Somewhere after the 1970s feminist movement, women are still struggling to define what it means to be a woman. In a world that hasn’t completely changed, author Peggy Orenstein concludes that woman are still wrestling with the fissures between “you can be anything” and “you can’t have it all.”
Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids & Life in a Half-Changed World is not a scientific guidebook but a collection of essays of interviews with women about their personal choices. After interviewing more than 200 women, ages 25-45 who have made a variety of choices concerning raising children, planning a career and maintaining relationships, Orenstein paints a comprehensive picture of the contradictions and obstacles women still experience. For instance, while the young women she interviewed were planning careers, “they assumed that they would move in and out of the workforce” to raise children and many expected that their spouse’s job would eventually take priority over theirs.
Flux also shows the stereotypes that women fall into, such as the roles of “good mother” and “perfect wife.” However, it seems incomplete. There are other contradictions that Orenstein doesn’t explore: for example, the idea of a perfect Mom and a perfect career woman, and why those ideas don’t match up. And here is the contradiction — where the preconceived idea of the “good mother” smacks into the notion of a “good career woman.” While Flux describes the conflicting ideas about motherhood and the importance of a career, there are very few answers offered.
And while the attitude of male bosses is emphasized, the attitude of female bosses is almost overlooked. While talking with a single woman who is a vice-president in her company, Orenstein notes that “her intense commitment to the job actually seems to separate her, particularly from those who have children.” It would have been very interesting to explore why women have counterproductive ideas.
Orenstein rests part of the blame for women’s conflicting choices with men’s easy choices. When planning careers, for example, men don’t have to factor in taking time off to raise children. But at the same time, she notices that women often shoulder those burdens by choice. While husbands didn’t always do their share of work at home, for example, “women would admit that the battles they had with their husbands over household divisions of labor weren’t entirely the men’s fault.”
And the lack of any clear solution is discouraging. Orenstein shows us what the problems are, but she doesn’t offer a definite conclusion. In her own words: “Who said it would be easy?” But the portrayals of the dilemmas of the women in Flux are interesting, and leave readers to define their own solutions.
Evelyn Aschenbrenner is a Metro Times intern. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.