YAEL LEVITTE: Good afternoon, everybody. Can you hear me? Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to the seventh Robert Harris Jr. Advancements in Science Lecture. I'm Yael Levitte, an Associate Vice Provost for Faculty Development and Diversity and from the same office with [INAUDIBLE]. And that's the office that is sponsoring today's talk.
For the past year, Advancements in Science brought nationally recognized speakers to Cornell to address campus community audiences on gender and broader diversity issues in higher education. Among our guests were, last year, Claude Steele, who shared with us his research on stereotype threat; the late Chuck Vest, former President of both MIT and the National Academy of Engineering, who offered his insights on women in the sciences; and Nan Keohane, former President of Duke and Wellesley College, to discuss women's pathways into leadership. And she offered up a view of how the academy can be reenvisioned for women and men.
In two days, on March 8, the International Women's Day will be celebrated around the world. And the UN has chosen this year's theme to be equality for women as progress for all. Today's talk will highlight how women's lives have and have not changed and progressed over the past 40 years and the complex challenges they still confront.
I'd like to invite the Provost Fuchs to join in welcoming you and introducing our distinguished speaker, Debora Spar. Provost Fuchs' commitment to increasing the representation and improving the climate for women at Cornell has been evident in the policies that he instituted just this year.
This fall, he announced two important policies related to accountability structures and academic hiring, and to establishing core meeting hours for faculty business meetings. Please join me in welcoming him.
KENT FUCHS: Yael. And thanks to each of you for being here. You're in for a real treat with this lecture. This lecture series was launched by a National Science Foundation program here at Cornell called the ADVANCE program.
And this annual lectureship, which you've heard about some of the past speakers is called the Advancements Lecture Series. And it was inaugurated by the ADVANCE program, which is now sponsored out of the Senior Vice Provost for Academic Affairs Office, John Siliciano, and with Yael, who also works in that office.
This-- the program here at Cornell, over the past five plus years, has had a lot of positive impact. And I know that our speaker today, President Spar, will give us ideas about how we can do even more. I want to quote a few statistics for you about the past five to 10 years.
And the theme of this is that we're making progress in this area, growing the percentage and the number of female faculty across the university, particularly in areas related to science, engineering, and mathematics. So a decade ago, we had 24% of our tenure track and tenured faculty were women here in Ithaca. And as of last year, that number has grown to 30%.
So the theme is we're making progress, but a lot of work to be done. So over the past two years, we've hired at the medical college 188 faculty who are in the tenure track ranks. And nearly half of those have been women. Here in Ithaca, we're not quite keeping up with the medical school. We've hired 150 faculty in tenure track or tenured positions. And of that number, 37% of those 150 are women.
In 2006, when we were about to launch the ADVANCE program here at Cornell, we had 31 of the 52 departments, the academic departments in areas related to science, technology, engineering, and math-- 31 out of those 52 departments had 20% or fewer women on the faculty in those departments, 31. As of today, that 31 has dropped to 19, of which we're proud.
And that's primarily due to the programs from the ADVANCE initiative and the leadership and involvement of faculty, department chairs, and deans across the entire university, as well as support staff with the university. So progress that's measurable, but yet a lot of work to be done.
I won't mention to you some of the policy changes that are accompanying the faculty recruitment and retention that's going on. But there's been work that's been done there as well, tenure clock extensions, policies related to child care, et cetera.
So as I said, success that we want to celebrate, because there's been a huge amount of work that's been invested. And we owe all of those that have worked on this over the past 10 years a real debt of gratitude of work to be done.
So now, let's introduce our speaker. President Debora L Spar has served as the president of Barnard College since 2008. And among her initiatives there have included the Athena Center for Leadership Studies, which is an interdisciplinary center focused on women's leadership. The college also sponsors the global symposium series, which is held in different regions of the world each year, and it also features female leaders.
President Spar is a political scientist educated at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service, and she received a PhD from Harvard University in government. And she taught for 17 years at the Harvard Business School, where she was the Spangler Family Professor of Business Administration and also the Senior Associate Dean for Faculty Research and Development.
Her books include Ruling the Waves-- Cycles of Invention, Chaos, and Wealth, From the Compass to the Internet in 2001; The Baby Business-- How Money, Science, and Politics Drive Commerce of Conception, 2006; and her most recent book, Wonder Women-- Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection, which was just published this past September.
Please join me in welcoming President Debora Spar. Debora.
DEBORA SPAR: What's not on my CV anymore, but I should mention is that my very first book, The Cooperative Edge, was published by Cornell University Press. So I was delighted, as I drove by this morning, to say my book used to be there a long time ago. So I've always been grateful for that.
So thank you very much for inviting me here today. Thank you all for being here. And I want to run pretty quickly through some of the book's major themes and arguments.
And in order to get to that point, I will tell you a little bit about how I came to write the book, because I've discovered in the past few months of giving these talks that describing the path by which I came to write this book, because it wasn't an obvious book for me, in many ways tells you the entire story of the book. And I will try to stop talking in time to leave room for your questions, because that's always a very interesting part of the conversation.
So the book really asks two very straightforward and unsurprising questions. The first is where do American women stand today? And the second, which sort of answers the first, is how come we haven't come farther?
And most people presume understandably that I decided to write the book once I became president of Barnard College, a women's college, sort of an institution that has always been deeply embedded in feminist theory. But in fact, the genesis of the book came much earlier.
I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit I've been working on this book for about eight years. And the genesis came when I was at Harvard Business School. And I have to say, by way of background, that-- and you maybe might have picked this up from the quick recital of my previous books-- I've never really worked on women's issues before. So sort of mea culpa.
I was one of these people who grew up kind of ignoring feminism and even worse, perhaps, sort of ignoring the fact that I was female. I was very much aware of this, of course. But I somehow managed to get a PhD in political science without ever taking a single course in feminist theory, a single course in women's studies, something that now drives my colleagues at Barnard kind of nuts.
But I was never a member of the women's students organization. I was never a member of the women's faculty organizations. I kind of put all that stuff to the side for better or worse, until kind of one day at Harvard Business School, rather late in my life.
By this point, I was tenured at Harvard Business School and had, again, sort of devoutly ignored these issues, until one of my colleagues called me on the phone, perfectly nice guy, and laid out a request that I'm sure every single woman in this room has heard many times over, depending on your age.
And he said-- I forget exactly what the commitment was-- and he said, Deb, I really need you to come do this panel, this symposium, this conference, whatever it was. He said, I know you don't know anything about the topic. But don't worry. You'll be great, and they'll love your energy. And it'll be wonderful.
And-- and then his voice went down a notch-- we really need a woman. And even though I had heard that phrase a million times before, something cracked in me that day. And I said, you know what? No. I said, you know what else? I will never again say yes to any request that comes attached to that phrase, "and we really need a woman."
And I've held fast to that. And in the eight years since that day, I have never said yes to any request with the added clause, "and we really need a woman." I'm pretty sure I've said yes to many things where they actually meant "and we really need a woman." But as long as they had the good grace not to mouth those words, I was OK.
But this crack occurred in me one day. And then, right around the same time, you may recall there was a fair amount of tumult at Harvard University for a while. These were the Larry Summers years. And in the course of this, the Harvard Business School, where I was on the faculty, went through a series of dean changes.
And over a relatively short period of time, every single one of the deans and the dean-like equivalents invited me into their office and asked me exactly the same thing. They would close their door.
Again, the voice would go down a notch. And they say, Deb, I really need you to solve the women's problem, as if there was some magic switch that existed only in my office. And if I could flick it, the problem would get solved.
Now, if you managed to read the big article in The New York Times this summer about the status of women at Harvard Business School, you will know that I failed miserably in doing anything to address the status of women at Harvard Business School. But I did realize that there was a problem and that even though I had been sort of blind to it or had been ignoring it, that there really was a problem.
And I hasten to add I don't think in any way this was a problem that was specific to Harvard Business School. But it was a problem that very much existed at Harvard Business School and at Yale and at Princeton and I'm sure at Cornell and at every other elite organization and institution in this country.
And so I started thinking about it a little bit more. And I realized, just within the confines of my own narrow life, I had seen this problem and experienced this problem and seen its effects.
And I thought back. And about this time, I was in my early 40s. And I had gone to school at Georgetown School of Foreign Service and had a wonderful crowd of very smart, very ambitious, very motivated female friends.
And yet, by this point in our lives, in our early 40s, I was kind of the only one still working. Then, I thought closer to home. I had started, like sadly perhaps many of the faculty cohorts you just described-- I had started in a cohort of 20 junior professors, half men, half women.
And by this point in time, I was the only woman who had gotten tenured. One more subsequently to me was tenured. But essentially half of the men had gotten tenured, and only one woman.
Most worrisomely of all, by this point in my career, I had taught literally thousands of Harvard students. And I'm sure, like all the students in this room, they were very smart, very motivated, very ambitious, and had just paid an absurd sum of money for an MBA. And yet, as I watched their careers and their lives play out, most of the men went on to become captains of industry, heads of startup technology companies, hedge fund managers. And very, very few of the women had.
Some did. And some did spectacularly well. But the disparity between the men's careers and the women's careers was striking. And this, again, is among a crowd of already very ambitious, very motivated, very successful young women.
So academic that I am, I started looking for some data. And the data lines up pretty clearly with what your provost just laid out, although it's a bit more depressing. And the basic data is that pretty much regardless of what sector you look at in the United States, women max out at somewhere between 15% to 20% of the positions of power.
And just to give you a couple of numbers, women today constitute 16% of partners at the major law firms, 15.2% of board members of Fortune 500 companies. The board numbers are so low that if one woman goes on or off, it actually changes the number. You know, Sally goes off, and it's down to 14.8. 19% of surgeons, 18% of congressional representatives.
The numbers are so consistent that I refer to them in my book as the 16% ghetto. And I found that shocking. I knew anecdotally that the numbers were low. I didn't know how consistent they were. I would have thought that it might be 12% women in some sectors and 38% in others. Every sector is between 15% and 20%.
I was in Hong Kong on Monday, and I quickly scrambled to get the Hong Kong statistics. Every single number in Hong Kong is between 15% and 20%. Very different culture, very different society, still stuck in the 16% ghetto.
Now, I don't know exactly what accounts for this 15% to 20% number. But let me just throw out a word for your consideration. And that word sadly is "tokenism," because think of what happens just out there in the real world. Most committees, most groups of people who run things are roughly 10 people. If you think about boards of directors, management committees, strategic operating committees, they tend to be around 10 people.
So what's happening perhaps? Somewhere, there is this realization that oops, we really need a woman. So we got to get at least one over the hurdle. We've got at least person of color in the group. If we get them both in the same person, that's really good.
But once we've got one or two, we're done. And if you sat through these groups, as I have, you see this at work. If a woman steps out of the group, there is a scramble to find another woman. But once that box has been ticked, everyone else you see the next time around tends to be a middle aged white guy. So I just throw that out there for your consideration.
And what makes these numbers, I think, even more depressing-- and again, I won't ask you directly, but it would be interesting to look at what the statistics are like here-- that it's not a pipeline problem anymore. So it used to be, several decades, we could blame the lack of women at the top on the lack of women at the entry level.
But that's not true anymore. So 50% of your entering class of faculty may be female. What happens though when you actually get to the top levels, to the tenured positions, to the top of the pyramid? And if we look at what's happening demographically right now, girls are outdoing boys in high school.
Girls are doing better on the SATs. They are the high school yearbook editors. They are the valedictorians, to the point where at many colleges-- I don't know if this is true at Cornell-- boys have become affirmative action candidates, because colleges, for all the right reasons, want to have roughly gender parity. But the girls are doing so much better that the boys are getting a little bit of an extra boost in the admissions process, except at Barnard where we can't take them.
And if you look at college performance, young women do every bit as well in terms of grades at most colleges, although at a few places like Princeton, where they've started to look carefully at this, they don't do as well in terms of getting leadership positions. But they're doing every bit as well academically.
Women are more than 50% of medical school students in this country, way more than 50% in veterinary schools. They are close to 50% in law schools, low 40s in business schools, which fall off a little bit more, and lower in engineering, which is, I'm sure as many of you in this room know, a bit of an outlier.
Women today are getting 70% of PhDs in the natural sciences, 70%. So we don't have a pipeline problem at the education level. And when you look at entry level jobs, whether they be assistant professors, investment banking analysts, first-year law associates, women are roughly at parity. The problem is once they begin to ascend the pyramid, that's where we're losing the women.
So as I started looking at these issues in more depth, when I was still at Harvard Business School, I started to play around with the idea for a book that at the time I was calling Confessions of a Reluctant Feminist. That is still the right title for this book. It is a confessional book. It's confessional because, to a certain extent, there's a mea culpa-ness coming out, because I came to this question so late in my own life.
Also, as I'll say more about in a moment, the book has a bit more of my personal story than I originally intended to include. But it is partly a confessional book. And it is the book of a reluctant feminist. And I say that I'm a reluctant feminist, not because I have anything against feminism at all. I just wish we didn't need it anymore. So my reluctance is a sadness that kind of 50 years on, we're still talking about these issues and fighting for these issues.
I did also learn, though, when the time came to sell this book, that there is no publisher in New York City who will publish a book with the word "feminist" in the title, because nobody will buy books with the word "feminist" in the title, which is why my book now has "sex" in the title. I regret to inform you there's actually not much sex in the book. But it does help with these sales, apparently.
So I want to tell you one more little anecdote, and then I will get into the actual argument of the book. And the anecdote-- this is part of the confessional moment. About, again, sort of seven or eight years ago, I was just having a bad day. And it was not a tragic day. Nobody died. Nobody got sick. It was just a bad day.
And it started out looking like a good day. It was one of these days when I was reveling in the fact that I was an academic and I apparently had flexibility in my life. And so I had chosen to stay home, as I'm sure many people in this room have, because I had to write a presentation.
And I was giving a talk that evening on stem cell technology, a topic about which I know nothing. And I was giving the talk at Harvard Medical School. And I'm pretty good at winging it, but I can't do stem cell technology in front of Harvard Medical School.
So I had taken a whole day to try and cobble this thing together. And just as I'm sitting down, getting ready to start writing, my son, who at that point was a high school senior and was also staying home, because he was submitting his college applications, and began this sort of frantic, desperate running up and down the stairs.
He forgot his social security number. He lost his transcript. He couldn't find his inoculations. And everything involved something that only I could help him with.
So as I'm trying to deal with him and think about the stem cell paper, son number two calls, much more insistent than son number one, and let me know in no uncertain terms that he had 42 after school activities that day that he needed to be driven to and that I should somehow figure out how we were going to map out this schedule.
But I wouldn't be able to get in touch with him, because he had just dropped his cell phone under a moving car. So I should kind of figure this out. And as I'm dealing with this, my daughter calls much more sweetly to let me know that she has forgotten her soccer uniform, her Hebrew homework, her piano books, everything she needed, and could I please deal with that as well.
The day is now ticking, ticking by. And the stem cell paper is going nowhere. Then, the cat shows up with a half dead chipmunk in her mouth, which, in the way of all cats, she graciously displays at my feet. Now, if it had been a dead chipmunk, I would have been OK. But it was half dead, and it was lying there, bleeding and dying on my rug.
And I had no idea how to cope with this thing. So I'm sort of trying to get the chipmunk into the dust pan. And I took the cat's food, and I gave it to the chipmunk, because that seemed only fair.
And in the midst of this, my very sweet husband, who was kind enough to drive me 4 and 1/2 hours today from New York, calls me. And he's in Buffalo, where there has now been a freak snow storm. It's only like September. And even though he was supposed to be home that night to help deal with the chaos, the airport's closed. And the rental cars are closed. And there's trees everywhere. And he's not going to be home for like 9 and 1/2 months.
But he says very sweetly, is there anything I can do to help? Needless to say, the day did not go well. I wrote none of my stem cell paper. I did, in fact, have to go to Harvard Medical School and kind of fake it, although I did get some very good advice on rodent resuscitation from all the doctors who were in the audience.
And I came home. And of course, the chipmunk was dead, which was very tragic at the moment. And I realized at that particular moment, I had only two choices. I could either kill somebody, which was my first option. Or I could just write it all down.
And thankfully, I chose the nonviolent option, and I just wrote this whole day down, which was cathartic. I felt better. I put it in the drawer of my desk. And I forgot about it.
Now, fast forward. I'm now at Barnard College, and The Wall Street Journal has this very brilliant, but very sadistic idea of an article they're going to write just at the time that kids are finding out their college admissions. They called up 10 college presidents and asked us if we would agree to write one of our own admissions essays.
It's very clever. The mean part was that they wouldn't tell us the question until we committed to writing the answer. So I said yes. I was naive. It was my first year. I thought this was a good thing. And then, of course, they gave me world's worst question. Describe an average day in your life and how you find solace in routine, a question that I will let you know is no longer on the Barnard admissions page, but it was at that time.
I had no idea how to answer this horrible question. But I did know enough about college applications to know you never actually answer the question. You try and turn it upside down and say something clever. And bizarrely, I remembered this chipmunk story.
So I took the chipmunk story out of where I had stored it years ago, and I just wrote three sentences that I attached to the beginning. And I said I so wish I had an average day, but as any working mother knows, you have no such thing as a routine. Sent it off to The Wall Street Journal.
And by this point in my life, I had written many books and many articles and tons of Harvard cases. Nothing I ever wrote got as big a response as this silly story in The Wall Street Journal, so that, truthfully, for two years after that thing was published, people would come up to me at conferences and fancy events and go, you're the dead chipmunk lady, which is never a title I aspired to.
But I realized I had struck a chord, because even though no human being in the history of this planet had had the same day as my dead chipmunk day, every working mother, every working parent had had that day. They had had a day where no matter how smart they were and how hard they were working and how organized they were and how wonderful their partner was, everything was falling apart. And they felt, like I had felt, that they had no control over it.
And so the writer in me seized on this story. And when it came time to write the book, I actually wrote the book around a series of these vignettes. For better or worse, the idea of the book was not just to attack the issue of women's status the way social scientists usually do, through data and analysis, but also to try and tell the personal story.
And as you'll see, and you'll see in greater depth if you read the book, part of what I'm arguing here is that the frustration that women feel has an awful lot to do with their inner selves. It's not just that the data are so bad and that the workplace remains such a tough environment. It's that we are putting expectations on ourselves that are making us, at the end of the day, miserable.
So the book revolves around a series of these vignettes. And what it does sort of critically, for better or worse, is once I made the decision to tell my personal story in part, I really had to tell the story of women of my generation.
Why did I tell the story of women of my generation? Because it's the only generation I know. It's the only one I have. But I think my generation is actually a critical piece of understanding where women stand today, because my generation was the first post-feminist generation.
So just to give you a little bit of the quick history, I was born in 1963, which turns out in retrospect to have been a crucial year in the history of feminism. 1963 was the year Betty Friedan's book The Feminine Mystique came out.
I was giving a version of this speech a couple of weeks ago at the New York Historical Society. And an older woman came up to me afterwards. And she said, I have to tell you, I was in a book group in 1963. And we all read The Feminine Mystique.
The next week, we all went out and got jobs, and the book group never met again, which is a lovely story, but a powerful story. That's how important Betty Friedan's book was. It was one of those rare books that really changed the social order.
And in very rapid succession, not as a direct result of her book, but just because the world was moving very quickly in those years-- if I look back at what happened between 1963 when I was born and roughly 1975, '76, when I became vaguely conscious of the world around me, John F Kennedy was assassinated. Martin Luther King was assassinated. Woodstock came and went very quickly.
The Vietnam War came and also went, so that women of my generation actually weren't personally affected by the Vietnam War, whereas women just five or certainly 10 years older were deeply affected. Women my age, we just weren't. We were too young.
The sexual revolution came. The feminist revolution came. Roe v Wade was passed. And yet women of my age were too young to stay up for any of it, which I actually mean very seriously, because the history that happens while you're alive but still a child is always in ancient history to you.
And any of you who have teenagers or little kids, ask your kids what they think of the internet. They look at you like you're an idiot, right? Because to people my age, the internet is technology. To kids, the internet just is. It's like asking adults, what do you think of air?
The history that happens when you're a kid is always ancient to you. And it's very hard to be analytical about it. And if you look at what's happened demographically for women of my age, we tend not to be big political supporters of reproductive rights.
It's not because we're not in favor of reproductive rights. It's just that we never had to fight for them, because if you're born in 1963, by the time sex even becomes vaguely a possibility, we had access to contraception. We had access to abortion. Whereas women just 10 years older than I was had to fight for these things. We didn't.
And so there's actually a huge generational gap in the first post-feminist generation. And what happened as a result, and I'm speaking personally for sure, but I think anecdotally this is true for many women of my age, we didn't see ourselves as feminists.
Why not? Because feminists were older than we were. And think about it as just as teenagers. How many teenagers get really excited by their parents' battles? Very few. They're not cool. They're just not cool. You want to fight your own battles. And if you were born in '63 and came of age of whatever, '73, '75, feminism felt like an old battle already.
And one of the most interesting things I did in terms of the research for this book was to go back and read what the mainstream media was saying about feminism in '73, '74, '75. And it wasn't very attractive. So even if you were a pretty smart kid and you were reading Time and Newsweek, the image you got of feminism was very clear.
Feminists were angry. They hated men. And they spent all their time burning bras, none of which, of course, were true. But if you read it at 12 in Time and Newsweek, it felt true.
And so what you see demographically, again, is that many, many women of my generation aren't like women, again, just 10 years older than us. We didn't become feminists. I wasn't the only reluctant feminist. Instead, what women of my age were seeing and were bombarded with was this. OK, if you're of a certain age and you grew up in this country, you remember this ad.
This was the ad for Charlie perfume. And it is a brilliant, brilliant advertisement. Charlie perfume went on to become one of the best selling perfumes of all time. Now, the perfume itself is terrible. Somebody actually found me a bottle recently. And I don't think it's gotten better with age. But it wasn't great even when it came out.
But look at what the ad does. The ad is absolutely brilliant, because with very, very few words, almost no words, because your eye doesn't go down here, it is selling you the image of the modern woman. The ad came out in 1973.
And look what it's saying about the modern woman. First of all, she's gorgeous. This was Shelley Hack, who was one of the premiere models of her generation, very fashionable. And she's clearly a working woman.
How do you know she's a working woman? Because she's got the briefcase, like thrown behind her as an afterthought. So you know she's going to work. But she's not like stressing out about her stem cell technology presentation, right? She's just going to work. And it's all going to be good.
And in another ad, she's got the briefcase in one hand, and she's got a baby in the other, right? And again, she's not worried about subsidized child care. She's not fretting that the kid's got 104. No, she's just going to work. And the baby's going somewhere. And it's all good.
And in the television versions of these, she goes into a bar at the end. And Ray Charles is sitting there, crooning at her and squirting her with perfume. I thought my life was going to be like this. Now, I didn't really think my life was going to be like this. But I kind of did.
And it wasn't just that I'm particularly naive. It's just that if you were a girl growing up in the 1970s, and you were upper middle class and relatively well-educated, these were the images that were surrounding you. Feminists were ugly and uninteresting over here. And then there's Charlie.
And everyone around you growing up in the '70s, because this is the post-feminist age, is telling you, if you're a relatively smart girl, you can do whatever you want. You can be what you want. Barbie was an astronaut. OK, you have to worry about what zero gravity would have done to her, but Barbie was an astronaut.
And everything seemed possible. And without getting too carried away, this is what we were seeing on television at the same time, Charlie's Angels. And the Charlie girl also became a Charlie's Angel just to complicate things.
But now, of course, this is fiction, and it's absurd. But again, this was what working women were supposed to be like. OK, again, they're models. They're financially independent. They're ridding the world of evildoers. They have a male boss they never see. And they're doing it in bikinis.
This looks pretty good. And this was the general image, again, exaggerated belief. But this was the general image that women of my age grew up with. And of course, what was happening, by the time we started applying to college, the Ivy League was coed, with the exception of Columbia, which was a little bit slow.
We could go anywhere in the Ivy League. We could go into the once all-male clubs that were being forced open. We really did feel like we could be whatever we wanted. And it was only later in life, I argue, that the harsher realities of what it meant to be female actually came back to haunt us.
And as a result of these sort of cultural pressures and this particular moment in time, I argue in the book that women of my generation made two huge mistakes. The first mistake we made was that we privatized feminism. Feminism was always about a political movement. It was a collective action designed to try and improve the lot of all women and of all people.
But somehow, because women of my generation didn't actually read the fine print, we turned feminism inside out. And we were the ones who made it about a struggle for personal perfection-- how I look, what kind of job I get, how good my kid's SAT scores are. We turned it inside out.
And if you think about what was happening societally, there was a massive movement towards privatization in the early 1980s. Or as somebody wrote in a different context, the free love of Woodstock very rapidly became the free markets of the Reagan years. Think about it. There's only 12 years between Woodstock and Reagan, but there was a massive cultural shift.
Or as one of the early feminists who was kind enough to read my book and manuscript reminded me-- she said, honey, we didn't fight so you could have Botox. But it's a very good phrase to capture what happened in the imagination of many women.
The second major mistake we made, my generation made-- and this wasn't because anyone had evil intent; it just kind of happened-- was that we ratcheted up the expectations that we place on ourselves and on women.
So think about what happened. In the bad old days, pre-feminism, there were a certain set of expectations that had always been attached to women-- be relatively attractive, find a man, have children, take care of them. That was it-- unfair, repressive, but very clear cut.
Now, fast forward to feminism. And now, feminism creates this wonderful new set of opportunities. You can be an astronaut. You can be a nuclear scientist. You can be a Supreme Court justice. This is wonderful.
But the "cans" very rapidly morphed themselves into "should." Because you can be an astronaut, you should be one. Because you can be a Supreme Court justice, you should strive for it. And yet, at the same time, we never got rid of the older set of expectations.
So now, we are literally saying to young girls, you can be an astronaut, but you should look like Barbie and find a nice guy and settle down. These things rather than making women's lives easier, I'm arguing, actually made them harder in some ways, because we doubled or tripled the expectations that women face.
And I want to give you one anecdote that I think captures this double whammy of expectations. It's a very small anecdote, but I think it just captures the problem that I call in the book the Wonder Woman myth.
So this is Marion Bartoli, whom you may recall won the Women's Singles Championship at Wimbledon last year, 23 years old. Here she is at this moment in time experiencing what probably no one in this room will ever experience. She is for this moment the best person in the world at her chosen pursuit. It's an incredible thing to be the best in the world.
And she shows up for her first interview, televised interview with the BBC, reputable journalist. And her dad had been her coach all the way through her career. And so she sits down for this interview right after this moment. And the journalist looks to her, and he says, so Marion, I guess at some point your father looked at you and said, well, you'll never be a looker, so you might as well play tennis. Live television, the seconds after you've just won Wimbledon.
Now, this is an extreme example. This is what women face every single day, being judged, assessed, evaluated, questioned about things that have nothing to do with their professional attributes. Think about every article that's ever been written on Hillary Clinton. How much more do we need to know about her pantsuits?
But we do, and it's just out there. Think about my current sort of favorite comparison. There's lots and lots of articles written comparing Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein as corporate CEOs. We see lots and lots of comparisons between these two men. Do you know how many children they have?
Do we ever ask if they're good fathers? It just doesn't come up. We don't ask those questions. And yet, any article that's written about Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer talks about who's a better mother, who gets home in time to cook green beans for dinner. We know way more about their clothes, their family lives, their children's lives.
We ask very different questions of women than we do of men. And I think-- again, this is what I call in the book the Wonder Woman myth-- that rather than evaluating women on a single set of characteristics, we're constantly piling stuff on top of them.
So the way-- and I'm just going to very, very rapidly walk you through sort of the progression of the book. The way the book works is I start by setting this cultural, historical context that I laid out a few minutes ago. And then, after that point, every chapter follows a different stage of a woman's life. And this is where I use the vignettes from my own life and those of my friends when I ran out of interesting stories from my own.
But I start with girls. And I think about, and quite frankly, I worry about how we raise girls, because I fear that today we are sending young girls, really from the very early stages, an incredibly complicated and confusing set of messages.
Go into any toy store if you want to see this, because we are saying to young girls, be engineers. Play with blocks. You can like toys and like trucks. But wear a tutu and glitter spray. It's a very confusing set of messages.
And I see-- and I get them at the back end. I get the girls when they're 18, and they're exhausted, because they-- and I think the boys are tired too, but the girls more so. They have been playing traveling soccer since they were four. They've been taking ballet lessons. They all feel they have to start their own NGO before they're 17. And they're kind of exhausted by the time they get to college.
The second chapter looks at beauty and body image. There's no surprises in this chapter, but there's lots of depressing stuff, because recall that one of the core tenets of feminism was that we should stop evaluating women on the basis of their physical attractions. How many people in this room think we've succeeded? OK, none.
I would argue, in fact, that we've gone backwards. And in fact, the standards of physical beauty that are out there right now are higher. They last forever, because you're supposed to look like you're 17 from the time you're three until you're about 92, so far as I can tell, at least in Manhattan, where there is not a wrinkle allowed in the city.
And the models that you're seeing in magazines and on television literally are not real. First of all, they're all 17 and gorgeous to begin with. But then, they're digitally enhanced and Photoshoped.
And even if your average, bright 16-year-old girl knows that, she doesn't really know it. So when she's reading those magazines and she's reading the text that say walk your way to thinner thighs or the broccoli diet, she somehow feels if she doesn't achieve the look of the models, she's failed.
And I just want to show you one picture, because I find this sort of interesting. A while ago, when I was talking about this, somebody said to me, yeah, but at least we don't have corsets anymore. OK. But I'm not sure we've progressed that much.
So if you look-- this is a 19th century corset, and I'm sure was uncomfortable. And you sweat it or whatever. But now, look at the model's figure. It's the same figure. So in the bad old days, you had to achieve this figure, but you had mechanical assistance in achieving it. And at the end of the day, you could take it off, right?
Now, you have to get that figure without the help of anything. So what does it mean? The gym, diets, hamster wheels. This takes a lot more time than putting a corset on. Plus, we do have Spanx, so I'm just not sure that we've actually achieved anything.
So the beauty chapter is really depressing. Then, I have a chapter, and I won't say much about it-- I'm happy in questions-- a chapter on sex, which sadly is also kind of depressing. This is the only sex in the book. But I look at the evolution of sexual norms.
And I raise the question of whether women have really benefited from the aftermath of the sexual revolution. And I talk in particular about the hookup culture, which I suspect is on the Cornell campus as well. I won't ask. But it raises the question that young women now are having sex much in the way that men traditionally have had sex, anonymously, without commitment, without even knowing the guy's name frequently.
And the question is, is that what women really want? If that's what women really want, it's great. But all of the studies indicate that what young women generally want is a commitment and a relationship. And if they're not getting that out of hook up sex, then I'm not sure we've advanced all that much.
And I will say, I put this argument out there with great trepidation, fearful that my students were going to attack me. And they haven't. So I find it kind of interesting that I haven't gotten pushback on this.
The next chapter of the book looks at marriage. And even though I am very happily married for nearly 27 years, I raise the question of why we're still getting married. Marriage is, at its core, an economic contract. If you read any marriage-- any of the traditional marriage ceremonies, it's kind of a real estate deal. The woman is literally given to the man in exchange for something. And there's a bargain there that's explicit.
That bargain no longer applies. Very few couples go into marriage expecting that the wife is only going to produce children and the husband is going to take care of the wife forever. And yet why are we still getting married? And fascinatingly, why are gay couples embracing not just marriage, but the white wedding?
Why are we, in fact, fetishizing the white wedding in a way that still kind of repulses hardcore feminists? And the argument I make-- I'm not sure this is true. I think we as a society are loathe to accept the fact that marriage has actually gotten harder, because, again, we've put so many more expectations on it.
In the bad old days, it was just an economic contract. Now, you're supposed to co-parent and raise organic vegetables together and have this fabulous monogamous sex forever, because you'll live till you're 100, after you've just had 20 years of promiscuous sex.
We haven't quite dealt with this. So I think we throw everything into the white wedding, and we just don't think about the fact that marriage has actually gotten tougher.
And then, there's a chapter on babies, where I make essentially the same argument that sadly we're now not only trying to control our children. We're trying to control our embryos with egg freezing and sperm buying and surrogates and all the things we're doing in reproductive medicine.
And we have this sort of fascination with pregnancy and with perfect birth, and to a point where I think many women feel like failures as mothers before they've even left the hospital, because somehow they haven't had the perfect birth, that horrible book, What to Expect When You're Expecting, tells them to expect. And it's yet another area in which we feel like we are underperforming.
Then, there is only one chapter on the workplace. And the workplace chapter doesn't have any great surprises. But this is where I do go over all the data to talk about the extent to which women are falling out of the pyramid.
And I also make the argument, which is based largely on my personal experience of having gone from Harvard Business School, a very male place, to Barnard College, a very female place, that organizations run by and dominated by women, I think, are different than organizations run by and dominated by men.
It's not a qualitative statement. One is not better than the other. But they're different. And if we put women in male dominated organizations, they're going to have a harder time, just as if we put men in women dominated organizations, they have a harder time.
So how do we really think about diversity in a tangible way, so you create a workplace that is truly not only fair to women and men, but actually functions better?
Then, there's a chapter on housework. This always makes people giggle a little bit. But I think housework and homework is actually a really big part of the story here. This is when my chipmunk comes back into play. But just very briefly, the data on housework are kind of terrifying.
American women still do 33 hours a week of housework. Now, think about that. If you're doing 33 hours a week of housework and 40 hours a week of a job, paid job, you can just barely get through the week.
If you're doing 33 hours of housework and you're doing 50 or 60 or 70 hours a week, which is what these jobs at the top demand-- it's what bench science demands. It's what a lot of professions demand. There are literally not enough hours in the week. You cannot make the math work.
Now, the good news here is that men are starting to do more housework. The bad news is that they've increased from 17 minutes a week to seven hours a week. Now, this is good. This is also a good opportunity to beat up on men. But that's actually not what I want to do here.
Instead, I want to raise the issue that first of all, it's not just a question of men not fully participating. It's the issue that I think we as women and a society have added to our housework burden, rather than taking away from it. One of the core tenants, again, of Betty Friedan's book was that women should be liberated from the drudgery of the house.
We haven't been liberated at all. In fact, I would argue, and the data support this, that women have taken on more and more burdens, because we've increased our expectation of what it means to take care of a home. And I turn once again to the magazines. These pictures happen to be from October, but pick any month you want. It's just the colors that change.
So this is what you're supposed to do for Halloween now, right? Somehow, you're supposed to be whipping up and crocheting these fabulous little costumes for Bobby and Susie. When I was a kid, Halloween meant you went to the drugstore, and you got a mask, and you were done. Now, somehow, this is what mothers should be doing in their spare time.
It's very easy to laugh at this and to say, I would never do this. But see what happens if every other kid in the third grade has a costume like this, and you send your kid to school with a bag over his head. It doesn't end well, right? And you feel terrible. He feels terrible.
Then, we also have the bane of the working mother, the school bake sale. Everyone's been there. We've all made these cupcakes. These are four hour cupcakes. And they are not going to look that good. They're going to taste terrible.
And again, you will have not done your stem cell paper, because you were making the green cupcakes. And when you're done with the costumes and the cupcakes, you're supposed to be taking care of the wildlife in your backyard.
OK, now, again, I picked particularly egregious examples, but pick up-- this month is all going to be St. Patty's Day, green jell-o mold. These are crazy expectations to be adding to lives that are already busy. And yet, they're out there.
Pick up my favorite of these magazines, Real Simple. There is nothing simple in that magazine. Everything there is going to take you six hours, and it's not going to work. And yet we've all done it.
The last chapter of the book looks at aging. And the quick bottom line there is, sadly, it doesn't end well. And I'm afraid it ends with particular sadness in many cases for women, because, societally, we have mental models of what it means to be a successful older man. Just look at TV. Look at the movies.
We don't yet have models of a successful older woman. And the few that we do tend to be British, like Judi Dench. For some reason, we allow British women to age, but not American women to age.
And this is a real problem. And it's clearly tied still to our obsession with women's physicality and their fertility, because when those things end, we don't really have something else to replace it.
Despite all of this pessimism I've just laid out, the book actually ends on a note of optimism, because I think although these problems are deep seated, they're solvable. And they're actually not that hard.
Maybe, again, there's no magic switch, but I think it's not that hard, at least to begin to chip away at these problems, both individually, within the workplace, within the community, within the school parents group.
The first thing we need to do is to give up on the idea of perfection. I don't know precisely how women fell into the trap of thinking they need to be perfect. But we have to move away from it. I don't know where the phrase came, having at all. But it's a horrible phrase, and we need to ban it from our collective vocabulary. No one ever asks men if they're having it all. And yet we ask that of women all the time. We need to stop.
As part of that, we need to get women, particularly younger women, used to the idea that life involves trade-offs. The beauty of the world we live in now, as women and men, is that we have choices. We can choose whether to try to be astronauts or not, whether to bake the cupcakes or not. We need to make those choices, and we need to own them.
And we need to understand that you can't say yes to everything. And as I say to my students now all the time, every time you put something on your plate, you've got to take something else off. And we need to legitimize each other's choices.
Women are still too harsh on each other, without meaning to sometimes, in judging. Oh, how do you manage to stay home? Aren't you bored? Or how do you manage to work? Who does your kid's homework? Well, they do their homework. It's their homework. But we need to stop judging each other's choices.
We also need to realize that biology matters. It may not be determinative, but I think one mistake the early feminists made was sort of ignoring biology. And I say this-- you recall my last book was on reproductive medicine, so I can say this with full scientific certainty. Women have babies, and men don't. And this is not going to change anytime soon.
And this is actually a big deal. And it's not just a big deal that can be solved by maternity leaves. It's bigger than maternity leaves. And men don't like-- we don't want to talk about the physicality of motherhood. And yet we kind of have to.
And we need to begin to make real changes in the workplace that will enable women not just to have maternity leaves and come back, but be mothers, because motherhood is something that extends beyond just even the most generous maternity leave.
Related to that, we need to bring men into the conversation. So every time I give one of these talks, I'm sort of subconsciously counting how many men there are in the room. And the more men there are in the room, the better I feel, because if it's only women talking about these issues, we will never solve the problem.
And it's not because women are less capable. It's because men still hold 85% of the positions of power, so they have to be part of the conversation. Women have to invite them in, because otherwise, men feel way too uncomfortable sort of walking in on their own.
And then finally, and this will bring me full circle, we actually have to go back and remember the earlier goals of feminism. Feminism wasn't about making the silly cupcakes. Feminism was a social movement. It was about sisterhood. It was a collective action. And fundamentally, it was about liberating women. This is a word we never hear anymore.
Feminism was about freeing women, not only to make choices, but to enjoy their choices, to own their choices, to revel in their choices. And if all we've done is make more demands on ourselves and feel more often that we're failing somehow, then we've lost the plot.
We can regain the plot. We can return to the goals. And by bringing a wider array of voices into the conversation, I think we can actually begin to advance to a world that is not only fairer for women, but is saner for all of us. Let me stop there. And I think we have time for at least a couple of questions. Thank you.
I think we'll get you a mike. Thanks.
AUDIENCE: Thank you so much for coming four and a half hours in this frozen weather to be with us. I really enjoyed your talk. Obviously, I'm a woman of a certain age. I'm a first year graduate student in the CIPA program here. So I was totally with you until you got to the age thing doesn't end well. It's hard not to take that personally.
So I challenge you, as a model for all those young women at you college to stop dying your hair. How is it that these young women are going to learn that we continue to be compelling and smart and fearsome and tender and all of those things well into whatever a certain age is, if we don't signal to them that we are proud of every single one of these gray hairs, that each one is a credential, and that people underestimate us at their peril?
And that includes telling the waitress who calls you sweetie that the waitress can call you sweetie if she's married to you, but otherwise not. I'm able to model a certain kind of power in the world that embraces your age. So you're beautiful. You will be beautiful with gray hair.
DEBORA SPAR: Thank you. Thank you. It's a point very well taken. And I will say, we had a panel at Barnard last year on hair, which was really interesting, because I think the whole issue of coloring hair is huge, as is straightening hair, particularly for women of color.
And one of the slides I show in an earlier version of this, I just picked all of the-- it was some magazine that did most powerful women in whatever it was. And it was fifty photos of women. They all look the same. Regardless of their race or their age, they all had the same hair cut, straight hair.
So we really have a very unnatural picture of what the successful woman looks like. And my hair is actually naturally curly. So it's a big topic on my campus, when I'm straight and when I'm curly. So I've got that to deal with before I even get to the color part. So thank you.
You've got one way in the back.
AUDIENCE: Hi. This was a great talk. I was struck listening to this by how these experiences, internal and external expectations, and the accessibility of meeting those expectations, might be experienced really differentiately by different racial and economic groups. And I was wondering if you talk about that in your book.
And I'm not on Twitter, but even I heard about this year there was a trending hashtag, solidarity is for white women. I don't know if any of you have heard of that. But there's a lot of discussion about how women of color and low ec women are excluded from discussions of feminism. So I was wondering if you could comment on that
DEBORA SPAR: It's a fabulous question, and thank you for it. And I made what was a very tough decision in writing the book. And hopefully, you'll get a chance to read it. And I sort of explain it in the very first pages.
Once I made the decision to write the book from a personal angle, I felt like I could only tell the story from basically the demographic that I'm in, which is white, straight, a mother, upper middle class, overly educated. And so I don't claim to speak for all women, because I can't.
I haven't experienced life as a woman of color, as a gay woman, as a single woman. So I'm very much-- I want to be honest in that I'm telling my story. And I can't really speak for people from very different backgrounds.
Having said that, I think it's unfortunate that-- well, it is what it is. All of the books that have come out in this space are from women who look more or less like me. We all know each other. We all hang out at the same places.
And I really hope that we've opened the door, so that we can get conversations from women of color, from single women, from lesbian women, from immigrant women, because their voices are not really-- they're being heard online, but they're not being heard across a wider audience. And we have to get those voices.
The last thing, though, I will say, because I have been giving this talk in so many places, I think half of what I'm saying at least really does apply across racial and socioeconomic lines. I think the problems that I've outlined, all of them are harder for women of color.
It goes back to the hair thing in its silly way, but the tokenism thing in a much more serious way. When women of color step into these positions of power, their expectations are even greater. And so they're facing the problems I've described times two.
And then, when we look at lower income women, whether they're women of color or not, I think the expectations there, again, are even more crippling. I gave this talk at a place, and the security guard came up to me afterwards. And she said, I feel this, but I'm a single mother. I have to make sure I put food on my kids' table.
But at the same time, they don't have lower expectations of how they look and how they age and what their hair color should be like. So I think the problem of expectations cuts across. The venue in which these expectations play out diverges dramatically. And that's where we need to get more in the conversation.
CHRIS SHOEMAKER: Hi. I'm Chris Shoemaker. I was the first woman to get tenure in the engineering college here at Cornell. So I'm one of those old feminists from 42 years ago.
So one of the things to me that seems to be tremendously still a huge problem is a two-body problem. I mean, look at women. You talk about women getting to the top, takes a certain amount of mobility. Certainly even just to get an assistant professor job is difficult enough.
But as you're moving up, you become dean or whatever, and you try to get jobs for a couple, it's really hard. So I'd like you to discuss it both from the woman's point of view, but also from the point of view of the institutions. How far should institutions go to solve this two-body problem. Do you just give a job to the other spouse, or--
DEBORA SPAR: Yeah, it's a really big problem. And I think universities-- it's a tough one. I'm looking at the provost. I think universities can do more to solve the dual career couple. They can't totally solve it. And it's probably harder in a place like Ithaca, just because it's a smaller community.
I know one of the things we tried to do in Boston was to set up a consortium. So if we were trying to hire somebody at Harvard, we had a database that we shared with MIT and Babson and BU. So I think there are things you can do and we will need to do. But it's hard.
I think the other thing we need to bring into the equation is-- and it's sort of obvious, but we don't talk about it. I think increasingly we're going to find two career couples where the spouses take turns having a dominant career.
I was at one of the investment banks recently. We had a conversation, about 30 women around the table, all very high powered, successful women. And after the dinner, somebody pulled me aside and said, you didn't ask the most important question, which was how many women around this table have stay-at-home spouses? And she said, because the answer is 100%.
Women never brag about their stay-at-home spouses. Women are loathe to brag about the fact that they may marry someone or partner with somebody who doesn't have the same PhD as they do, but might have a more flexible career, might be the writer or the full-time, stay-at-home partner.
We're still reluctant to talk about men leaning out. And I think that that will increasingly be part-- not all of the solution, but part of the solution. And we don't brag about that, or we don't talk about that very much.
YAEL LEVITTE: We can take one last question before you can join Debra Spar at the reception at the end.
AUDIENCE: So since you come from Harvard Business School, I wanted to get your perspective on how to tactfully bring men into the conversation, because I think that stereotype of feminists as angry and ugly and intimidating still is very active, especially in the bro culture that is seen in these business school atmospheres.
DEBORA SPAR: Well, and I think this is one area where I'm actually somewhat optimistic. I think with all of the conversations that have been happening this year, men are feeling more comfortable coming into the conversation. I do say-- and I say this somewhat easily. Next time you come to a conversation like this, bring a guy along. And we need more sort of courageous young men to enter the conversation.
I was really touched. I was at Wharton two weeks ago, Wharton Women. And there was probably 90 young women in the room and one guy. And he was a freshman, really sweet kid. And I just went up and I said, why are you here? And he said, you know, I don't really know anything about this issue, but I think I should. I beamed for like the next two weeks.
And I was at Princeton last night. And again, there was this senior guy there, the only guy at the dinner. I said, why are you here? He said, well, you know, my mother's an investment banker. She's my hero. And I wanted to start understanding these issues. So two anecdotes-- bring a guy into the next conversation.
In terms of what I see, the biggest defenders of sort of thinking about women's issues are dads. So my biggest supporters at Barnard are Barnard dads, because they've seen their wives wrestle with these issues. And they want their daughters to succeed. So coming at men through that angle, I found, is really, really powerful.
And then, at the corporate, institutional level, I think it's crucial when you have these diversity conversations that the provost who happens to be male is part of them. When I go into corporations, I say I want the CEO to come into the room. I want there to be men in the room and not just the HR folks.
So my experience has been-- and I think this would have been very different 30 years ago or even 20 years ago. Most men are willing to come. In fact, they're sort of happy to come. But they're not going to come unless they're asked.
YAEL LEVITTE: Thank you so much.
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Barnard president and 'Wonder Women' author Debora Spar explained how women's lives have - and have not - changed over the past 40 years, March 6, 2014 when she delivered the annual Robert L. Harris Jr. ADVANCEments in Science Lecture.