Cancelling “Composite Man”
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
I was recently the keynote speaker for a group of “young presidents,” a group of 80 men (and one woman) who’d become presidents of significantly-sized companies by the time they were 40. An impressive, articulate, boisterous group.
My subject? Work/life balance. These presidents don’t know much about work/life balance, naturally. That’s why they paid me to talk. Metaphorically speaking, I painted a huge bull’s eye during my speech on wives and female employees, and how true work/life balance comes only when the women in your company and your home have balance too. For an hour I lectured them about how:
- Women today are the world’s most talented human resource
- Women control $1.7 trillion in annual purchasing; influencing 85% of purchase decisions
- When highly educated, accomplished women marry equally ambitious men it creates a “squeeze” situation that can be harder on moms than dads
- Cultural pressures strike women to be primary childcare providers and to set impossibly high standards because women think we must be smart enough to “have it all”
- Flexibility is free to most employers and priceless to working moms!
- Establish programs to let us leave/welcome us back!
- You must employ us to understand us!
- Don’t assume or stereotype: Ask us what we want!
Okay, you get the picture – maybe I was getting a tad strident. But to my delight and a little to my surprise, the men were extremely receptive. I guess this open-mindedness is part of why they’ve all become uber-successful businessmen at such young ages. I was also surprised by their willingness to learn from the bumbling mistakes they’ve made with women in the office and at home.
But nothing surprised me as much as a lesson one man in the audience taught me.
After I banged them over the head for an hour about being more sensitive to women in the boardroom, the laundry room and the bedroom, we were kicking back and trading stories about our home lives. The “boys” (and this is part of their appeal – they do seem like boys) were ribbing each other about their wives’ complaints.
“My favorite is Composite Man,” the head of a deck chair company explained. “My wife never complains directly about me. She just picks her favorite parts of her old boyfriends and her friends’ husbands, and asks me why I’m not more like them. And of course she leaves out all their faults. ”
I’d never heard the term “Composite Man.” But I blushed because I realized that I -- the supposed expert in the ring --do the same thing to my husband every day. And I’ve done it for YEARS. Sometimes I complain openly to him – other times just silently in my head. Why can’t he be a better listener like his best friend? Taller like my high school boyfriend? More organized like my best friend’s husband? On time like our son’s teacher?
My guess is that many women have this inner dialogue. So I’m not alone. But that doesn’t make it right. Men can be so blessedly practical – and I’m not being pragmatic when I treat my husband like a doll I can cut and paste, as seductive as that game can be. Everyone is a package deal, with great strengths and a few weaknesses.
Including, um, MOI. It’s not lost on me that if my husband or any man ever compared me to Composite Woman – a brain like Hillary Clinton, legs like Heidi Klum, a paycheck like Oprah, patience like Mother Teresa, a butt like J. Lo’s -- I’d pull out his toenails with my teeth.
Especially because my butt IS like J. Lo’s.
So I came home clutching a new piece to add to my own personal work/life puzzle. Acceptance. Composite Man, welcome to the compost pile.