What's Wrong with Being an Alpha Wife?

by Leslie Morgan Steiner


Lisa Belkin’s 2003 New York Times Magazine article “Abandoning the Climb and Heading Home” pissed me off.


It still ticks me off seven years later.


Don’t get me wrong. I like Lisa Belkin and her work. She raises lots of important mom-issues in her blog, The Motherlode, on a mainstream newspaper website read by millions every day. Yahoo.


But back in 2003, I failed to see how one journalist’s interpretation of eight women who graduated from Princeton in the late 1980s could possibly capture the complicated, chaotic, joyful and perplexing reality facing the 80 million moms in America today. The subtext to Belkins’ piece infuriated me: “See – all those feminists and hard-working, ambitious women were wrong---when a woman truly has a choice, she naturally chooses to be home mining the joys of diapers, playdates, laundry and cooking homemade organic vegetable stew, because a woman’s place really is in the home.”


Why don't women run the world? Belkin wrote.


Maybe it's because they don't want to.


“No!” I’ve been screaming in my head since the day I read that. “I – and so many of the incredibly smart moms I know -- DO want to run the world! We haven’t abandoned any of our career ambitions! We’ve got tons of killer ideas about how to make our world safer and more equitable and kinder. And the education and skills to make them reality. We’d just like to be able to pick our kids up from school while changing the world!”


You have summed it up so well!


I fully agree!

The corporate world has the very prominent rule that in order to reach the highest levels of achievement, you have to minimize your own human needs and tendencies. You're supposed to act like you've got nothing else to be doing except working.

Why is this? Because face time and unlimited effort still win the day in many workplaces. And there is always someone who will stay later, do one more document, send that email at 2am, while you are off picking up your kids and acting like a human.

The move towards results-based evaluation offers a glimmer of hope, but the fact is that in those upper echelons, the levels that tend to be reached by folks with lofty degrees, things lag about 20 years behind. Still. Remember, in those high levels, the work IS the culture, it IS people's lives. They don't want to share that with people who in their view are dabbling before they go home to coach baseball.

What we should be fighting for, in addition to the worthy items listed here, is a move toward evaluating people for their results. If I get a project done in an hour, and it's really good, and then I need to go and pick up my kid, that should be okay. Not because it's nice, but because it's good business.

Hourly work will continue to be a problem because it is directly opposed to spending your time on non-work activities. So industries like consulting and law will lag even farther behind.