We’ve gotten so used to the sight that we’ve lost track of the fact that this was not the way it was supposed to be. Women— specifically, educated professional women—were supposed to achieve like men. Once the barriers came down, once the playing field was leveled, they were supposed to march toward the future and take rightful ownership of the universe, or at the very least, ownership of their half.
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Not only were these women failing feminism by throwing away all the work of the women before them, Lisa cautioned they were also setting themselves up for a rude awakening. When quoting one “opt-out” mom who claimed, “My degree is my insurance policy,” Lisa queried,
But is it enough insurance? Not only in the event that she needs to go back to work, but also when the time comes, that she wants to. Because at the moment, it is unclear what women like these will be able to go back to.
The overall message was loud and clear: If you “opt out” you’re committing career suicide. Sure, it may be easy to leave, but how the hell are you going to get back in?
A decade later, in 2013, Judith Warner, author of Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety,24 wrote the seemingly definitive follow-up article for The New York Times called “The Opt-Out Generation Wants Back In.”25 Judith detailed how and why getting back in was, as Lisa Belkin had predicted, a seeming impossibility. And if a woman did manage to do it, well, her second career was a mere shadow of her first, tinged with second-rate options and second-rate results. Financial ruin, professional regrets, and wasted talent were the key themes of her piece.
Given these bookend articles and the firestorm about work, life, motherhood, and female ambition they wrought, it’s no wonder modern women believe pausing is a career killer. But that hasn’t been the case for the members of my Not-So-New Mothers Group. And it isn’t true for the many successful women I interviewed for the articles I have written in my career as an independent journalist.