Everyone has an opinion about what you should do to make yourself happy. There is an entire song based on the premise: “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife.” That is terrible advice. Think of all those poor, sad, beautiful women, dateless and alone, just waiting to meet the right woman. Never fear: Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has a plan for all of those ladies.
Sandberg created a little stir recently when she suggested that women who want to succeed professionally need a spouse who not only supports her ambition but also does his or her share of work around the house. What really got people chatting was this little nugget:
The most important thing — and I’ve said it a hundred times and I’ll say it a hundred times — if you marry a man, marry the right one … If you can marry a woman, that’s better because the split between two women in the home is pretty even, the data shows.
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I have to admit that the first time I read Sandberg’s comments I laughed because who wouldn’t agree that marrying a woman is a good idea? That’s just some good, sound advice, right ladies? Why not share everything, including that whole pesky childbirth burden? Some have taken this opportunity to point out all the reasons why marrying a lady isn’t the perfect, “just add water et voila” magical solution to all work-life balance issues. Of course, they are right but I think they fail to take into account one huge advantage two women have in running a home together; the absence of sex specific assumptions and expectations.
The expectations and assumptions we acquire over a lifetime can be hard to avoid and even harder to break. Girls are told, subtly and blatantly, to consider what type of lifestyle they want when thinking about careers. Women worry about when they will see their kids if they want to be a surgeon or a CEO or a corporate lawyer. Boys are not taught that they need to think about who will take care of their children if they work a full time job. For the most part, men don’t worry about those things when they choose a career. Sure that sounds overly simplistic because there a men who worry about seeing their children and how their jobs cuts into their family time. Of course there are. Those are the guys Sandberg is talking about; the ones that the ladies should be picking if they also want to have a demanding career.
But Sandberg also recognizes the underlying fact that in this country women are taught to worry about family issues in a way that men aren’t. This point is illustrated well in another piece about Sandberg’s comments that was written by a straight, married woman. In it, the author speaks about her experience talking to her class of college students about gender roles in the home.
…one female student voiced a collective worry: I want a career and a family. But when and how do I make it fit? From the men, again, radio silence. What was interesting, but not entirely surprising, was that this was something none of the guys had ever considered. Or, probably, would ever have to.
This is the problem that is largely absent in a two woman household. Both partners come to the problem of with the understanding that they are both going to have to compromise and cooperate to make it work. I am speaking, again, in broad generalities because there are plenty of husbands out there who bend, compromise, and cooperate out the wazoo to make their homes run smoothly (and plenty of women who don’t). The most important thing for achieving work/life balance is having a partner, male or female, who shares your view of what that balance looks like and cares as much about you finding that balance as she does about her own. I think Sandberg recognizes this fact and was trying to make the point that in order for women to achieve professional success, they need to have a partner who contributes equally at home. When it comes to splitting household and childrearing chores equally, two women have an advantage because they have spent their lives thinking about how to make these types of compromises while the majority of men have not.
Is Sandberg right or is she just idealizing the two mom family? Do lesbians have an advantage over women who have male partners when it comes to achieving a semblance of work/life balance?