Power of Moms is a site that intends to unite mothers and help them find common ground. Today’s post is an opinion piece by Allyson and is intended to provide an environment to respectfully discuss these key issues that are affecting mothers today.
Hedge fund billionaire, Paul Tudor Jones, was recently put in the doghouse for stating the obvious: so long as women continue to have babies, there will be more male than female hedge fund traders. The comment that really got him in trouble was this one: “As soon as that baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom, forget it.” (If this rubs you the wrong way, read the full context of his remarks.)
Contrary to the uproar, I didn’t find myself offended by his remarks at all. I agree that women should be taken seriously and thought of as capable and relevant, and I also agree that women should be paid the same amount of money as men for the same work done, but does anyone really believe that something as significant as giving birth to a helpless and dependent infant isn’t going to affect a woman’s performance in the workplace? Where is the headline? What is the surprise here? More importantly, why is what he said so offensive? When I read his words I actually thought, Wow. Here’s a man with the guts to say the truth. Motherhood trumps career. Motherhood is such a beautiful and powerful thing that it overpowers everything else–as it should.
I know that what I’m saying here is part the “problem” according to some people. And it’s true, I’m not one of those women who believes that having a baby won’t affect a woman’s ability to perform in the workplace to one degree or another. There are many who contend a woman can balance career and family, and strive to prove that very thing by stretching themselves to the breaking point. (I’ve heard the mantra: Lean in.) I don’t disagree that a woman should be able to try to find the perfect work/life balance if that’s what she really wants. I’m just in the camp that believes that most of us really can’t “have it all”. There are only so many hours in a day and so much energy to go around, and then something’s gotta give. Especially when babies are involved, and especially if you are a hedge fund trader. (There are much more family friendly career choices.)
Again, why is a woman shifting her laser focus from hedge fund trading over to the bonding process with her offspring considered a bad, weak thing in the first place? I’m just so tired of the implied message that comes from some men and women that the natural feelings and experiences of a mother who has just given birth are something to be overcome or pushed aside as quickly as possible so she can get back to something more “important”. (Or should I say impressive?) This applies to both the women who want to go quickly back to work as well as the mothers who “stay home” but would rather do just about anything (go to the gym, shop, run the PTA) than stay home. When will we start to see a feminist movement that promotes the idea that a woman’s greatest power is actually found in her motherhood? One of my all-time favorite quotes on motherhood comes from Neal A. Maxwell, a notable religious figure who was also an accomplished educator:
“When the real history of mankind is fully disclosed, will it feature the echoes of gunfire or the shaping sound of lullabies? The great armistices made by military men or the peacemaking of women in homes and in neighborhoods? Will what happened in cradles and kitchens prove to be more controlling than what happened in congresses?”
When people argue that this way of thinking or talking is hurling women back to the 1950’s, I wonder what they mean. I wish I could get a bullhorn and scream from the housetops that the problem with motherhood in the 50‘s wasn’t motherhood itself, but how men and women viewed motherhood. If we lived in a culture that viewed motherhood as Neal A. Maxwell did, then men wouldn’t see their work outside the home as more important than the “woman’s work” done in the home, and the women who do a mother’s work in the home (again, both working as well as stay-at-home moms) wouldn’t see motherhood as a prison, but as a place to provide a safe harbor, a school, and a lighthouse for the future leaders of the world.
To be brutally honest, I couldn’t care less about “equal” opportunity. I’m much more concerned about equity. It makes no more sense to treat men and women the same than it does to treat each of my children the same. Men and women have inherent differences just as all individuals do, and there is a whole heck of a lot of difference between the ability of a woman who has just had a baby to focus 100% on her career, and the ability of a man to do the same when he either doesn’t have a baby or he has a wife at home functioning as the primary caregiver. That’s just common sense.
Even if a woman has a husband or caregiver taking care of her baby at home full-time, I still believe it is difficult for her to turn off the natural instincts that kick in after giving birth. And again, there is nothing wrong with that. To say that a woman’s primary focus may temporarily shift from her career to her baby for a few years after giving birth is not a bad, insulting thing. It doesn’t mean she is less capable, it just means she is shifting her focus. This happens to both men and women at various times during their careers. Health concerns, moving, or suddenly having to care for an aging parent all act the same way. Having a baby is just one more major life change that will naturally affect a woman’s ability to focus completely on her work. And the fact that Mr. Jones treats this natural phenomenon more like a compliment than an insult is a credit to him, which is why I really don’t understand the controversy.
I know not all feminists agree with those who criticized Mr. Jones. I am grateful there are many types of feminists, including those who support motherhood as a valid career choice. That’s what feminism should really be about, right? Being able to choose your own path? Dictionary.com calls feminism “the doctrine advocating that
The fact is, women can pursue various dreams at different stages in their lives, and there is nothing wrong with focusing primarily on motherhood when there are babies and young children in the home. To that point, I love how some mothers and fathers are getting better at supporting each other both in the home and in fulfilling their individual dreams. Many dads are becoming more involved than ever in the home and with their children. That is the kind of “feminist” shift we need to see, because that is where men will also have the greatest influence in the world–at home. (We need look no further than the opposite end of the spectrum at the social epidemic of poverty and crime that stems from fatherlessness to know this is true.)
The fight for equality of the sexes should be moving in this direction, not the other way around. We need more fathers who feel their work outside the home is really about supporting the mother in the home. As C.S. Lewis said, “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.” I’m certainly not saying anything at all against working mothers, or trying to convince women they should never do anything outside of caring for home and family. Clearly, I am doing something right now that falls outside of the immediate realm of motherhood. Women will continue to do various types of work that are meaningful to them that have nothing to do with motherhood and everything to do with personal fulfillment and contributing their talents to the larger world–and that’s wonderful! There is no argument here about whether or not mothers will or won’t do work outside of motherhood and whether or not that is a good or bad thing. I am only trying to say that in my dream world, both women and men see motherhood for what it really is and praise instead of criticize a man for recognizing that “as soon as that baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom” she will find herself in a league all her own. That’s why we created this website. To be one more voice supporting the idea that deliberate motherhood is at the crux of civilization.
I think rather than paint Mr. Jones as a sexist who wants to hurl women back into the 1950‘s, we should see him as an honest and gracious man who has enough real-life experience and perspective to know what’s really important, and then praise him for saying it without apology. In his words, “Every single investment idea . . . every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down is going to be overwhelmed by the most beautiful experience . . . which a man will never share, about a mode of connection between that mother and that baby.”
That’s my kind of feminism. Bravo, Mr. Jones. Bravo.
QUESTION: What’s your definition of feminism? Do you think Mr. Jones’ remarks deserve praise or criticism?
CHALLENGE: Challenge your own definition of feminism and consider the idea that the greatest power women have is found in their motherhood.
Alisha Gale says
Have you seen this article? It might interest you: http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-02-11/national/37030950_1_men-face-work-life-conflict-families-and-work-institute
I have read Mr. Jones’s remarks in context and I think you are being very generous in your interpretation of them. (What about mothers who adopt or don’t breastfeed? Do they get to stay focused? But I jest…)
I understand that some professions, like hedge-funding trading, are incredibly consuming. You’re right to say that a new mother’s focus is and should be on her child. But his comments came as a response to a question about why there are fewer women managing hedge funds–i.e. why so few women make it to the pinnacle of the profession. His answer doesn’t just point out the obvious truth that new mothers must take time away from their careers. He is speaking more broadly about why women can’t make it to the top. And his answer seems to be that motherhood permanently makes women less competent traders. I firmly disagree that once a woman has children, “Every single investment idea . . . every desire to understand what is going to make this go up or go down” will be overwhelmed by her thoughts of her children. Does he really think women can’t multitask? Does he really think people without children are never distracted? What about mothers with a stay-at-home partner? Are they really less focused than their male peers with children? Where’s his proof? (I find it telling that his sample size is two women from the 70s.) Is it the case that women traders become less focused, or is it the case that managers like Jones ASSUME their new-mother traders are less competent, and treat them as such?
You rightly point out that motherhood (and fatherhood, but I’ll stick to the subject at hand) is absolutely more important than any career. It is the MOST important work in society, and it ought to be valued as such. From my perspective, the problem is that people like Mr. Jones think motherhood is a liability in the workplace. Obviously motherhood conflicts with professional goals at some points in a woman’s life. But what about its benefits in the workplace? Motherhood has taught me how to work hard, how to manage stress, how to think on my feet and problem-solve. It’s taught me attributes that should be considered valuable, such as compassion and the ability to compromise. And the list goes on.
If we, as a society, really value motherhood as the most important work, shouldn’t a woman’s experience as a mother be considered an asset? Shouldn’t that make her a more valuable employee? And if that means making workplaces more family-friendly, what’s the problem there? All employees–never mind society at large!–will benefit from employers realizing that employees have a life outside of work. My problem with Mr. Jones’s comments is that he has dismissed the idea that a mother can be a successful macro trader, as if it’s an a priori truth. I know that’s reality now, and I think that’s a bad thing. Mothers have a lot to contribute to the workforce–and many mothers don’t have the luxury of choosing to stay home. We’d all benefit if, instead of writing mothers off as Mr. Jones has done, we seek new ways to make the workplace more manageable for mothers (and fathers, but again, I’m sticking to the subject at hand).
April Perry says
Thanks so much for adding your thoughts here, Alisha. This whole discussion has been fascinating to me. We, the mothers of this next generation get to help shape how our children perceive motherhood and fatherhood and family life in the context of the workplace, and I think this is a critical subject to discuss. I think as more and more people comment, and as we have the chance to understand a variety of perspectives, we can help each other to find common ground here and articulate the thoughts and feelings that most resonate with us. Thanks Allyson for your thoughtful post, as well!
Stephanie Sprenger says
Thanks for such a thought-provoking post, Allyson. This subject has been on my mind a lot lately- feminism, motherhood, finding balance, the elusive concept of “having it all.” I really appreciated hearing your perspective! Great job with a tough topic…..
heather bell says
Stages of life is what I think of when I read this. We all have our stages. Let people be against or for motherhood, it won’t change the fact that I care about motherhood and value it (even on the bad days) and the naysayers can continue on with what they think, but it won’t change what I think.
Beth NC says
These ideas are so important! Thanks for posting.
I’ve had a professional job for about 15 years and have been a mother for about 5 years. Some of my best colleagues have been mothers with young children – particularly those who limit their hours to a 30 hour week. They come in to the office, identify what needs to be done, and do it. Then, they go home and turn off work. At the office, they do not spend valuable time gossiping by the water cooler, chatting about tv shows or sporting events, or checking social networks. They focus on what has to be done.
Now, these women don’t take on the extra work projects and the “nice-to-do” activities. They are not available at all hours. So, it would be hard for them to succeed in occupations making those kinds of demands (like hedge fund trader).
Upon becoming a mother, I reduced my work hours to 30/week with a flexible schedule and work from home a couple days /week. Few companies are willing to let employees have this kind of schedule. Why can’t employers be more flexible?
I love Linda Eyre who says, “Life is long, we can have it all, just not all at once.” I have a friend who is an attorney and had twins and was determined to do both well. She finally determined after a few months , she wasn’t doing either one very well. She cut back her hours at work and was told she wouldn’take partner because of it. She decided she was okay with that, but that is discrimination toward a mother in the workplace. I don’t know the answer.
Cheryl, I wouldn’t call it discrimination at all. That is one part of this discussion that always amazes me. Women don’t have an inalienable right to have children, and when they choose to become mothers they are accepting certain sacrifices and responsibilities that won’t always mesh with the job requirements of more high demanding jobs like being a hedge fund trader or a partner in a law firm. After talking to my husband at length about this, he gave what I think is a great analogy. He is a physician, but what if he decided he also wanted to become a financial planner? Should that industry have to make special concessions and programs to accommodate surgeons who want to have dual careers? Is it unfair and discriminatory that they don’t work around his busy schedule? Again, when you choose to become a mother, you are essentially choosing a kind of career, and unless you have someone else doing the majority of the care giving (which many women are not comfortable with–they rightly want to have a more active role in their children’s lives) then they will have to make some concessions. You can’t always have your cake and eat it too. Are mothers being discriminated against, or is it just common sense to say that certain professions are not great fits with the dual “career” of motherhood? Your friend made her choice, and it was a choice that didn’t accommodate also being a partner in a law firm. Maybe when her children are older and she has developed even more of the great characteristics that motherhood provides (as Alisha pointed out) along with her skills in the field of law, she can go back to work as a lawyer and maybe even work her way up to partner. The law firm has every right to have specific job descriptions that meet the goals of their business and then choose someone who can fulfill those requirements. Nothing wrong with the decision made by either party.
Alisha Gale says
I just wanted to add a counter point:
1. The problem with the financial planner analogy is that financial planning isn’t as important as motherhood. And I’m going to add in fatherhood, because as that article I linked to in my previous comment mentioned, men are penalized even more than women if they take family leave time (speaking of unfair…). I think companies DO have a responsibility to support parents. What about this quote: “The homemaker has the ultimate career. All other careers exist for one purpose only – and that is to support the ultimate career.” How does that NOT imply that employers should try to support parents with things like paid leave and flexible schedules and not viewing mothers (and fathers) as less valuable employees because they’ve (allegedly) lost focus?
2. Regarding the lawyer and your thought that she could go back and “maybe even work her way up to partner”. Nope. That is just wishful thinking at this point. If a mother takes time off to be with her children, she is off the partner track. Chances are she’ll NEVER be partner, no matter how hard she works post-baby or how brilliant of an attorney she is, and the reason is because she took off time during the 7-10 year window when junior and senior attorneys have to prove themselves. Her career trajectory isn’t determined by her competence; it’s decided by whether or not she had enough face time with the right partner at the right time in her career. (This is true of men, too, by the way. I know from experience that ‘paid leave for fathers’ is really seen as something committed lawyers don’t take.) I suppose you’re right, that “The law firm has every right to have specific job descriptions that meet the goals of their business and then choose someone who can fulfill those requirements. Nothing wrong with the decision made by either party.” But why should they do that? How is it fair for a law firm to decide that if you take time off at the beginning of your career, you can’t ever be a partner? That 7-10 year window is completely arbitrary, as are a lot of the road blocks that prevent a woman from reaching the height of her career. Those arbitrary road blocks place an undue burden on women who want to be mothers, and THAT is unfair.
I think this idea that a woman has to sacrifice her career if she has children is a false dilemma we’ve created for ourselves. Most people will spend 40 YEARS working. Yet women, as Mr. Jones shows, are penalized for what takes place during what, a fourth of those years? Those are the rules of the game now, so I suppose it’s “fair” that women get to make their choices and live with the consequences. But those rules can (and should) change.
I’m also really bugged by the fact that this discussion is framed around high-paying, white collar jobs, as if mothers in those careers were the only ones this issue affected. What about low-paid workers who depend on their job to feed their children? We can talk about equity and fairness and discrimination all we want, but the fact is a lot of mothers work because they have to, and if we decide that mothers are less valuable employees and put up arbitrary boundaries to their success, we’re doing great harm to ourselves.
Love this dialogue, Alisha.
Because motherhood IS more important than financial planning, it is, and should be, more time and energy consuming. All the more reason it’s going to be tough to balance motherhood and a demanding career like hedge fund trading while giving a fair amount of energy to both. I’ve already pointed out that I’m not addressing the topic of competence, only focus, but it might be even more accurate to say that it’s just a matter of sheer AVAILABILITY. A hedge fund trader or law firm partner have to be endlessly available.
I’m not familiar with the whole process of become a law partner so I assume you know what you are talking about, and I would totally agree with you that a woman should be able to come back to her job after her kids start school (or whenever) and pick up where she left off. No argument there whatsoever. If Mr. Jones is opposed to that, I would disagree with him on that point as well. (I think you may be reading into and making arguments against a point I was never trying to make.) I’m not arguing that workplaces shouldn’t try to accommodate people with children, because obviously most adults have them! I love your take on the C.S. Lewis quote and couldn’t agree more. I’m only arguing that there certain career tracks (yes, typically the high-paying, white collar jobs) that don’t work well with hands on motherhood. I have a good friend who is a full-time OB because her husband stays home with their 5 kids full time. I also have a cousin who is a physician married to a physician and they make it work by arranging their hours to cover each other as well as relying on daycare providers. People can make things work if they really want to, but to say that certain high-stress/high-demand professions like hedge fund trading or being a partner in a law firm (or being a brain surgeon–my cousin and his wife deliberately chose OB and Family Practice as their specialities so they could have more flexibility as parents) should somehow accommodate people who also want to take off considerable time to be more involved parents is asking too much in my opinion. If mothers don’t have a full-time caregiver for their children, or they want to be home for their children more often, certain jobs are just not going to work for them. In some cases, motherhood is a real sacrifice. Period. The nature of certain types of work just don’t allow for flex-time schedules or work from home options–they just don’t! But there are probably more jobs than not that COULD accommodate a mother’s schedule, and I think women who want to be pretty hands on mothers should probably consider those types of jobs.
Also, certain businesses, especially small businesses who have very low profit margins, may not be able to make life easier for a mother (or father) who want paid leave. Even my husband’s private practice of 4 physicians can’t afford extended paid leave for their employees after paying overhead, employee benefits, malpractice insurance, etc. Only really large corporations with lots of flexibility in both personnel and capital can pull that off. The reality is, most businesses need to be able to rely on their employees to make their business successful. Unfortunately, the idea of certain businesses making the kind of accommodations you’re talking about just isn’t feasible. That is a huge cost you are asking businesses to accept because a woman (or man) wants to have a baby and stay home while still getting paid. (I’d call it entitlement in some cases.) Maybe there is an additional problem here that has nothing to do with discrimination or the attitude of employers, but rather the simple mathematics of the bottom line.
I was never intending to introduce the subject of women who have to work for financial reasons, but since you’ve brought it up, women who have to work to feed their families are typically doing work that requires less training which means they are also making less money. I absolutely agree that those industries/professions/jobs should work harder to support parents as much as possible. Theoretically, that shouldn’t be as hard to do with lower paying, less demanding jobs since they don’t typically require as many hours in the week, but again, if it’s a small businesses with a small profit margin, they may simply not be able to afford it. (Talking about paid leave. Flex-time, work from home options are a different story . . .)
Alisha Gale says
Thanks for the clarification, Allyson. I think our views aren’t nearly as divergent as I initially assumed!
I agree that some professions are going to require constant availability, nevermind that some workers WANT to be constantly available, and that can’t be changed. But I think those should be the outliers, not the standard, and right now, constant availability is the standard in a lot professions. And it needn’t be. Take partners at a large law firm. Yes, they’re expected to be constantly available now, but there’s nothing inherent about legal work that requires it. The issue is that law firms are understaffed–they take on more work than they have lawyers to handle, but don’t hire more lawyers because that would mean more employees to pay. And law partners at major firms are already making a LOT of money (they basically take home their hourly rate; overhead and such things come out of the money associates bring in. Associates typically bill out far more than they take home), so it’s not like a pay cut would be a huge burden. It’s a great example of a profession that could be more family-friendly, but isn’t.
I think it’s interesting you mention your OB cousin. It seems to me that being an OB would be a career that would require constant availability–babies have a habit of being born at inconvenient times, after all =). But if OBs have figured out how to make the profession family-friendly, shouldn’t that tell us that more professions could, if they had the will to do so?
So (and I’m taking some liberties with your argument here…) instead of telling women, “Hey, if you want to be a hands-on parent when your children are young, here’s the list of careers that are no longer available to you,” we should be saying, “Hey, professional career that currently requires constant availability but doesn’t need to: you should change. It’d be better for everyone.”
I can’t speak for the economics of paid leave and small businesses, and I don’t mean to say that companies should support their employees-with-children to the point of financial insolvency. But I do think that we, as a society, should influence the current business culture to make common-sense family accommodations the norm, and to have it NOT be the case that parents who have taken time off have permanently derailed their careers. I would hope that this would benefit all segments of the work force, especially parents at lower-wage jobs, who don’t have the luxury of foregoing a career to be a parent.
I also hope that if common-sense family accommodations are the norm, and it’s expected (or at least not unexpected) that professionals will be leaving and re-entering the workforce because they decide to stay at home with children for a time, there won’t be a stigma for either of those things. Right now there is clearly a stigma. To me, that is the biggest problem, not that some careers require a focus that precludes being a present parent to small children.
Heather Torrance says
I never thought of myself as a SAHM type, but after my son was born, I felt like Cheryl’s friend (the attorney with twins) – I wasn’t doing either well. While I was working, I was constantly having to take breaks to pump, which threw off my rhythm, I was exhausted if my son had kept me awake too much of the night so I couldn’t focus, and arranging for someone to watch my son when I had to work late or do conference calls after hours was really complicated. And on the flip side, when I was with my son, I couldn’t enjoy being with him because I just wanted some alone time. I found myself watching the clock for when he’d go to sleep, or my husband would get home and I could hand the baby over to him, or the nanny would arrive in the morning. Some days I had no time to shower, there was never any time for friends or any other kind of social life, and there was no time to cook so I wasn’t eating healthily and there certainly wasn’t any time for exercise. (And this was with a job at a non-profit.) I found myself hating my life and resenting my husband. Something had to give, so I quit my job. (Quitting my marriage or quitting motherhood were not options!)
Now that my son’s about 15 months old, I probably could work again. He sleeps more, I’m not pumping several times a day, I’ve figured out some better routines for managing the household, etc. As Beth NC notes about the mothers she’s worked with, they can get things done. But as a first-time mother, just getting through the day was difficult for me. I know in theory it’s harder once you have two to take care of, but the first time it’s so hard to make that adjustment – there’s no energy left for work, especially when the baby is little. And if he has health problems (like mine did) and ends up being hospitalized, or even if he’s just one of those marathon nursers, it’s not like you can just put him down for a nap and then get things done around the house: you’re taking care of the baby literally 24 hours a day.
My boss had always described me as super-efficient and super-organized, and I really don’t see how if I couldn’t keep up with a 35-hour-a-week non-profit job, anyone who is a new mother could keep up with the pace of working at a hedge fund or as a lawyer. I know there are people who muddle through, but I seriously doubt they are anywhere as productive as they were before a baby. It’s just not realistic to expect that, and it’s not insulting to say it. People who get offended at that reality have too high expectations of women, which doesn’t do us any more favors than people whose expectations are too low.
Great discussion. May I add a sports analogy from my career field. I coached a college volleyball team for many years. One of the things we told our players was that we had to get better every day because our competition was working hard to get better every day. It is a small daily addition but over time a cumulative effect on our level of play. If we take a day off or have a bad day at practice where we don’t accomplish anything, then we are one day behind on our competition. We can never catch up unless they too take a day off.
When a woman leaves her job for a time (as I have chosen to do) for whatever reason, she can never “catch up” unless her competition also chooses to step away for a time. The reason she leaves needs to be compelling enough that it outweighs the cost. For me motherhood was compelling enough.
Great analogy. While I agree theoretically with just about everything Alisha, I think what you are saying here is much more realistic. Itt’s not about fair or unfair or discrimination, it simply is what it is. In today’s world, many industries are constantly changing, updating, and advancing, so taking a few (or many) years off will inevitably mean you are not only rusty, but also behind the game. In the case of private practice medicine (just speaking from my husband’s perspective again), he has to nurse his practice and his patients (pardon the pun) since he is essentially a small business owner. If “he” were a “she”, there would be no way he could walk away for a time and expect the position (let alone the patients/customers) to be there when he felt ready to come back. I’m sure there are other types of jobs that might be easier to jump back into, but women (and men) shouldn’t expect their employers to hold a spot for them. Again, as you pointed out, mothers who want to be more directly involved in raising their children will most likely make some sacrifices in their careers. I’m trying to point out (as I think Mr. Jones was as well) that not only is there nothing wrong with that, but that a woman’s greatest strength is actually found in the work she does as a mother.
April Perry says
Love this perspective, Shannon. Thanks for your comment!
“As soon as that baby’s lips touch that girl’s bosom, forget it.” Seriously? What “rubbed me the wrong way” was that he used the word “girl” instead of “woman”.