The topic of how to interview professional women is all over business blogs and publications right now. As I read through articles (like this one by Margaret Gould Stewart) about how infuriating it is for successful women to answer endless questions about their fertility and family life, I think back upon the moment when I realized questions geared toward me were different than those geared towards my male colleagues.
In my early twenties, friends and family members always asked about my job and how exciting it must be to work in fashion. They’d ask about next steps and where I saw my career going. The conversations were always intriguing and inspiring. I’d gush about my dream to eventually own my own business and travel the world to investigate the latest trends.
As soon as my husband proposed, though, everything changed. Those questions about my career aspirations suddenly were clouded by the question that began to precede most conversations:
“Do you plan to work after you’re married?”
Back then, and thinking about it now, I honestly don’t understand the sudden appearance of this question. I love working. Why wouldn’t I work? Does getting married somehow eliminate my career aspirations? I know not so long ago this was the norm, and plenty of women (and men!) make this choice. I totally support that. What I reject is the assumption that a woman couldn’t be a parent and a professional. Men seem to tackle both with ease. Why did everyone assume that as a woman, I would give up one for the other?
As I try to dissect this question and get to the root of what my friend was asking, it becomes apparent that this is their way of asking about future plans with my soon-to-be husband. Instead of phrasing the question in a way that makes an assumption, I wish it was geared towards blending marriage with my current life plan. For example, “Do you think you two will stay in the Bay Area for a while and put down roots?” This question would lead into a conversation around ours careers and where we see ourselves ending up. If I felt it relevant, I could offer up my decision to continue working.
My first pregnancy led to more questions around my decision to work and how I would “do it all.” Questioning me about how I planned to work after the baby arrived was only slightly offensive. I didn’t necessarily mind sharing how I planned to manage work as a mom. Many friends who asked were simply trying to gauge if they should think about having children or wait a few more years into their career. When the question is asked for advice purposes, I absolutely love to get into the details and share tips.
What did get to me was no one asked my husband the same question—even if he was standing right next to me. Somehow the parenting questions were all directed towards me. I understand that I’m the one who carries our baby for 9 months, gives birth, and has the equipment to breastfeed, but my husband is just as much of a parent as I am. Our children are genetically half his and half mine. Why did the parenting responsibility need to fall solely into my lap?
To add insult to injury, the questions continued even after our first child was born. One in particular that caught me off guard: “You must be taking care of the baby at night so your husband can be rested for work in the morning, right?” I honestly hope the look on my face was not pure disgust, because I know this question was asked with good intention. But, come on! Seriously?
Somehow working from home (on my own startup, no less) didn’t seem to be important enough to award me a peaceful night’s sleep? Just because I’m a woman does not mean I’m the only person who can feed and calm a baby. As he’s proven once again recently, my husband makes a mean bottle and can make a baby pass out in pure bliss like nobody's business. Interestingly, now that we have newborn twins, no one asks that particular question. Either they realize caring for two babies on your own at night is completely insane, or they’re afraid of being physically assaulted… (kidding!).
This assumption that women are the primary caregivers in every family is insulting to both men and women. I know plenty of dads who are offended when caring for their own child is minimized down to “babysitting.” They were there from the beginning, too. No matter their gender, even if parents work full-time, it doesn’t mean they are any less of a parent. My husband comes home early enough to help cook dinner, put the kids in bed, and take on half of the night feedings, all while keeping his full-time job and not letting one affect the other. I know that arrangement wouldn’t work for every family, but it works amazingly well for ours.
I have two daughters and one son. My sincere hope for the future is that my son will be asked the same questions as my daughters when they are old enough to think about juggling parenthood and career. After all, moms juggle, dads juggle—we all juggle. Who juggles the most will ebb and flow, and at the end of the day it isn’t important. What matters is how we work it all out together—and that’s a question I’m happy to share answers to any day.