Pages Navigation Menu

Life and Times of a Working Cowgirl

Even Feminist Cowgirls Wear Bras…

This week  Anne-Marie Slaughter, former aid to Hilary Clinton and Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive reignited the feminist firestorm of working mothers “having it all”. As with most media hyped conversations, a real social issue, that effects real working class Americans, was framed in an elitist bubble with a beltway spin that went something like this: Two unfortunate, uber successful women having to choose between commuting between their multi-million dollar jobs and their family estates with live-in help and supportive husbands. The terribly hard choices these women have to make, why, why is it so unfair! REALLY, HONESTLY, these are the women we are going to look to, to guide us to gender equality? On the other side we have stay at home mom, Ann Romney with her two Cadillacs and string of Dressage horses, who has certainly made great sacrifices by staying at home(s) and raising (overseeing the staff) her children. AGAIN, REALLY? For most of America these are no more choices we could make than what to wear to Cinderella’s ball. The fairy tale existence that goes on inside the beltway is not based in the same reality faced by working class families in the rest of the country. ALL, yes ALL (and I am very careful with generalizations) of the top level working women inside the beltway have made the choice to be there. Each and every one of them could be living a different life if they chose. Their difficulties are, if not self-inflicted, self-sustained, by choice. These women, no matter how successful, do not have the right to speak for working women who do not have the luxury of choice.

Last week I read a different article again about a beltway mother lamenting the competitiveness of getting her child into summer camp. She resorted to donating over a $1,000 to the camp to ensure her little snowflake was able to attend. Now mind you, her daughter was eight. To top off the insanity her major concern was that her child was not enjoying the same carefree summer camp experience she had, swimming, playing tennis and eating ice cream with a wooden spoon. Her daughter would spend her summer camp learning, studying and building a resume to get into the best middle school in town. After all if she didn’t attend the best school her life was destined to failure. As I read this article I couldn’t help but wonder what this mother thought the rest of our children were going to grow up to be? Does she honestly believe only children educated in a private school in Washington D.C. have a chance of success? Do all of this country’s productive citizens come from Washington and furthermore, what makes these women think the rest of the country shares their definition of success?

I for one view success a little differently. Granted my occupation is listed as Cowgirl on my taxes so I view most things differently, but I feel like I have more in common with most American women than the women making it into the news. I am fortunate enough to have a choice in my career, I have made good decisions and benefited from a fair amount of good fortune. I am in a better position than many but I am not completely removed from the daily struggles of those without choices.  I have worked in corporate America and owned my own business, I have been both a single mother and married, had both supportive and un-supportive husbands and managed to raise two wonderful daughters. I would hardly view my life as a failure, quite the contrary, I feel as though I have successfully navigated the first half of my life and I’m gleefully looking forward to the second half. That being said, I faced bias, discrimination and hardship that my male peers were never subjected to.

Gender inequality is real and needs to be addressed but we must also recognize that there are gender differences and success for each needs to be viewed with those in mind. Men can’t bear children, that doesn’t make them a failure at being a woman. Women can’t rear children and work in a business model designed for men who left their families at home. Someone needs to be home with the children. This is not a gender issue this is a business model issue. Even if men stay home and raise children, women need to do the actual bearing part of this equation and that requires time away from work. For the single mother, to which 30% of Americans are now born, being a working mother is not a choice but a necessity. Time off work to bear and tend to children will result in lower pay and less upward mobility while rising daycare and healthcare costs will result in less expendable income. All of this contributes to societal problems.

So who is a successful woman in today’s society? Does the little eight year old girl in D.C have a chance at success, even with all her advantages? After all she is a girl and may need time away from her career if she chooses to have a family. Do my girls stand a chance? They aren’t being raised inside the beltway and they are girls. Until we give up our archaic views gender roles, reconstruct our corporate model and begin to value women as the givers of life, these girls will have to make choices that men don’t. Access to choices in education, career and healthcare will be a determining  factor of their success but at the end of the day it will be their own definition of success that is important.

This country needs Cowgirls and CEO’s, strong women who are willing to bring a feminine perspective to male dominated arenas. Little girls should be able to grow up to be anything, including stay at home moms. They should be supported, respected and compensated fairly for their efforts without gender bias. “Having it all” doesn’t need to involve sacrificing our relationships with our children or our spouses. As long as our girls have the ability to choose they can be successful and as a mother, successful happy children is “having it all”.