Post-Menopausal Women Can Run the World

Helen Rumbelow asks in an article in the U.K. Times  Online: “Does being a modern woman only really work once you have turned 58? Has Harriet [Harman, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party] spent her entire life committed to the feminist cause, only to realise that it is in late middle age, and only then, that a woman can live the feminist dream?”

The headline for this article reads: “Why it’s Harriet Harman and others like her who run the world: It is only post-menopause that a woman can apply herself to a job the way that she did when she was in her twenties.”

Why would the author say such a thing?  At the beginning of the article she says that “at the beginning and end of life, gender differences fade away.” I don’t know what she means by the beginning–I’ve observed a marked difference in male and female toddlers, for instance, although it’s true that early on there is no observable difference between a male and a female embryo–but apparently what she means by the end of life is after menopause, when women are not encumbered by the raising of children and presumably by the emotional ups and downs and preoccupations of menstruating, child-bearing-age women.

Many people say that pre-menopausal women are too emotional  to hold leadership positions. This idea, although it has been debunked, is amazingly persistent, especially among men. But that’s not what the author is referring to.  She points out that the absence of hormonal swings is not the only reason that it’s easier for post-menopausal women to take on positions normally reserved for men. She says that it’s mostly the absence of minor children in the home that makes it possible for women to “act more like men.” [quote]

Young people are full of enthusiasm and idealism, but it’s a misconception that they’re the only ones who can make things happen. Older people have the wisdom, yes, but also the time to devote themselves to a cause. All too often people find themselves in their thirties and forties derailed by the concerns of establishing careers and families. And this is especially true for women. Men are expected and given permission to devote themselves to their careers while women are encouraged, even mandated, to focus on their families. It’s only when the nest is empty that the mother bird can finally fly away herself.

Is it a fluke that the only women who have been appointed to the Supreme Court have been post-menopausal? Men don’t experience menopause (or at least not the way that women do); they are presumably always at their peak. But perhaps what really keeps women from cracking the glass ceiling is their familial duties. Women who accomplish a lot during their child-bearing years are either childless or fortunate enough to afford good child care (or have a husband who takes on at least an equal responsibility for the kids). Michelle Obama, the current poster woman for modern working women, didn’t raise her children without outside help.

It seems harsh to say that it is children who keep women from going very far in their careers. Actually, it isn’t the children per se, but their mothers’ dedication to them that makes it hard for a woman to claim her place in a man’s world. Until men are equally dedicated to their child-raising responsibilities (or women have access to quality affordable child care), it will always be that way.

2 Replies to “Post-Menopausal Women Can Run the World”

  1. Today’s young women are supposedly claiming that their feminist mothers misled them when they said that a woman can have it all, because it is simply too hard to try to balance children, home and career (not to mention marriage). Whether this is true depends on the woman. I congratulate you for not succumbing to the pressures put on young women to give up careers in favor of motherhood. I’m not saying that a woman can’t do it, only that it’s hard.

  2. She was actually saying the “parents” make bad employees. Not just women. But if you look at the female part of the equation it sounds reasonable but is simply not true.

    Having children does not hold women back on their careers. These days career women employ nannies and muster up other care givers, including husbands, to take over those aspects of parenting that can interfere with a corporate career.

    I had this myth thrown as me by a CEO once. I was ok as the 2IC because I was single and childless. But then later not having a permanent partner was viewed with suspicion – who was I sleeping with was the question. So I was damned if I didn’t and damned if I did. And I was damned if I was going to put up with it. So I now own my own successful company with a 7 year old in tow.

    So this is just one of those boardroom myths that we must not play along with because we are perpetuating it.

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