The Daughters of Womanists

13 Oct

What do we teach our daughters about working and marriage and having a family now? My generation was taught that we could have it all: the important career, the amazing marriage, great kids. I thought I would keep my fairly intense level of work having published four successful novels (Good Hair, The Itch, Acting Out, Who Does She Think She Is?), have a good time with my husband and be involved in my smart (of course they would be) kids’ lives and of course keep up friendships with my girls.

I was drunk on the Kool-Aid we women who were coming out of college in the early 80s consumed; of course I’d have a career and a family. Then add that I came from a “strong Black woman” and Black women always worked. They were not working in corner law offices or in surgical suites, but they worked full-time and in my mom’s case (and just about every one of her peers, post WWII) kept an immaculate house–that she cleaned herself, cooked a full-on dinner every night and ran the PTA.

I’m exhausted just thinking about her, but this was the model for many Black women (and women of other ethnic groups who were  part of the working and/or disenfranchised class).

A new book that deals with the current zeitgeist on women and having it all, career and family, is called Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection by Debora Spar She is also the president of Barnard College. Granted she’s a high-powered bold face name, writing for and about women with elite educations and middle and upper-middle incomes. However, most of of us are still struggling with the notion that we are supposed to do it all, be it all.

For much of her audience it’s the career, house, super-achieving spouse and high-achieving kids. For many of the rest, it’s trying to breathe while holding down a job, keeping your kids safe while getting an education and if there is a husband–supporting him emotionally, when he feels beaten down by his job and realities of lack of opportunity. Many of us are also helping our aging parents, sometimes financially.

Our foremothers, many of whom at some point worked as domestics, told their daughters: “I’m doing this so you don’t have to.”  The subtext was that you, girl child, will get an education, have a career, and you will be expected to “take care” of your family, too. In our mothers’ minds that meant: the grocery shopping, cooking and all the kid work, too.

My friends and women in our generation are Debora Spar’s age. We’re in middle-age and we’re tired. We’re not the women Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is talking to her book,  Lean In (I’m telling my readers to Sit Down). We’re also, hopefully, smarter. We’re waking up to the reality of not only not having it all, but not wanting it. She adopts a phrase in her book called satisficing, doing some things well enough. In the case of her premise, it means having the career/kids/blah, blah, but not having to have everything  (your decor, your body, your hair) be tippy-top excellent, perfect.

Learning to be satisfied with some things in our lives that are good enough, sounds like a good idea to me.

As to what I’m advising my  college-age daughter.

I’m telling her to go for all of it: a stimulating career, a great marriage and lovely kids.

Just don’t ask me to babysit too often.

4 Responses to “The Daughters of Womanists”

  1. Adrianne October 14, 2013 at 1:18 pm #

    Ms Benilde, you hit the nail right on the head. I too grew up with a “strong black woman”. She did do it all. Successful career, three amazing children (Me, of course, being the most amazing) and kept the house spic and span clean! It exhausted me to see it all. With that being said I found myself doing the same things. Well girlfriend I’m tired and I’m gonna have a seat! While I want my daughter to be successful and raise a wonderful family, I don’t want her to think she has to HAVE and DO it all. It’s damn near impossible without something suffering!

    I don’t have the answers but I know the former ain’t it!!!!

    I’ve allowed my daughter to see that I am a woman fully flawed but I recognize that while I will never be perfect, I am perfectible and I take it one day at a time!

    Have a great day my friend…..

    • Benilde Little October 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm #

      I can feel your honesty and know that it’s coming from a deep place. It is, dare I say, impossible. Yes, we have to teach our daughters–and our sons–that to be flawed is to be human. Thanks for your wonderful comment.

  2. Jamie Coffey October 30, 2013 at 8:37 pm #

    Hi there Benilde,

    My name is Jamie Coffey and I am the Special Assistant to the President of Barnard College, Debora Spar. Thank you for featuring Debora’s new book and your own opinions on the subject on your site. We were simply wondering if you could provide a link to our website,, somewhere in the post so your audience can easily find not only where to buy the book, but also where to find more information on Debora, the book tour, our video trailer, other press coverage, etc. The ultimate goal of Debora’s work is to reach audiences just like yours with her message, so thanks again for sharing!


    • Benilde Little February 1, 2014 at 3:44 pm #

      Hi Jamie,
      Sorry, I’m just getting around to including Debora’s website in my blog post. I’m just re-reading comments and realized I hadn’t included it. Hope it helps with book sales.
      All Best

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