The first thing that went wrong was that we started deserting our villages. Back in the early ’60s when the feminist Second Wave was new, leading feminists defamed domesticity in an effort to jolt women out of homes. They assumed that the post-war technology advances that had made housework a less time-consuming job wouldn’t prove motivating enough. Women would be too complacent about professional life unless they equated the job of a housewife with something horrible, like slavery. (This would be not the last time feminists demeaned real suffering by equating the plight of educated white women to atrocities, nor the last time they took such a condescending view of their own.)
Professionally, the defamation gambit worked. Inspired and energized, women surged back to school and took to professional life with vigor. Of course, these original Second Wave feminists could use their mothers, aunts, older children, and older housewives not caught up in the movement as their village to care for their young children. The problem didn’t present until that village passed on.
When that happened, women of the ’80s tried to be the do-it-all Enjoli power woman. Enjoli was a perfume with a catchy and cheesy commercial, in which a woman changed from business suit to apron to sexy nightgown while crooning, “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever let you forget you’re a man.” The actress in the commercial looked well rested. The actual women who attempted this stunt at home were not.
By the ’90s, new advice greeted the college-bound women of Generation X. We could still have it all, just not all at once. But our mothers still worried about women’s professional resolve in the face of motherhood. As a result, the new advice replaced the Feminine Mystique, the old assumption that a woman must fulfill wife and mother duties before all else, with the Career Mystique, the new assumption that we must establish our careers first. Dutiful and optimistic daughters, we embarked on fabulous careers, which were plentiful and well paid in the late ’90s and early 2000s.
And that’s when we razed the village.
ShareIt was a slow burn. Over the next 20 years, the “career first” advice brought fewer children to become older siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles—essential members of the childcare village of old. Our career pursuits often led us far from family, anyway. The career building single doesn’t need a village. We didn’t need it, and didn’t miss it until we started a family. (Read more.)