Voices

A powerful force

A New York Times story on women and work shows that truth is difficult to suppress for very long

Issue: "California's wall of fire," Nov. 8, 2003

AT FIRST, I DIDN'T KNOW WHICH WAS MORE surprising-the message, or the messenger. The message itself made good sense. It was a lengthy report on the fact that American women are opting out of the workplace in significant numbers and choosing motherhood instead. But however sensible, the message was so steeped in political incorrectness that you had to look twice to make sure you had read it right.

Yet the fact that this politically incorrect report was the cover story for The New York Times Magazine was clearly the bigger of the two surprises. Indeed, it was the second time in a short period that the influential magazine had dropped its guard to risk the assaults of radical feminists. Just four months ago, the magazine featured a series of photos of women in the military. But rather than promoting the idea that military life is a good fit with femininity, the photo montage seemed to go out of its way to make the opposite point.

So now, for the NYT Magazine to spend nearly 10,000 words raising all sorts of questions about supposed prejudices against women in the workplace-well, you have to ask yourself exactly what might be going on.

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"Why Don't More Women Get to the Top?" the magazine asks on its Oct. 26 cover. The answer is big and bold: "They Choose Not To."

Author Lisa Belkin is a regular writer for the Times, authoring a biweekly column called "Life's Work" that explores the intersection between life and work. Ms. Belkin says she would never have noticed the trend described in last week's report "until I looked back at what I had been learning."

What she learned is that "many high-powered women today don't ever hit the glass ceiling.... It's not just that the workplace has failed women. It is also that women are rejecting the workplace." Women are regularly choosing to leave the workplace for motherhood. In warm detail, Ms. Belkin introduces her readers to half a dozen such women.

"I don't want to be on the fast track leading to a partnership at a prestigious law firm," says Katherine Brokaw in the article, after leaving just such a track to stay home with her three children. "Some people define that as success. I don't."

"I don't want to be famous; I don't want to conquer the world; I don't want that kind of life," says Sarah McArthur Amsbary after stepping out of the work force when her daughter was born. "Maternity provides an escape hatch that paternity does not. Having a baby provides a graceful and convenient exit."

Nor is Ms. Belkin just a detached writer, summarizing other women's opinions. In her own words, she says: "There is nothing wrong with money or power. But they come at a high price. And lately when women talk about success they use words like satisfaction, balance, and sanity."

Ms. Belkin argues that "the barriers of 40 years ago are down," and points to the fact that women are as likely to be in the majority as in the minority in the graduating classes at schools like Yale, Berkeley, Harvard, Columbia, and Princeton. "They are recruited by top firms in all fields. They start strong out of the gate."

"And then, suddenly, they stop," says Ms. Belkin, acknowledging that some folks see this as "a revolution stalled."

It's when she begins to analyze this phenomenon that Ms. Belkin puts herself in some peril with radical feminists. She says she knows "that to suggest that women work differently than men-that they leave more easily and find other parts of life more fulfilling-is a dangerous and loaded statement." Yet that's exactly where she goes as she unpacks a trend she seems persuaded is both real and widespread.

So three cheers to Lisa Belkin for a thoughtful, courageous piece of journalism. And three cheers for The New York Times Magazine for its willingness to run the piece, and to give it such prominent play. But that still leaves us asking: Just how did this happen?

I don't think the answer is complex. Truth, you see, is a powerful force. People can conceal reality in their lives only so long. Sooner or later, facts bubble up to the surface with an uncanny ability to grab people's attention in spite of themselves.

That's why Christians are ultimately optimists. We'll grumble for a while, to be sure, about the biased liberal media and their tendency to ram political correctness of all sorts down our throats. Sometimes it will seem that they are winning the day. But just then, an all-knowing God brings along a Lisa Belkin and even The New York Times to set the record straight.

Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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