Monday, May 7, 2012

50 Shades of Women


So this is how it all went down: 

In effort to gain some inspiration for a long overdue blog posting, I was happily inspired by a girlfriend of mine who is very soon expecting her first baby. My friend suggested that I explore the debate of whether new moms should work or stay at home. Apparently, people in her workplace have been a little too forthcoming with their often contradictory advice, and naturally, she was frustrated with people offering their opinions when they actually had no business doing so. In her opinion, and I agree with her, there is no set formula for every woman, new mother or not. The choice should be made based upon what works for a woman and her family. Does work allow you to retain a part of your identity that is important to you, separate from your role as mother and/or wife, and thus by doing so, make you a happier, healthier, more balanced person? And therefore, are you a happier, healthier and more balanced mother and/or wife? Having experienced only the role as a wife thus far in my adulthood, I can already agree with that statement. Being able to hold on to something that is important to me, that makes me feel good, or something that I worked hard for, I believe can make me better at my other roles in my life—and one of the most important roles right now, my role as a wife. Why should this diminish when a baby comes into the picture? Should it, will it, and if so, why does it? I often hear from mothers, “You won’t understand until you have a baby.” I am sure this is true, but with that being said, one still cannot presume that there is a predictable formula that a working woman should follow once she has a baby, nor that her experience post-baby will be one similar to every other woman who has gone through it.

But allow me for a moment to digress onto another tangent that was again, inspired by my friend’s suggestion (incidentally, this digression will ultimately make this blog not only a topic discussion but somewhat of a book review too!). The next morning after she gave me her passionate suggestion, I saw the Newsweek magazine that came in the mail the previous day. The cover article caught my attention, “The Fantasy Life of Working Women: Why Surrender is a Feminist Dream.” Having my friend’s topic in mind, I was very curious to read it. In the article, the author Katie Roiphe describes the new trend of women in their 20s and 30s demonstrating a “current vogue for domination” in the bedroom by a man, which she states is in odd contrast in an era where women are more dominant in the workplace than ever before, more successful and college-educated. Yet Roiphe stated that a Psychology Today study revealed approximately between 30-60% of women have sadomasochistic fantasies. This is a strange irony, because as the article described, “almost 60 percent of college students…are close to surpassing men as breadwinners, with four in 10 working women now out-earning their husbands, when the majority of women under 30 are having and supporting children on their own, a moment when—in hard economic terms—women are less dependent or subjugated than before.”

Interesting, isn’t? Is it unsettling or confusing, too? Or is it a trend to shrug off and smirk about? I think that is up for discussion. In her article, Roiphe referenced the new bestseller, 50 Shades of Grey. Curious, I checked it out. And as a warning to anyone who has not read it yet, beware of the X-rated material in this book. I was thrown off guard initially, yet I still managed to read all three books in the Shades of Grey trilogy in less than one week…5 days to be exact. I know—3 books, 5 days.

Meet Christian Grey, the triple S threat: sexy, successful, and sadist. Admittedly, I got tricked into falling in love with Christian Grey despite his male-dominant-woman-submissive preferences in the bedroom, and despite how his actions startled my passionate feminist views. I think it is because Christian had this vulnerable, sad, broken side to him, and because he truly loved Anastasia. So in that love for her, he looked out for her and took care of her—as the book evolved across the three books, it was no longer just about his needs, but about how he can be better and fulfill her needs. Christian was not a selfish man, he put Ana’s needs before his own, in his own, weird, sadomasochistic way. Christian Grey essentially fulfilled a common fantasy for women of the perfect man—gorgeous, tall, undeniably wealthy, spontaneous AND amazing in bed AND to top it all off…he has a sad, broken side to him that makes him in need of life-changing love through which he can heal. Why is that sad side so appealing? Perhaps it is the contrast of a man having so much power being also so very vulnerable that makes him relatable, and lovable. And for women, that paradox of powerful and vulnerable can be ridiculously sexy. He took Anastasia’s breath away. On the surface was a strong and powerful lover, who could handle everything. But deep down, he was a frightened little boy, who needed her love.

How does this tie into my friend’s frustration about the debate over whether women should work or not after having a baby? Well, I read the Roiphe’s article with her point in my mind. My friend is a successful working woman. She makes good money, has a happy marriage, lives a happy relaxed life. That being said, the article called to mind the irony behind a society where it is still looked down upon by some if the mother chooses daycare over being a stay-at-home mom, or vice-versa…some shake their head at a woman who is an educated, career woman yet chooses to stay at home with her children. In an article on CNN.com, “Opinion: ‘Mommy wars’ avoid women’s real woes,” the author Barbara J. Risman describes various contradictions to the working mom debate:

 1) It is generally agreed that men and women should have equal rights, but yet it is never expected that the man should consider staying at home with the kids. In the home “workplace” the work is not truly equally shared. Why?
2) It is a known fact that parenting is tough job that requires major emotional and psychological investments. Yet, why do employers discriminate against hiring and promoting working mothers? Aren’t they the most suitable for the tough grunt work any job may bring, since they do an even tougher job at home?
 3) The lack of work policies that allow women to breast-feed in the workplace, therefore guaranteeing penalties for doing so…the U.S. is oddly behind the international trend on this point.
4) Women married to wealthy men are “allowed” to make a choice of staying home with their children—they can afford it, so the choice is theirs and whatever they choose to do is (somewhat) acceptable because as the article states, “they are doing so for the good of their children” since, if they wanted to, they could afford to put their children in day care. Yet, women who do not have the money but still choose to stay home with their children, are coined by society as “welfare mothers,” who should get a job and then are forced to put their children in most likely less than ideal day care situations. Does Risman make a good point here? Is society really that quick to judge, and so harshly and unsympathetically?

In yet another article on BabyCenterNews.com, entitled “Working moms happier, healthier than stay-at-home-moms (SAHMs),” my earlier point is reiterated—women who work tend to feel better about themselves, had fewer symptoms of depression, and that feeling is reflected upon their role as a mother. They felt better, and therefore were better mothers.

I brought the two issues together in this blog for the purpose of calling to attention the difficulty in categorizing women (and mothers) into appropriate and acceptable roles. Most women having babies are probably in their late 20s and early 30s. These women may choose to work and have day care to help them balance things. These women may choose to stay at home, despite having a great job that their college-education afforded them. These women may be making more money than their husbands and therefore decide to continue working, while the husband takes a job cut and stays at home with the children. These are women who value the ability to make their own decisions, without judgment or penalization from their employers. Yet, as Katie Roiphe’s article stated, these new-age, strong-willed baby boomers still may crave a little domination in the bedroom. They may want to be able to make the choice at work, but sometimes they would like to relinquish control to a sexy man who ties them up in the bedroom. Who is to say that is wrong? Who is to say that the two are incompatible?

Personally, reading 50 Shades of Grey, I found myself at times blushing 50 shades of red. I found myself bashfully turning the pages without a glance up or around me. And while reading, I would pause occasionally and wonder, “Could I do that? Would I do that, succumb to that, for the man I loved?” The thing with the Christian-Anastasia love affair is that she concedes a great deal of control, because as she justifies it in her head, it is what makes him happy and she loves to see Christian happy, especially because of his dark past. As she says herself, “Would I do it again? I can’t even pretend to put up an argument against that. Of course I would, if he asked me—as long as he didn’t hurt me and if it’s the only way to be with him. That’s the bottom line. I want to be with him.”  She later concedes that while she wants to say that it is wrong, she can’t because it is what is right for Christian. Since she loves him and wants to be with him, it cannot be really wrong for her either—she can make the sacrifice, and gain the love of a man she has fallen for head over heels. Realistically, some of the things Christian does “out of love” for her are crazy, controlling, belittling, and in Anastasia’s own word, “stalkerish.” Realistically, one has to be as innocent as Ana to be able to fall so readily in love with a man as possessive as Christian. While reading, I sometimes found myself not really liking Christian Grey and how demeaning he was at times (although you are still supposed to love him because this is a flaw in his character that slowly changes with his love for Ana). Yet, in the back of my mind, I found myself wondering if that would be sexy in real life for most women—a man that loves you so much he wants to be a part of everything you do, a man that has that much money and power that he can make those demands? He has power, and to some women, college-educated or not, that alone is sexy.

Now here’s the (long) question: Can the allure of knowing a man loves you so much that he wants to possess you in every way, be a powerful enough enticement, that you could relinquish control over many aspects of your life, because that is what the man whom you have fallen in love with wants and needs for his happiness?

In light of the stay-at-home-mommy debate, the articles and the book just highlighted to me how many important decisions and choices women constantly have to make—nothing is black and white. Nothing is as simple as choosing just because you want to, or as Christian liked to say, “Because I can.” Every woman can work if she wants to, but is that the best decision for her and her family? Every woman can choose to have children, to make a career for herself, or she may be content being a homemaker. None of those choices are, in my opinion, wrong, but will only be so if she chooses for the wrong reasons. Can we truly and honestly make the concession that a powerful man is sexy, and still reconcile that power with our right to make the important decisions regarding career and motherhood? Are the two mutually exclusive? Obviously, there is no simple answer. But perhaps that is why we have books to read about the Christian Greys and the lucky, or not-so-lucky, Anatastisa Steeles, depending on how you look at it. It is that pleasure of fantasy that makes us pick up that book, be it sadomaschoism or fighting-till-death in an arena Katniss-style. Who do we relate to more, Ana or Katniss—lovestruck romantic, or strong-willed heroine? But we should not be faulted for our fantasies, even if they contradict the choices we make in our real lives.  Who knows, maybe Hillary Clinton likes to spanked, too.

Obviously, this blog does not even come close to covering all points on this subject, despite the supersized length of this post. Women come in 50 shades of everything, there is no simple way to describe our tendencies and our preferences. So I look forward to parts 2, 3, 4, etc. of this discussion….and I’d love to hear everything and anything my readers have to say and share about it.

12 comments:

  1. I could go on an on about this debate and about that book (started #2 tonight at the gym!) I think above all it's a personal decision and should be made on a case by case basis. I look at my friends and women that I know and sometimes it is utterly shocking how they change when they become a mother. Some of the most career driven, motivated and upward mobile women I know have taken one look at their baby and made the decision to give it up and be the stay at home mother. Others who always assumed they would easily fit the "stay at home" mom persona have come back to work more motivated by their careers than before, viewing their careers as their outlet away from Mom duty. There is truly no right or wrong answer. I wish I could predict the future and know where I might fall on that scale. Right now I can't imagine giving up my career. I've put in to much time and work in education to stop now, if anything I want to educate myself further (which reminds me can we have lunch?!?).. but when I have a family to factor into the equation perhaps this will all change... Who knows, but I do know I will make the decision that is right for me and for my family.


    Great post girl. Love how you make me think. Love how you write. I wish I had a research paper to do because that 50 shades is a hot topic I'd love to explore more... xxoo

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    1. Thank you Kaylea for taking the time to share your thoughts! You are right, there is no way to predict how our priorities may change once we have a baby. There are so many factors that go into making the decision--one of which is how easily we adjust to becoming mothers. I think some women choose to stay home or to continue to work based upon how the new experience of motherhood settles with them. It may be harder than they thought, and work can provide a healthy outlet for that anxiety associated with it. Or, on the flip-side, motherhood can be a happy alternative to a job that maybe wasn't as motivating as they previously thought it was. Nothing is clear...I almost wish I knew how I'll react because it will make planning so much easier! But I guess that is all part of the experience of becoming a mother, learning more about yourself while making such major decisions associated with having a family. No matter what you choose, I know you are going to be amazing! :)

      Keep reading about Mr. 50 Shades, I want to hear how you feel about the last 2 books. Thank you again for your feedback, I loved it! :) xoxoxo!

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  2. Another thought provoking message! Those are my fav!! On the subject of stay at home or work: I firmly believe that a husband/wife should prayerfully consider what is best for them. Some women are called to stay home for a season others are not. I am not a fan of the "follow the pack" mentality that some women display. When we "follow the pack", we end up miserable and disappointed. It's never a good idea to march to the beat of the loudest drum.

    As for the book, 50 Shades: I have made the conscious decision not to read it. Based on what I have heard, in my opinion it is not "print worthy". However, some would say that about my dissertation. What happened to the days of "leave something to the imagination"? Today, books, music, and movies etc reveal too much. Do I sound like a prude? I think I am! This is not a book for prudes.

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    1. Maria, I don't think you are a prude! But even if you are, there is nothing wrong with that! You are right, people can make the choice NOT to read something. Considering all the hype about the book, I commend your ability to resist! For me, curiosity got the better of me. I like to read a variety of things to keep challenge my mind into thinking about different viewpoints, perspectives and lifestyles. It may not be for me, but I like to read about it to understand why it may not be for me. That is the beauty of freedom of expression, yes? ;) I agree with you on your point against following the pack. You can never predict what will work for you until you try, no matter what anyone suggests or advises.

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  3. Gina Isabel FentimanMay 9, 2012 at 2:24 PM

    I have been in both aspects of this, a stay-at-home mom and a single-working-mom, both aspects have their pros-and-not-so-pros..

    I consider that a first time mom can be a working mom, we should not give up our desire of success in the business world just because we have kids... in fact they should be a motivation for such success... however I do think there needs to be a balance between job and the quality (notice I say quality and not quantity) of time we spend with our kids.

    I was lucky enough to have a lot of support from my family when I was a single mom, and had to work a crazy schedule (sometimes with tons of over time, and one day off a week), but I was always there for my daughter, no matter what...

    Now I am a stay at home mom, and have a baby boy, is not like I do not want to work (believe me I do), the experience of always being there 24/7 at home allows you to enjoy how your kids are growing a bit more than a working mom, and lets face it, here in USA daycare is really expensive, so being able to stay at home, saves you tons of money (about 50-60% of what you could be making in an office).

    Staying at home should be a decision taken as a couple/family, it certainly make things easier on everyone... and make sure to remember that not because we stay at home we are not providing to the table, because we are...

    As my husband says: I work harder than he does, because I'm 24/7 working at home, with a kid that runs and jumps and requires attention all the time (same goes for stay-at-home dads)...

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    1. Thanks Gina! It's so nice to hear about women's different experiences. Being a mom is, from what I have gleaned from my friends and family with children, like you said a full time job. I don't know what I'll do when i have a baby in the near future (hopefully!)...it is a luxury to be able to have the choice. Not every woman does have the choice, many have to work out of necessity. I definitely agree with your point about quality of time spent...that is the most important, I think for both parents, too.

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    2. Gina Isabel FentimanMay 9, 2012 at 2:37 PM

      Indeed!

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    1. i came from a time and family that made the expectations of me as a female very clear. For many women of my generation, our wishes where our futures were concerned were considered irrelevant. In my case (from those who offered their opinions), i was a whore, a home-wrecker, someone who would starve children and leave them destitute because I wanted to go to college and prepare myself to not have to depend upon a man. This willful and intentional independence was looked upon as a failure, a dereliction and a disgrace. A lot of that came from other women. And most of those women, of course, had had even fewer choices when they were setting out on their life paths. So i think a lot of it was jealousy- and resentment-driven, a kind of “it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you; who do you think you are, anyway” mentality. So for the current generations of young women, i wish open choices with full support. In the end, as i see it, that is what makes for happy, healthy, well-adjusted children.

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    2. Gina Isabel FentimanMay 9, 2012 at 4:58 PM

      Very well said Tamara!

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  5. Interesting post! I was a person who was all for her career. I loved working and I was very successful. I have to admit that when I was pregnant, I was struggling... not knowing which decision was right for me. I read about different debates on whether it is right or wrong to make either decision.

    After having my first baby, I was frustrated of how tough parenting is and thought to myself that it is impossible to balance between my work and my baby. But after a while, and after getting out of the "Postpartum Depression" phase, I have decided to resign and stay at home with my baby. I have friends who are working-mommas. They are happy, successful at work and they are managing it all; work, baby and house. I have also realized how happy I am for staying at home and watching my baby grow. Therefore, I agree with all the comments written before. There is no right or wrong answer for this topic. There is only what works for you and your family. Some mothers can do it all, while others can't. Each person is different and should know how to choose their decision based on what they can or cannot do.

    I am now 29 weeks pregnant and looking forward to being a parent to two beautiful girls in July; a toddler and a newborn :) As tough as it may sound, I feel more relaxed and more confidant than before. Furthermore, after becoming an expert in parenting, I have decided to take a new challenging step and go back to school. Nothing is wrong and nothing is impossible as long as it makes the mother happy. Happy momma means happy babies and happy babies means happy family *heart*

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