Blog posts by Melinda Byerley.  See more at Medium. 

Penelope Trunk: Crazy Like a Fox

Pretty much about every third post Penelope Trunk writes, I tell myself I’m going to stop reading her blog. It’s a bit like watching a traffic accident sometimes in that I can’t turn away. This morning’s post, called “Blueprint for a Woman’s Life” was like that for me. Here is a link to another post that unleashed a storm of controversy across the community. Like those other posts she’s written, I find myself infuriated, aghast, perplexed at why she’d write this. I’ve thought of her in turns as cynically raising page views with controversial content, mentally unstable, a business failure, and so on.  I’ve even commented publicly to her to that effect.

But today, I decided to approach this post less from the obvious knee jerk “you’re crazy” response and more from a thoughtful assessment of what she’s trying to say, which I believe is this:

“This is how the world is. This is the truth no one will tell you—the ugly, unvarnished assessment of what makes women “successful” in the eyes of most people—and whether we like it or not-sometimes ourselves. This is the true cost of having children, a cost that many men are not willing to bear. ”

I see Penelope’s posts as a call to action: if you don’t like how the world is, get out and change it. Live your life the way YOU see fit. Focus your anger on the society that created this situation, not on Penelope for reporting on it.

  • If you don’t like that the schools suck –advocate for change, vote for politicians who will fix it, volunteer in your local schools.

  • If you don’t like that there’s no paid maternity leave which makes it nearly impossible to raise a child and work full time, then get out there and be active in politics to advocate for change. Write letters to your congresspeople. Skip the lattes for a month and donate to a cause you believe in.

  • If you don’t like that a slim young woman represents the epitome of femininity then don’t buy products or magazines who promote that.

  • If you don’t like that women don’t make as much as men, fight for equal pay and equal rights. Don’t label other women who are trying to change that as “bitches”. Work with other women in the workplace, not against them.

  • If you don't like the sacrifices required today to have children, don't have kids. We have to keep reminding women that motherhood is a choice. It is not for everyone.

And, as is typical with Penelope, I find several nuggets of truth that ARE universal and worth repeating:

  • Practice Austerity. Money in the bank is freedom to make those choices that YOU want to make. In business school the professors called it “the go to hell fund.” Got a bully boss? Go to hell—you have rent in the bank til you find your next job. Want to marry a musician? No problem, you can support yourselves. Husband’s an abusive jerk? Go to hell, you have money to take care of yourself. Ask yourself each time you buy a pair of Jimmy Choos, or eat at a fancy sushi bar, what’s *really* more important in life. The flip side to this is negotiating effectively to increase your pay. Check out this book for a good guide.

  • Guard your marriage obsessively. Fact is that finding a mate does get harder as you get older. If you find a man who truly loves you and who you trust, work hard to hang onto it. Men are human and have flaws; the trick is to learn to pick your battles. Divorce is not only expensive in terms of familial wealth, but also you should know it won’t necessarily be easier with husband #2 because you will both have baggage to work through, which only makes it harder. (Please note I am not referring to abusive situations—in those cases, get out. Use that go to hell fund.)

  • DO Spend money on household help. The fact is that if you have a high powered career, your time is worth more money working on that than cleaning your house. So unless you get a special psychic energy from cleaning (in which case come on over to my house), hire someone to help. This includes nannies. Don’t feel guilty about it---a happy mommy raises well adjusted kids. That money you spend on a nanny or housekeeper may also be the thing that gives you enough space to breathe, and spend a little extra time keeping your marriage together.

  • Break the mold—but don’t wait til you’re 40. Penelope wrote:

But look, in order to change the trajectory of women's happiness, we are going to have to drastically change the advice we give to women about how to run their lives.

I’d change this to : in order to change the trajectory of women’s happiness we are going to have to drastically change the world we live in. 

While I'm on the subject of the complexities of Penelope Trunk, here's a post of hers that I think is heart stoppingly beautiful. This is the post that made me rethink her writing completely.