I started Blogging partially because I so admire Meredith Wu’s Blog when she was Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia. As I have said before, I thought it was very brave for an academic administrator to Blog. Occasionally, I took issue with some of her posts. One that I felt was a little lacking was her response to “What Do Women Want.” She mentions major, contemporary books and essays on this theme: Cheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and Debora Spar’s Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. She goes on to say that these discussions are too self-absorbed and praises the self-sacrifice and dedication of numerous women staff members at the University of Virginia. She concludes by answering the question of “What Do Women Want” with Hannah Arendt’s definition of “What a Woman Is.” Although the answer couches the self-sacrifices women make in terms of the constructive and creative work of building communities, I feel that she hasn’t quite done the question, self-absorbed as it is, the feminist justice it deserves.
I have been thinking about what my own response to that question would be. There can be no universal answer, because there can be no universal answer for any large, heterogeneous group of people – not for men, not for women, not for children, … I have a feeling that women are generally judged more harshly, and feel like they are judged more harshly, than men are. What I hope we all would want for each other, and be able to give to each other, is acceptance of the decisions that we each make in order to make our lives work. That is what I want. I want the entire range of possible decisions about work-life balance to be as equally acceptable for a woman to make as for a man. I would like everyone, men and women, to be able to carve out time from their schedules, and be respected for doing so, for their personal goals whether they be religious, family-oriented, athletic, intellectual, solitary, etc… Paraphrasing Bella Abzug, I would like women and men of equal talents and accomplishments to be recognized equally. I should add: I want to see it all happen in my lifetime!