25 -- wait, no, 35 years later...

I vividly remember reading Lisa Belkin’s 2003 article, “The Opt-Out” Revolution.  My sons were 9, 13 and 16.  

Belkin’s article was the best I’d seen about the pros and cons of choosing to stay home with children.  It was also the only article I’d seen.  I had dutifully read what felt like hundreds of pieces about women-in-the-workplace, even though I’d left my own career in the film industry more than ten years before.  So when Belkin’s article came out, I was thrilled.  But I was older than the women in her article and had older children.  It made me feel a bit late to the party — like I feel when I see all the great baby paraphernalia invented just after I could have used it — the car seat that would have saved my back, the stroller that really does collapse easily.   
The next year was my my 25th Yale reunion.  I think the Belkin article contributed to my confidence in “coming-out” as a stay-at-home-mom among all my classmates and their extraordinary accomplishments.   I filled out the catch-up-with-your-classmates form (which I’ve edited it for length) as follows:

If you'd ever told 20 year old feminist-me that I would be raising three sons and not working I would have laughed in your face.

Nonetheless, here I am, 25 years later, and it's the most satisfying thing I could have done… One of us needed to be around [for the kids], and I discovered, somewhat to my surprise, that I wanted it to be me.  Also (and don't discount this as motivation) at home, I am the chief.  The person in authority.  The Queen.  And even though two out of three of our progeny are now teenagers, I still get listened to more in my house than anywhere in the outside world.  

However, Yale career codes notwithstanding, [alumni forms offer a list of career choices to check off] I am not a homemaker… What I am, and am proud of, is a mom.  That's why I picked the “career counseling” code option [when I filled out the form], though I do not work outside the boundaries of my family circle or have any degree that would entitle me to advise non-family members.  Whether it's on the soccer field today ("KICK IT") or their eventual careers after college, I'm here to tell them how to do it.  They don't have to listen, but I'll tell them anyway.  

.… In the meantime, I'm really busy and mostly surprised and pleased to have found the value and contentment that I have in the life I lead.

I was happy and proud.  I was in the thick of it, I felt needed and I was busy.  If I wasn’t writing that novel yet I could see a glimmer at the end of the tunnel where I might be able to do something “for me.”  I had a certain amount of guilt about all the outside-world promise I had not fulfilled, but as the above indicates, I was singing, “Always look on the bright side of life…” for all the world to hear.  

When the Ten-Years-Later follow-ups to Belkin’s article appeared last year,  my newly empty nest gave me the leisure to read most of them, starting with Judith Warner’s.  I learned some valuable things which I hope to share in the upcoming months.  For example, why didn’t the bright side stay all shiny, especially when my kids got older and I could and did start writing?  My answers, of course, are specific — to our family, my heritage, my friends, and where I live.   

By the way, a few weeks ago, I attended my 35th reunion.  And however bright — or not — my current outlook, the funny thing is I still felt right at home at Yale and with my fellow Yalies.  But more about that in another post.

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It never occurred to me that I would be a stay-at-home mom.

It never occurred to me that I would be a stay-at-home mom.  

My plan:  I would use my ample salary as a sound editor and the time between individual film projects to create my own films, which would fall somewhere on the scale between “artsy” and “avant-garde,” and establish me as a Woman in Film.  I’d enter these gems in festivals and bask in their successes.  I knew I wanted children, but when that happened, I’d play it by ear.

By my late twenties, I had a great career going as a sound editor.  I was in the union and I was in demand.  But the first glitch in my plan had emerged — in between films, when I was supposed to be creating Art, I needed to recover from the seven-day weeks.  Do some laundry.  Balance the checkbook.  I wasn’t even sure I wanted to spend my life cutting sound — I had happened into it and I was good at it, but it didn’t compel me the way my husband’s career in film production did him.

And then, the game-changer: pregnancy.  My husband and I agreed that we’d be flexible — we’d alternate working and childcare between us. I had no idea how I’d feel post-birth, and I knew no other (female) sound editors with young children.   My husband was experiencing success, so his salary had begun to surpass mine.  It gave us the financial wherewithal so if I wanted to be a “stay-at-home mom,” I could.  

The film industry is tough on any kind of personal life.  Our first child was anxious by nature.  And I had my own plentiful anxieties and a (possibly pathological) sense of responsibility to my children, which I could not have foreseen before motherhood.   Between my early attempts at continuing to work when my eldest was a toddler, and what I’d have to call my intuition about what was right for all of us, I simply stopped trying to “have it all.”  

My sons are 26, 23 and 20 now.  They are what I am most proud of in this world.   But the world isn’t necessarily proud of me back.  My decision was absolutely the right thing for them.  I have not one shred of doubt about that.  However, now that they’re off leading their own lives (a wonderful thing to celebrate) I have to admit that I’m way behind.  I stayed home — as it turned out — to the detriment of my marriage, my resume and my bank account.

At the heart of my discouraging conclusion I see society’s deep distrust and dislike of what has been called women’s work.  Time spent with children — people who are uncivilized, selfish, uneducated and often difficult — is not intellectually stimulating, even if you happen to love children’s books, board games and team sports.  The hours are terrible and the rewards are ephemeral.  Talk to a preschool teacher about it (and so on up the school ladder).  If I want praise for my decision to stay home, it’s up to me to provide it, because I’m not going to find it elsewhere.  If I had even a ounce of native Zen (or came from a less ambitious background and social group) I’d have no regrets.  In another place or time, I’d be resting on my laurels.  As it is, I remain fiercely proud of my decision, and yet (not so privately now) deeply ambivalent. 

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Women's Advocacy in US Government

The US recently claimed at disappointing 17th place on the Economist's "Glass Ceiling Index", an international comparison of gender equal treatment at work.  Earlier this year, the equal rights amendment for gender equality stumbled after an extended stalemate in Congress.  These recent international and domestic losses raise the question of who's accountable for the US' performance on gender issues.  We know that Obama throws weight behind women's reforms, such as his tour this week to discuss career opportunities with female college students, but few Americans could identify who's in charge of women-related policies beyond the President himself.  In fact, many may be surprised that the US organizes it's women's advocacy apparatus markedly differently from other nations, generally decentralizing women's advocacy roles more than other OECD countries and Asian powers.  Notably, the US government has no Cabinet-level gender equality office,  that may create gaps in our protection of women.

The lack of a central gender equality office sets the US apart from its developed peers.  Sweden, an all-star on women's equality and productivity, established a cabinet-level position for women's equality 60 years ago.  The UK introduced the position under Blair in 1997, a move that received enough attention to prompt a Lord to advocate for the male equivalent.   South Korea and Japan followed suit with a Gender Equality Bureau and Ministry respectively, both of which report directly to the PM.  Although the trend seems to be toward empowering women's bureaus abroad, as far as I can tell, an integrated, centralized office has never been tried at home.

The US replaces this type of cabinet-level role with offices lower in the organization trees of federal departments.  Each department is responsible for gender advocacy within a single public service, though we hope that these pieces would interface together to address holistic priorities for women:

 Table 1: Key Federal Departments with Women/Gender Focus

Public service







Department of Health Services Women's Health Division


The Office on Women's Health provides national leadership and coordination to improve the health of women and girls through policy, education and model programs.

Food Safety


FDA Office of Women’s Health (OWH)


Established by Congressional mandate in 1994, the office's mission of the office is to: Protect and advance the health of women through policy, science, and outreach and to advocate for the participation of women in clinical trials and for sex, gender, and subpopulation analyses.



Women's Education Equity Program


This program promotes education equity for women and girls through competitive grants. The program designates most of its funding for local implementation of gender-equity policies and practices. Projects may be funded for up to four years.



U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau


The Bureau develops policies and standards and conducts inquiries to safeguard the interests of working women; to advocate for their equality and economic security  and to promote quality work environments

Business ownership


Small Business Administration: Office of Women's Business Ownership


The office's mission is to establish and oversee Women’s Business Centers in  the US to help women, especially those who are economically or socially disadvantaged, to start and grow their businesses

Foreign policy


State Department Office of Global Women's Issues


The office seeks to ensure that women’s issues are fully integrated in the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policy, to promote stability, peace, and development by empowering women politically, socially, and economically

Decentralizing power over women's issues surely has implications for American women.  What might our current structure miss?

While grocery shopping in Malaysia on Sunday, I was pleasantly surprised to find parking spots reserved for solo women to shorten their nighttime walk to their cars.  The reserved spots were introduced by the Ministry for Women, an office reporting directly to the Prime Minister.  The same office also introduced a women's marathon recently to raise money for women-specific causes.  To choose an example closer to home (at least historically), the UK Ministry of Gender Equality helped to legalize the  use of women-only shortlists in selecting parliamentary candidates, and banned employers from discouraging employees from discussing their pay (a practice that disadvantages generally lower-paid women).

I wonder whether our lack of a central office masterminding and coordinating efforts makes initiatives that fall between the purviews of specific departments less likely in the US?  Imagine a patient with the choice between five specialists or one integrated care doctor.  Seeing all those specialists separately can create gaps in diagnoses and treatments.  In the same way, a single entity empowered with a holistic view of gender equality conditions across policy-making domains may be best positioned to pioneer successful solutions.

Although Americans are inclined to keep powers decentralized and therefore in check, understanding the risks to the model will help us to plug the gaps.  The US boasts a very active women's advocacy private sector, with organizations such as Catalyst and NOW, but private groups cannot touch domains that are distinctly public (e.g. parking space allocation).  Responsibility for the space between federal agencies' may fall on individual politicians who happen to be women, but no representative should be held to (or relied on) to push any agenda.  Given that international benchmarks continue to show room to improve on behalf of women, it is worth considering whether our central government can do more to fill the spaces in between the dispersion of women's advocacy.


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A Yale Woman in a Man’s World

Yale Women. In September 1972, our class consisted of 1000 MALE LEADERS and as a side thought, about 200 “girls.” Apparently THE alumni (you know, those old codgers with kids of college age, which is now us) wanted to be sure their sons would get in. I always wonder about their daughters—never mind. We knew we were a big change: after all, the first class that admitted women as freshmen were seniors our first year. Maybe I was at Yale because a girl from my high school was one of those ’73 women. 

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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | March 2014

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | March 2014

  • A Letter from YaleWomen Chair Ellen Gibson MicGinnis
  • From the Desk of the YaleWomen 50/50 Media Initiative
  • Join the Yale Day of Service!
  • Attention Writers!
  • Join the First Yale Asian Alumni Reunion – Register by March 24
  • Partner Spotlight: Yale Women’s Leadership Initiative Conference Recap
  • Now Accepting Applications
  • Support YaleWomen
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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | December 2013

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | December 2013

  • YaleWomen Conference Wins AYA Award
  • YaleWomen Chapters Take a Look at Mentorship
  • Major Gifts Endow New Women’s Health Research Professorship
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner on Why She and Her Husband Endowed the WHRY Professorship
  • #Yale4Good Celebrates Social Media for Social Good
  • Want to Paint Yale's First Female Ph.D.s? WFF is Seeking Artists
  • Join the YaleWomen Council!
  • Support YaleWomen
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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | September 2013

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | September 2013

  • What's in YaleWomen for You
  • Yale Couple Endows New Named Women's Health Research 'Pioneer' Award
  • Partner Spotlight: Yale Women Faculty Forum
  • Keeping up with YaleWomen
  • Support YaleWomen Without Leaving Your Desk
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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | June 2013

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | June 2013

  • YaleWomen Conference Message Lives On
  • Updates from YaleWomen Chapters, Outreach and Recruitment
  • Partner Spotlight: The Women’s Campaign School at Yale University Celebrates 20 Years of Inspiring and Training Women to Lead
  • Call for YaleWomen to Join the Women's Leadership Initiative Network
  • Keep Up with YaleWomen News
  • News from the Reunions
  • Show Your Support for YaleWomen
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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | March 2013

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | March 2013

  • YaleWomen Conference Update
  • Updates from YaleWomen Chapters
  • Campus Partner Profile: The Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Yale
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YaleWomen Global Newsletter | December 2012

YaleWomen Global Newsletter | December 2012

  • Announcing our Spring Global Conference
  • AYA Assembly: Reflections from Yale Medal Recipients
  • Updates from YaleWomen Chapters
  • Partner Highlight: Women’s Health Research at Yale
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