Women on Top

A few brief questions for you: Do you work for a company run by a woman? If she has children, does she take flextime? Is that tolerated or encouraged in your office? Who represents you in Congress? Any of them women?

My guess is most, if not all, of your answers were negative. That's what journalist
Peggy Orenstein found after spending four years interviewing some 200 women. The result, her new book Flux: Women on Sex, Work, Love, Kids and Life in a Half-Changed World (Doubleday, $25), examines the state of women's lives three decades into the feminist movement. "Beneath a boundless optimism lies a sneaking suspicion that the rhetoric of 'choices' is in part a con job," she writes, "disguising impossible dilemmas as matters of personal preference. [Women] see 'choices' threatening to morph into cruel tradeoffs: double binds that could ultimately trap them in the narrow roles they're expected to escape."

Orenstein weaves her research into a series of engaging profiles. One subject, Mira Brodie, is a tough 26-year-old primed to conquer corporate America. She knows she must play by the boys' rules to advance at her high-finance job. Like her male co-workers, she values aggressiveness and assertiveness. But too much aggression ricochets into a typical female stereotype. "I'm the power hungry bitch," Brodie says. "People think I'm unapproachable. I don't exude those 'Come on in, hang out' vibes."

In evidence of the double standard, Brodie says many of her women friends take off their wedding rings before job interviews. "[Companies] are not sure if you're looking for a job for a year or two before you become pregnant," she says. Brodie's right. A 1996 survey of corporations found that women with children were considered less committed to their work by their bosses.

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