Several years ago, gender equality was the rallying cry of civil rights activists. Rightfully so, those were the days when women are not given equal opportunities in social endeavors such as education and career choices. Today, most civil right activists that promote gender equality would agree that these barriers have already been broken down. As observed, women are now enjoying almost all the opportunities afforded to men and have by far, exceeded the male gender in some areas of endeavor. In education, particularly, women have outperformed men especially in the social sciences and business fields. As observed by Belkin, “Fifty percent of the undergraduate class of 2003 at Yale was female; this year’s graduating class at Berkeley Law School was 63 percent women; Harvard was 46 percent; Columbia was 51. Nearly 47 percent of medical students are women, as are 50 percent of undergraduate business majors”. Apparently, women are not the marginalized gender anymore as what they were several decades ago. For the civil rights activists who were once fighting for equality, the position of women in society today and the opportunities that are opened for them can be considered as a triumph of the ideals that they wish to pursue. And yet interestingly, it seems that the numbers does not add up when it comes to sustained career success. Despite the equal and even higher number of women that graduate in universities, only a few moves on towards the top of the corporate ladder or towards the peak of their careers. As observed by Belkin, despite the fact that men and women enter the work force in equal number, only a few move on towards the top positions. Accordingly, “just 16 percent of corporate officers are women, and only eight companies in the Fortune 500 have female C.E.O.'s. Of 435 members of the House of Representatives, 62 are women; there are 14 women in the 100-member Senate”. Most often, at some point in their lives, women choose or seem to choose family life over their careers and just settle down as home keepers despite a promising career.
Two point-of-views are offered as to why women are so rare in top positions in private or in government organizations. One perspective is that women do not really want to be on the top or relish the competitive environment. If given a choice, women, according to the proponents of this point of view, would love to be home buddies rather than leading a fast-paced and stressful work environment. Accordingly, the way civil activists views how women will turn out in this era is greatly exaggerated because in reality, women does not define success as what activists define success, which is a masculine perspective of what success should be. According to Belkin, the reason why women, despite the equal opportunity they enjoy, are not running the world is because they do not want to. On the other hand, some people think that women are still socially pressured to take on the roles that society has laid out for them. Regarded as nurturers of their family, women may redefine success in different terms. As observed by Mahdavi, “This perception may be still lingering in the attitude of women towards family and, thus, may affect their definition of success”. These traditional roles, however, have their sets of responsibilities that could sometimes steer the woman off course. Accordingly Warner, some women are led to believe that home keeping is a more fulfilling choice but most often this choice ends up in frustration. When viewed in this perspective, it would appear that women are not truly free because they are still constrained by gender roles. Also, it implies that the setting of a woman’s priorities is still strongly influenced unconsciously by these roles that are being imposed on them by society. As a result, most women who experience how it is to be out of work and financially dependent on their spouses strive to take back their careers; some may succeed but most of them fail.
At first look, it would appear that a woman cannot have both her career and family at the same time. As observed, if she chooses a flourishing career, she could not expect to have a successful relationship at home. On the other hand, if she chooses to prioritize her family, her career and advancement opportunities could suffer. In the process, a woman would have to give up either her career or her family. But perhaps the arguments are a bit exaggerated. In a different perspective, it is actually the man who has less flexibility in life’s choices as compared to women. Most would agree that a man’s success is measured on how good he is in providing for his family. A woman, on the other hand, is often judged according to how well she nurtures her family. Unlike women, men do not have the luxury of choice. Evidently, he cannot choose to be a home buddy unless he wants to be called a bum. Unlike women, a man is perpetually forced to pursue his career because his manhood is closely related to how he advances in his career, which is also equivalent to how financially successful he is. It is for the same reason why males are more competitive as compared to women. Perhaps it is also the reason why only a few women end up in the top positions because men. Because they are forced by their role as breadwinners, men become highly competitive as compared to women. Women have, therefore, more flexibility when it comes to choosing between having a career and not having one unlike men who are tied to their traditional roles as breadwinners.
Granting that the notion of equality suggested by civil rights activists are observed; then the choice to opt in and out of work should also extend to men. But this is not how things work in the real world. In fact, in the niche of things, men are not bothered that they are expected to excel in their careers as women are not bothered to be expected as the primary nurturer of her family. In a stereotypical perspective, it can be deduced that men and women have different notion of success. Whichever path each gender chooses, then they must be prepared for the consequences. Most, however, would like to choose the traditional roles but the important thing is the freedom to choose. Unlike in the old days when women are constrained to home keeping alone, now they are free to choose to do anything they please; only that, they have to face the consequences of their actions.
Belkin, L. "The Opt-Out Revolution." The New York Times (2013).
Mahdavi, I. Comparing Men’s and Women’s Definition of Success . n.d. April 2015 <http://www.aabri.com/manuscripts/09255.pdf>.
Warner, J. "The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In." The New York Times (2013).