It wasn’t always provocative to say women should have their priorities in order. It used to be normal to put family first, or to put faith before work, or to move to a city and choose a place to live based on the community. Life didn’t change. Women didn’t change. The “rules” did.
Many women have bought into the false feminist claims that there is a “wage gap” (which has been debunked time and time again), that the patriarchy denies women opportunities, and that women who stay at home are somehow bullied into doing so.
Yet when these same women find themselves realizing that they view success more holistically than simply charting their career trajectory, they may suddenly feel guilty for looking beyond work for true happiness and fulfillment. It’s time to liberate women from oppressive standards and shaming, and from the idea that women can only find fulfillment in life through work.
As a woman who once thought that I wanted to pursue my career over everything else, I was surprised when I found true meaning in moving my life in a different direction. Getting married revealed to me that I wanted to build my choices about work around my husband and future children instead of the other way. Still, coming to terms with that decision was incredibly painful.
I started my blog, Classically Abby, in early 2019, and, in 2020, started actively sharing with other women the joy I found through my shift to focusing on family foremost. From the beginning, I’ve received support and wonderful comments appreciating what I’ve shared about changing priorities to find real happiness. But the pushback has been just as telling.
People have consistently accused me of commanding women to stay at home — a sentiment I don’t propose and never have. Women can be powerful and fulfilled both in the workplace and staying at home. Women can do both and still have a wonderful life.
For the many women who have found that career simply isn’t enough, however, it can feel like you have let down your sex. It can feel you’ve taken for granted those women who fought for equality in the workplace years ago. As much as feminists insist women are shamed into staying at home, the situation today is often exactly the opposite.
Growing up, my mother was the primary breadwinner in my family. My father was a stay-at-home dad and my mother worked long hours to provide for us. My father drove us to all our activities, while my mother went to work every morning. She was the mother of four children, and she built an incredible career through hard work.
But here’s the craziest part: I didn’t know how successful my mother was until I was in college. All through my childhood, my mother managed to come home every evening and help around the house, make dinner, and constantly show that we were the most important thing in her life.
Not only that, but she worked her way up to an incredibly high-powered position while being an Orthodox Jew — which meant leaving work early every Friday all winter to make it home in time for the Sabbath. Even with all of that on her plate, my mother managed to host huge meals for members of the community during the Sabbath a few times each month.
Indeed, my mother is a perfect example of a woman who worked her way up in her career while always keeping the priorities of faith, family, and community in the proper order. Ultimately, she accomplished everything she wanted to because she knew what was most important.
The feminist idea that women only stay at home because they are oppressed or that the wage gap exists because women are discriminated against hurts their pursuit of happiness. I know several women, including me, who went to college then earned a graduate degree. When we entered school, we were single and seriously career-driven. But within five years of graduating, we were all married, and most have a child on the way — and we’ve all gone through feeling guilty about wanting to step back from work.
Even though it’s entirely natural for women to want to mother their children or make the choice to work part-time so they can more involved at home generally, women are made to feel that their natural impulses are inauthentic, self-harming, and wrong.
In truth, women are not discriminated against in opportunities. More women than men attend college and get degrees. The gap between the degrees women hold and the actual careers they pursue shows what so many women actually want, and how that often changes when they get married and begin to raise a family.
There remains, however, a remarkable amount of pushback for simply stating the obvious: Women often find more happiness in a balanced life than in focusing on one central pursuit. The pushback this truth faces makes women doubt themselves unjustly even as they make the best decision for their greatest fulfillment. The pervasiveness of feminist ideology in social media, movies, and schools often leads women to feel like they’re betraying their sex despite finding real happiness in a more balanced life.
Obviously, women should have every opportunity to pursue a career and have a job they are passionate about. Discussing how women choose their priorities does not mean there should be a limit on those opportunities. As for women who want to reach the highest potential of their careers even as they pursue motherhood, many can make it work and feel fulfilled doing it — and that’s wonderful!
It’s a wonderful blessing to find great meaning in one’s work. But here’s the problem: the fight to allow women to find meaning in their careers has resulted in denying them the same respect and pride in finding meaning outside of the workplace.
Of course, pressuring women to only ever stay at home is terrible — women are individuals and should have the freedom to work part-time or full-time and find something that they love. But pressuring women to stay in the workforce even when they don’t want to and don’t have to is also terrible, and it’s something that women in 2021 struggle with daily.
Coming to terms with the fact that they might want something more traditional is a difficult road for women who have termed themselves feminists or valorized a too-narrow ideal of “empowerment,” and it doesn’t allow them the freedom to choose the path they may truly want to take. Let’s not do that.