Melanie Notkin

The myth of the career woman

Most working women are not putting their careers ahead of love, marriage and motherhood

  • From Spectator Life
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The image of the single, childless ‘career woman’ is drawn so sharply in our minds, so deeply ingrained in culture and overused in media, it obfuscates the real story. Contrary to popular belief, most working women are not putting their careers ahead of love, marriage and motherhood.

Never mind that there are no ‘career men’ – no one accuses a single, childless man of prioritising career over love and family just because he’s single and can pay the rent. But women are made to wear this label – though I have yet to meet a woman who has declined a date with a guy she’s interested in because she’d rather be on a Zoom call.

While university-educated women are settling down and having children later than was once the case, the ‘career woman’ is mostly a mid-century myth, an outlier like Mad Men’s Peggy Olson, who belongs to a time when women went to college to earn their ‘MRS’ degree. Young women who didn’t go to college, or didn’t find a husband at the fraternity mixer, were heralded in Helen Gurley Brown’s Sex and the Single Girl and encouraged to take advantage of the thrills of youth and independence before the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood. But it wasn’t long before second-wave feminism informed young women that there was no need to move on from the carefree, childfree life. Marriage and motherhood were aspects of patriarchal oppression, they warned, designed to keep women tied to the home. And so single ladies kept careering on, epitomised by just about any female lead detective, attorney or doctor on television then and now.

Don’t get me wrong. When I grew up in the 1970s, getting a college degree was never in question. Neither was finding a career. But I expected to also find love and get married, and I yearned deeply to have children.

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