sbobadilla

    I find it interesting that this story is one that has been played over and over again with presidents and their wives, check out snopes.com’s entry on the piece: http://www.snopes.com/politics/humor/marriedhim.asp

    While this story is ultimately an urban legend, I really appreciate how this blog-post really resonated with my history reading for this week. For the next lecture, we are discussing the work/family balance and how it impacts all parts of society, not just career women or housewives, but also their partners and their children. Joan Williams in “Unbending Gender” agrees with you Lindiwe that some feminists have villanized domestic work and that ultimately this strategy is extremely unproductive to being a coalition and achieving their aims. Subsequently, Williams suggests that we, as an American society, reflect on how the job market and raising a family are considerably incompatible. For example, she reminds today’s readers that if one parent stays at home full time, the other would usually have to work longer hours as the sole support for their family. In this scenario, the working partner would probably be more exhausted and have a reduced role in spending time with their children. Williams suggests several models to achieve the work/family balance, most of which result on equal childcare and domestic responsibilities between the two primary caregivers within an employment system that accommodates such essential responsibilities. One of her most effective solutions was a system in which parents were able to take one afternoon off each so that their children would be able to taken after-school programming a few times as a week. Growing up, I was so impressed by my mom’s ability to handle her busy schedule and to allow me to participate in activities that I know were essential to where I am today. However, it was a really stressful time for all of us. Never did I wish for her to completely give up her job or to give up her excellent parenting strategy, but rather that it there would be a middle ground, a compromise between work and play. While I appreciate women who make the choice between work and family that is the best for them, I do which that such a choice would not feel so compulsory–that it would be natural, feasible, and accepted that work should adapt to family, all parents could have both.

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