I've been processing some unresolved thoughts since Monday night's discussion group meeting. The plan was to have a less-structured-than-usual chat about what we each want from the group and whether we might engage as a group in some sort of effort for the betterment of the world (or a piece of it).
Whether accurately or not, I began to feel that our discussion was degenerating into a bitch-fest about how crappy things are for women, how impossible it is to balance life, work, career, children, and relationships, how the patriarchal workplace perpetuates the impossibility of reaching such balance, and how all of this is never going to change. I expressed my concern that we seem to be having this discussion repeatedly, and commented that I find it unproductive and frustrating. But I don't think I conveyed my feelings very well, since subsequent communications with members of the group reveals that they perceived me as being "bothered" by discussing "women's issues and struggles."
I certainly am not bothered by talking about women's issues. I went to Vassar, after all, and even served on the board of the Boulder chapter of the National Organization for Women at one point. But I do get tired of having the same conversation over and over again about the plight of the modern educated woman.
I find our discussions far more satisfying when we talk about something -- whether a planned topic or during our schmoozing time -- that is simply a random subject of interest to us. Then, the breadth of our perspectives and interests and backgrounds leads to a rich and fascinating exchange. I come away feeling energized when we talk about topics such as health care, the upcoming election, water policy, and why and how we've chosen various causes to which to devote our time and passion, because we approach the subject from our uniquely feminine perspectives and shared womanhood, leading to an entirely different discussion than we might have in a mixed group.
Sometimes it is interesting and empowering when we discuss how each of us struggles to find balance in our lives and reconcile the choices we've made. More often, though, it makes me feel sad and defeated, because what I really wish is that women didn't feel the need to justify these choices to one another and to ourselves, when most (but certainly not all) men seem to claim the right to simply make those choices and live them out. I dream of a society in which women allow themselves the full range of choices about life, love, work, and family, without rushing to pass judgment on themselves and their sisters.
And if I'm honest with myself, some of my frustration with this stuff stems from the feeling that I have little to contribute on the topic. I am blessed with a job that I adore, that allows me considerable flexibility, where my direct supervisor and half of my colleagues are women, and where the men are as concerned as the women about protecting their family time. Thus, when the topic turns to the difficulty of maintaining a balanced life, I feel as though I can't possibly relate to the enormous time and energy and frustration drains that the rest of the group members face in their lives and careers.
Plus, I'm single, I don't have kids, and as I've discussed before on this blog, I'm still struggling with ambivalence about my barely-audible biological clock and doubts about the likelihood that I'll ever marry and/or reproduce. So although our discussion on Monday in fact was considerably more substantive and the array of life-situations far broader, in my mind, all I could hear was "poor me, I've got a gorgeous baby and a great job and a perfect husband and I have to make these tough decisions about how much time to spend with each of them and all those single women and men with stay-home wives just don't understand." This, more than anything, is probably why I cringed when the discussion headed towards "life-balance" territory. Perhaps I need to spend less time urging the group to move on from moaning about women's trials and tribulations and more time examining the roots of my own aversion to the subject.
As an addendum, I'd like to direct your attention to this marvelous dialogue running this week on Slate. The discussion ostensibly centers on the treatment of nannies in affluent U.S. households, but in fact addresses many of the issues that came up in my discussion group. The last post in Thursday's entry, by writer Barbara Ehrenreich, could have come verbatim from one of our meetings and hits the proverbial nail on the head in identifying the real culprit toppling women's efforts to "balance."