TIME career

Working Women Are Planning More, Which is Why Some Are Freezing Their Eggs

If egg-freezing is Plan B, women need a Plan C

Women seem to have gotten the message that if we want to have both professional success and a family, we better plan it out. That’s the point of a New York Times piece this week that concluded that millennial women are leaning away from “leaning in” and instead scheduling family phases into their career plans.

MORE: The Truth About Freezing Your Eggs

Here’s how the Times’s Claire Cain Miller puts it:

You might call them the planning generation: Their approach is less all or nothing — climb the career ladder or stay home with children — and more give and take …“They’re anticipating that in some way they’re going to have to dial down or integrate their career and their life,” said Caroline Ghosn, chief executive of Levo, an online professional network focused on millennial women. “This reality is something that people are a lot more transparent and open about.”

When you’ve grown up with as many conflicting messages about work and family as millennials have, that kind of attitude makes sense. We’ve been thoroughly disabused of the notion that having both a thriving career and a family at the same time is easy–or even possible– and so the natural reaction is to stagger them; first one, then the other. In most cases, women choose to focus on their career first and family later. But that’s a tricky gamble, because fertility declines with age.

That’s where egg-freezing comes in. For a generation of women who tend to be more practical about plotting their career and family trajectories, egg-freezing is marketed as the best way to do just that. With a frozen egg, they’re told, they could easily start a family throughout their 40’s. Fertility marketers call it an “insurance policy” that can help women smash the biological clock.

That’s an idea with obvious appeal to young women. “It gets into all the mixed messages that women are constantly told. Like “you can have it all, you can’t have it all.” With dating: first it’s like ‘don’t settle,’ then it’s like ‘marry him already,’” says Eileen, a 28-year old who works in education, is considering freezing her eggs when she can afford it. “Everyone’s like ‘do this, do that’ and it feels like you’re never getting the truth about what you can do and what you can have.” (Eileen asked that her full name not be used, because of the personal nature of this fertility decision.)

Jen Statsky, a 29-year old TV writer, says she’d consider egg-freezing just to give herself more flexibility. “I feel like I’ve been pretty lucky with my career and I’m happy with where I am at 29, but there’s so much I want to do. I enjoy my life the way it is right now,” she says. “And theoretically I can’t see being ready for a child before the age of 35 or 36. I would push it to 50 if I could.”

Eileen feels like anticipating a family could keep her from making a radical career switch at this stage of her life. “If I were to start a new career in this point in my life, of course as a female you’re always thinking: how would that work out, how would I get years under my belt without leaving the workforce?’”

Dilemmas like these, combined with recent technological advances, have led to a surge in procedures. Since 2009, egg freezing’s popularity has increased more than tenfold, and fertility marketers are predicting that by 2018, more than 70,000 women will be freezing their eggs. The American Society of Reproductive Medicine lifted the “experimental” label from the procedure in 2012, after the quick-freeze vitrification method was developed (scientists discovered that quick-freezing eggs worked much better than slow-freezing them.)

If you want to know more about egg-freezing, check out our recent magazine feature on the topic here.

There’s just one problem with using egg-freezing to help plan the perfect career trajectory: it doesn’t necessarily work that well. Although egg-freezing is marketed to anxious women as an “insurance policy,” there are not yet any major studies about success rates. And initial numbers obtained exclusively by TIME suggest that in 2012 and 2013, only 24% of egg thaws resulted in a live birth.

So if women are using egg-freezing to plan their perfect careers, they need a plan B.

 

 

TIME motherhood

Millennials More Supportive of Working Moms than Previous Generations

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Jasper Cole—Getty Images/Blend Images RM Mother and daughter walking on city street

Much more likely to say that moms who work have just as good relationships with their kids

Working moms are getting more love than ever. Millennials are much more supportive of working mothers than young people in the 1970s and 1990s, and there’s a broader consensus that working moms can have a great relationship with their kids, according to a new study shared exclusively with TIME.

Sign up here for TIME’s weekly roundup of the best parenting stories from anywhere.

Researchers at University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University attribute the increased acceptance to a shifting social and economic realities over the last 30 years, in which there are more single moms and few can afford not to work. The study, published Monday in the Psychology of Women Quarterly, analyzed the results of two national representative studies of nearly 600,000 respondents. They found that in 2010, only 22% of 12th-graders thought young children suffered if their mother worked, down from 34% in the 1990s and 59% in the 1970s. Adults also showed an increased tolerance for working mothers, with 35% believing that a child was worse off if his or her mother went to work in 2012, compared with 68% in the 1970s.

The researchers also found that more people believe working moms can have just as good relationships with their kids as moms who stay at home. In 1977, less than half of adults agreed that “a working mother can establish just as warm and secure a relationship with her children as a mother who does not work.” In 2012, 72% agreed with that statement.

“When you have more working mothers, you have to have more acceptance of them,” says Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me and a main researcher on the study. “When people look around and see ‘this is what people do now,’ you have to have more acceptance.”

But in some areas, there appeared to be a bit of a backtracking. In the 1990s, 27% agreed that it was best for the man to work and the woman to stay home, while 32% agreed with that idea in 2010-2013. In the 1990s, 14% thought the husband should make important decisions in the family, but 17% thought so in 2010. Twenge says that probably doesn’t indicate a spike in sexism, but instead might signify an increased perception that marriage is only for a certain kind of person. “It’s possible that this generation sees marriage as something that people with traditional gender roles do,” she says. “They think it’s for more traditional people.”

Twenge says the increased acceptance of working moms isn’t just because millennials have been around more women who work– it’s also part of the millennial tendency towards individualism. “One aspect of individualism is to treat people equally,” she says. “When you treat people as individuals, you’re not going to distinguish between a working mother and a working father.”

 

TIME Parenting

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Mother

superhero-mother-daughter-playing
Getty Images

So how about we stop striving to be one?

There’s this mom at the pre-school where my son goes who, I used to think, was the perfect mother.

She’s one of the few stay-at-home-moms who shows up at school every day wearing something other than a uniform of yoga pants, a t-shirt and comfy shoes. She’s always well groomed and not wearing remnants of her children’s breakfast or runny noses all over her shirt. She volunteers in the classroom multiple times a week and spends the moments before school starts gently reading to her child. When there’s a bake sale, her brownies look mouthwateringly delicious, unlike my tray which gets avoided like the plague. Nothing seems to faze her, and from the moment I spotted her, an imaginary halo seemed to dance atop her head.

Last spring, one of the other school moms generously held a book launch party at her home for me. I read a chapter from my book out loud and held a Q&A, followed by some snacks and chatting. I gratefully smiled at the people I knew and got introduced to some faces I recognized from drop-off and pick-up but had never met. It was a wonderful evening and I was grateful to be surrounded by so many real life Scary Mommies. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw her — The Perfect Mother — coming towards me. What on earth was she doing here, I wondered. Like she could relate to anything I wrote, little Mrs. I Do Everything Right.

“I have to tell you how much I loved your book,” she greeted me with. “I could have written almost every word myself. It was so me.”

Huh? Say what?!

What on earth in my book could she relate to? She was the one I referenced when talking about the foreign perfection I’d never in my life hope to achieve. She was the one who looked like a million bucks all the time and who always seemed to handle everything that came at her with grace. While everything I did was merely good enough, everything she touched was perfect with a capital P. Had she picked up the wrong book? What author had she mistaken me with?

Unfortunately, those were not thoughts in my head. Unable to contain my shock and awe, that’s exactly how I responded to her, sounding certifiably insane, since we’d never officially met and she had no idea she’d made such an impression on me. She burst out laughing.

“Me? Perfect?” She laughed until she snorted – LOUDLY – the imaginary halo slowly tumbling off of her head.

She went on to explain that the only reason she showered in the morning was to wake herself up, because without that jolt of cold water at 7AM, she’d never peel herself out of bed. She wears Spanx under her jeans and steers clear of yoga pants because the cellulite on her thighs shows through them so clearly that she can’t stomach it. She reads to her kid in the morning because she’s too spent at the end of the day to do it and he falls asleep watching a DVD most nights. And those brownies I’ve drooled over? Her mother makes them because she can’t cook to save her life.

Hello, nice to meet you, my new favorite person on earth! I think I love you.

Sadly, her son went off to kindergarten last fall, so I stopped seeing her in the lobby and at school events, but I think of her often, this not so perfect mom. Every time I make a snap judgment or feel inferior to some other mother I bear witness to, I envision that halo falling down and the sound of her unglamorously snorting echoes in my head. That interaction was one of the single greatest parenting lessons I’ve learned.

Turns out there is no perfect mother. Really; there’s not. So how about we stop striving to be one, and instead settle for something much more realistic?

Being ourselves.

This article originally appeared on Scary Mommy.

More from Scary Mommy:

TIME society

What It Was Like to Have My Tweet Become National News

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

The more loudly people complained that the tweet was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism

xojane

Monday morning I was still in my day pajamas – you know the look: yoga pants, tank top, sports bra – when there was a knock at my front door, and I opened it up to find a man with a necktie and thoroughly gelled hair. “Are you Abi?” he asked me through the screen door. “Did you write the tweet about Target?”

I wrote the tweet about Target a week before, while my 7-year-old son and I were browsing the toy section. Actually, that’s not entirely true: I snapped the picture of the aisle sign while we were browsing the toy section, sometime between Pokèmon cards and Minecraft action figures. I wrote the tweet later, while I was waiting for him outside the restroom so we could check out.

“Don’t do this, @Target,” I wrote, and attached the photo of the sign that said, “Building Sets / Girls’ Building Sets” just as my son emerged from the bathroom. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked him as I tapped tweet.

And now my tweet had brought this smiling, be-gelled man to my front porch: a reporter from a Cleveland news affiliate, here to interview me.

“I was actually down here to do a story about LeBron,” he said, “but the office called and diverted me to this instead.” Before the Target tweet, the closest I had come to social media stardom was the time Roxane Gay RT’ed a selfie I took with her at a book signing. Now I had bumped a LeBron story.

I threw on a dress and some makeup, thanked God for dry shampoo, and within 15 minutes was miked and on camera. I was brilliant and articulate, I hoped, as I explained why I thought the sign was a problem – because making girls’ building sets a distinct category from building sets made it sound like girls are a separate category from kids; because the notion that girls would only be interested in special “girly” sets for building pink and purple hair salons and dollhouses and malls is the same nonsense that pigeonholes girls and women into certain roles – as my cat watched us from the front window.

That afternoon when the segment aired, I watched it from the waiting room at my dentist’s office with the receptionist and a hygienist on her break. “SIGN OFFENDS LOCAL MOTHER,” the title bar said, as if the aisle sign had stuck its foot out to trip me while I was shopping and then called me four-eyes.

We watched in silence for two and a half minutes as my onscreen self stammered and gestured through my interview, and when it was over, the receptionist changed the channel to Cartoon Network. “Huh,” she remarked conversationally. “If I’d seen that sign I would never have read anything into it.”

By that evening, Local Mom was being offended in every local news broadcast. The next day the story jumped to national news shows and websites, where I became the Ohio Mom who was “angry,” “upset,” “outraged,” even “furious.”

Strangers tweeted at me that I was just looking for attention and should be spending my time worrying about more important things, oblivious to the irony that they were spending their time seeking me out to give me attention. Libertarians lectured me about how consumers drive the free market, as if I weren’t a consumer who was now doing exactly that.

Men’s Rights forums picked up the story, and my twitter mentions became about what you’d expect from MRAs. I had written a four-word tweet, and now I was being called an ISIS supporter who hates homeless, starving children.

As the conversation unfolded, I found myself being made into a gender stereotype, too. I wasn’t a writer, a grad student, a university instructor; I was Ohio Mom. My critique of Target was angry and offended; they stopped just short of calling me shrill.

In my Twitter mentions, I became fat, ugly, and unlovable. The more loudly people complained that this was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism.

And yet, I began to agree with some of the trolls. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Shouldn’t I be worrying about more important feminist issues, like violence against trans women of color? Didn’t this attention rightfully belong to the activists who had earned it, instead of just some mom from Ohio?

I told my therapist that I felt very aware of the white- and class-privilege that had put me at the center of this story; that I wasn’t sure if I had anything important to say, or if I should even try.

“Women have fought for decades to have a voice,” she said, “and yet so often we minimize the voice we have. Your words are powerful, and you can give yourself permission to use that power. You don’t have to feel guilty for speaking up.”

Together we made a plan for how I could own my power. I started asking interviewers not to label me “angry” or “offended,” and some of them obliged – it didn’t change the narrative that was already out there, but it was a step toward reclaiming my identity.

I gave a friend my Twitter password and asked her to filter my mentions for me for a few days, weeding out the worst of the trolls. I stopped letting the increased attention and scrutiny affect the way I was interacting with my social media communities.

And my community stepped up, too. Online friends made fun of the trolls in my mentions and sent me cat GIFs. Local friends stopped by with wine and moral support.

When a producer from a national talk show scheduled a camera crew to come to my house for an interview, friends offered to watch my kids and help clean my living room.

There is something absurd in a single tweet gaining this kind of national attention. This is how the 24-hour news cycle sausage is made – by taking these small, nuanced conversations and turning them into overblown, oversimplified issues.

But the beauty of social media is that we can use our voices and take our power, support each other, call for change on a whole spectrum of issues. And we don’t need a man to show up uninvited on our doorsteps for that to happen.

Abi Bechtel wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Innovation

Why It Might Be Time to Rethink Motherhood

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Motherhood is a cultural invention. It might be time to rethink it.

By Kathleen McCartney in the Boston Globe

2. You should want Facebook to give away your data.

By Tara E. Buck in EdTech

3. Do we have Alzheimer’s completely wrong?

By Turna Ray at Science Friday

4. On the brink of becoming Ebola-free, Liberia should embrace its survivors.

By AllAfrica

5. Can an app improve America’s crumbling infrastructure?

By Ashley Tate in NationSwell

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME motherhood

Childlessness Is Down Among Highly Educated Women

But more moms are having fewer kids

More women with advanced degrees are having children, but the the number of women who have three or four children has declined, according to a new study from Pew Research.

Childlessness among the most educated women has declined in the last 20 years: in 1994, 35% of women with an M.D. or Ph.D. were childless, compared to 20% of women with those degrees today. This may be because more women generally are getting higher degrees, but it is also true that having kids and a career are not seen as mutually exclusive for women as they once were. Education level aside, only 15% of all women 40 to 44 do not have children, the lowest rate of childlessness in a decade (in the early 2000s it was 20%, in the ’90s it was 18%.)

Despite the recent downturn, childlessness has generally been on the rise since the 1970s. In 1976, only 10% of women in their early 40s had never had children. And the average age at which a woman has her first child has been steadily rising since the 1970s, which of course means that at any one time, there are more women without kids.

The research also shows even if more women are having children, they’re not necessarily having many kids; the four-child family that was popular in the 1970s has now given way to the two-child family. The share of 40-something women with two children has nearly doubled since 1976 (from 24% to 41%) while the share of women with four or more children has declined by almost three quarters (from 40% to 14%.) The percentage of women with one kids has also doubled, from 11% to 22%, while the percentage of women with three kids has stayed roughly the same, about 25%.

Despite the decrease in childlessness among highly educated women, education is still the most accurate predictor for how many children a woman will have. Among mothers without a high school diploma, just 13% have one child, while 26% have four or more. Among moms with a masters degree, 23% have one kid, and just 8% have four. The research also found that family size varied by race: 20% of Hispanic moms and 18% of black moms had four or more children, while 11% of white moms and 10% of Asian moms did.

[Pew]

TIME Family

These Are the 8 Most Challenging Moments for Single Parents

mom-children-walking-woods
Getty Images

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I need someone else to confirm to the 3-year-old that no, he cannot wear a bathing suit to daycare in December

xojane

Most everyone would agree that single parenting is a hard gig. Not only is there an emotional aspect to it, but the workload is intense!

As a single mother of two young children with no family support, I can tell you that, aside from all the joy that comes with parenting, it’s easy to become overworked, exhausted, and annoyed. Yes, annoyed. Sometimes being a single parent has nothing to do with the larger struggles of life, sometimes being a single parent is simply just annoying.

#1 There Is No One Else To Blame

Oops. Little Johnny just uttered a swear word. Well I can tell you that he heard that word from… well, I guess there is just me. And it must have been me that told him it was okay to eat off the floor in our house, or that we can sometimes eat cake for breakfast, or me that he heard those song lyrics from. Yep… I’d like to not have to claim all of that, but there’s no one else here.

#2 Go Ask Your… Oh Wait, Never Mind

Send backup. I repeat, send backup because I need someone else to confirm to the 3-year-old that no, he cannot wear a bathing suit to daycare in December.

I mean, I know that he can’t wear that, but he seems convinced that he has just as much insight into the world as I do and I would like a sidekick that reminds him that he is three.

I would like this in the same way that I would like someone else to back me up when I tell him that he needs to stay in bed. The problem with being the only one here is that he and I get into power struggles. There’s not another adult to confirm his 3-year-old status, which is annoying.

I need some reinforcement and yet the only other person here is his short, tiny, sister and she often does not side with me either. Not to mention that everything that they don’t like is my fault.

I get to be the “eat your vegetables, take a bath, clean your room” person all the time. All. The. Time. Sometimes I just want to pass off the “in charge” hat, but nope, it’s just me!

#3 Being Needed In Two Places At Once

It was 2:30 a.m., my son was feverish, my daughter was sleeping, and we had just run out of Tylenol. What were my choices: leave one kid burning up or put them both in the car in the middle of the night and go shopping? This sucks! Just like it sucks when I have no choice but to drop everything I’m doing at work to pick up a sick child or bring a forgotten item.

And some of these situations are even less important, but still just as annoying — like the time both of my children were participating in a Halloween parade at their respective school/daycare and they were both at 3 p.m. Hum, which child do I love more?

Now I know I’m certainly not the only parent (single or otherwise) struggling to manage things like this, but it’s the constant need to have to make other arrangements to accommodate the “I can’t be in two places at once” scenario and never having a “go-to” partner to fill in that starts to wear on you.

#4 Dating

Do I even need to elaborate on this? There is nothing more annoying than trying to date as a single parent. Not only is there the whole “When do I introduce him/her to my kids? Are they worthy of meeting my kids? Will they like my kids? Do they like kids so much that I should be concerned?” and so on and so forth.

Not to mention the small fortune that I invest in our babysitters (or all the favors that I owe my friends) so that we can even go on a date. Or all the dates I’ve have to cancel because one of my children has had a sudden onset of some childhood issue and vomited/spiked a fever/developed an attachment disorder as I was ready to walk out the door. (Or like the time I learned my daughter had lice a couple hours before a date. “Hi, I can’t come… we are hair farming tonight. Is next week cool with you?”).

Yup, dating as a single parent is fun. Or not. I’m gonna go with “not.”

#5 Group Errands

I had just pulled in my driveway after a marathon shopping trip on a Saturday. My infant and toddler were half asleep in their car seats, I was exhausted, but victory was mine because the job had gotten done!

Victory was mine for all of about 10 minutes until I went to put the groceries away and realized that I had forgotten the key item that had spurred the trip. I would have loved nothing more than to be able to ask the children’s father to pick up the thing I needed so that I didn’t have to drag two children back to the store with me, but nope, it’s just me! How annoying is that?

And it’s not just limited to forgotten items, it’s the group doctor visits, group haircuts, group everything! There is nothing that says “annoyance” like bundling up the children to go sit at the DMV for a couple hours.

#6 The Grunt Work

Parenting is not a pretty job. There are dirty diapers, stomach viruses, wiggly teeth, dinnertime disasters, bloody scrapes, and scary injuries. When you are a single mom you don’t get to pass off a task that is too much for you to stomach.

Me? I can deal with the ridiculous amount of fluids that my children seem to excrete, but show me a wiggly tooth and you are going to need to catch me as I faint because I just cannot handle the creep factor of moveable teeth.

You know what else I can’t handle? Foreign objects stuck in places they are not supposed to be stuck, like the time my daughter got a baby carrot lodged in her nose and the pediatrician advised me to “suck it out with your mouth.” Give me a break here. That was a task I would have loved to pass to her father.

#7 Complaining Friends

I should have a checklist of “things I wish you would not talk to me about,” because I swear I would be a better friend if my friends didn’t complain about certain things to me. Now I love my friends, all of them, but there are some things they say that just annoy the heck out of me.

Please don’t complain to me if your husband gets your kids all riled up when he comes home from work — just be happy that they have a father. Also, don’t complain to me when he works late (therefore bringing home money for your family) or when your vacation plans are stressing you out (because in my financially strapped state I can barely afford a trip to Walmart).

Don’t complain to me that little Robby was clinging to you all day because my son is being raised in a daycare and I would love him to have the opportunity to bond to me like that. Certainly don’t complain to me that you are exhausted from spending the day at the zoo, because I spent the day at work, the place your husband went for you.

So yes, this probably makes me a horrible friend, but sometimes my friends’ complaints do nothing but annoy me.

#8 I Just Want To Sleep In

This probably shouldn’t be a category all on its own, but I’m adding this last one in because this is my personal annoyance: I just want one day where I get to sleep in and someone else makes sure my (young) children don’t light the house on fire or go running down the street in their underwear. Is that too much to ask?

So single parenting — it’s totally worth it on a million different levels and I could go on and on about how blessed I am, but this article isn’t about that. It’s about the fact that there are moments that are simply just annoying. Really freaking annoying.

Eden Strong wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Family

‘Selfish, Shallow and Neurotic’: How the Conversation on Childlessness Got Started

"NON" (National Organization for Non-parents; at Disneyland.
Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collecton/Getty Images Caption from TIME. Child protesting against parenthood; A gift on Non-Father's Day.

The National Organization for Non-Parents started a dialogue that continues today

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveal that more women in America are childless — or childfree, depending on how you look at it — than at any time since recordkeeping began in the 1970s. And it can seem as if the fewer people have children, the more people want to talk about it: For example, the release of the Census statistics coincides with the recent release of a new essay collection edited by Meghan Daum, Selfish, Shallow and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen Writers on the Decision Not to Have Kids.

But, though some of the nuance and context in the conversation about childlessness may be new, the conversation itself is not. Much of today’s discussion of the topic echoes the criticism levied at the National Organization for Non-Parents (NON), a group founded in 1972 to promote the childfree lifestyle.

The organization, which later changed its name to the National Alliance for Optional Parenthood, formed in response to a “pronatalist” culture that stigmatized childless couples. As TIME wrote in 1972, “the cultural bias against childless couples is so strong that husbands and wives cannot choose non-parenthood freely; they know they will be branded selfish, shallow and neurotic.”

NON’s 400 members also promoted the benefits of the childfree existence, as TIME explained:

All of the members, even the parents among them, are committed to childlessness as a way of creating ‘social space.’ That means ‘a combination of time, money and energy’ that can be used to conserve planetary resources, beat the high cost of living and free husbands and wives for political activism and the pursuit of free life-styles.

That same year, LIFE Magazine profiled the organization’s executive director, Shirley Radl, a mother of two then at work on a book titled Mother’s Day Is Over. Radl lamented the “Big Lie” she and her husband had fallen for, succumbing to friends’ judgment of their lives as “hedonistic, meaningless.” Her words have not gone stale in the intervening decades:

We don’t tell others what jobs to take, whom they should marry, where to vacation. It’s bad manners to ask how much money they make. Yet others’ breeding habits, if they’re childless, are considered fair game. The couples with children, who are miserable, don’t hesitate to urge others to follow their examples.

Read TIME’s 2013 cover story on childlessness, here in the TIME archives: The Childfree Life

TIME motherhood

Egyptian Woman Who Lived as a Man to Find Work Honored with Motherhood Award

Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.
Bryan Denton–The New York Times/Redux Sisa Abu Daooh, a woman who passed for a man for decades while working as a shoeshine, in Luxor, Egypt, on March 25, 2015.

Sisa Abu Daooh dressed as a man for 42 years

An Egyptian woman who was forced to live as a man in order to support her daughter was recently awarded the country’s highest award for motherhood.

Sisa Abu Daooh has been dressing as a man for 42 years in order to find work after her husband died. “I worked in Aswan wearing pants and a galabeya,” she told the New York Times. “If I hadn’t, no one would have let me work.”

Daooh was forced to dress as a man not as an expression of gender identity, but because otherwise she would have been unable to find work. In the early 1970s, when her husband’s death left Daooh and her daughter destitute, it was extremely difficult for women to find paid work. For seven years, she worked as a manual laborer making less than a dollar a day before finding less physically demanding work. She now works as a shoe-shiner.

When Daooh’s husband died, it was almost unheard of for Egyptian women to work, but even today, very few Egyptian women participate in the labor force—only 26%, compared to 79% of men, according to the World Economic Forum. If women and men participated equally, Egypt’s GDP would increase by 34%, according to an analysis conducted by the Clinton Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Between the lack of economic opportunity, the prevalence of female genital mutilation, and the near-universal experience sexual harassment (over 99% of women say they’ve been harassed,) Thompson-Reuters voted Egypt the worst place in the Arab world to be a woman.

[h/t New York Times]

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