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February 11, 2014 > Bookworm Column: The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World

Bookworm Column: The XX Factor: How the Rise of Working Women Has Created a Far Less Equal World

Your mother worked for as long as you can remember.

Whether inside the house or out, for money or motherhood, she worked Ð hard. She might not have had prestige. Maybe she was a cog in a wheel in a factory in a corporation. Or she mightÕve pulled 24-hour days without ever leaving home.

Maybe she still works, and so do you. But whoÕs better off? Read the new book ÒThe XX FactorÓ by Alison Wolf, and you might be surprisedÉ

For much of the last century, womenÕs lives were relatively the same: once they married, they quit work and focused on home and hearth because that was what society expected. TodayÕs women, though, have Òbecome a class apart,Ó says Wolf. Their gender Òdoes not define their fateÉÓ

But then again, some women Ð the Òhighly educatedÓ ones, the ÒeliteÓ Ð have surely defined the fates of their poorer sisters, in both work and family. One Òkey differenceÓ between the two classes of women, Wolf says, is in childbearing.

TodayÕs elite women have fewer children than their less-educated counterparts, partly because theyÕre eager to (or must) return to work quicker. ThereÕs also Òoverwhelming evidence that money affects the birth rateÓ: poorer families are larger, earlier, while highly-educated women statistically have babies later in life Ð or theyÕre Ònot having babies at all.Ó

Money also rears its ugly head in the rearing of those children. Because elite women return to work sooner, they often rely on paid nannies to help with the kids. This, and the ÒoutsourcingÓ of other domestic tasks like cooking and cleaning, Wolf indicates, has created a class of workers that she calls Òservants.Ó

Servants, as youÕd expect, are not Òelite.Ó

And even with this new ÒclassÓ of workers helping at home, women still assume the larger share of domestic chores. This inequality between men and women endures (though Wolf indicates that this gap is narrowing), but thatÕs not the bigger issue: the inequality between elite women and lower-income women continues to widen. This leaves us, in part, with a dearth of educated workers in certain essential (but un-flashy) careers, lingering inequality, and Ònot much sisterhood.Ó

I really wanted to like this book. Alas, I didnÕt much.

ÒThe XX FactorÓ is, first of all, not very engaging. No, itÕs downright staid, and only occasionally interesting Ð perhaps because it felt repetitive to me. Author Alison Wolf drives her points home with a sledgehammer, which isnÕt needed for the educated reader for whom sheÕs reaching.

WhatÕs worse is the controversy. Wolf makes too many overgeneralizations in this book. She claims that working women often ÒbehaveÉ like men,Ó and IÕm afraid dedicated legions of teachers and nurses may feel insulted here. I also had to question if a chapter on sex, strippers, and prostitution was truly warranted in a book on todayÕs modern workplace.

Overall, there are a few points well-made, but this book is a struggle. Unless you want to delve into statistics and controversy, I believe ÒThe XX FactorÓ is a book you can cross off your reading list.

c.2013, Crown
$26.00 / higher in Canada
395 pages

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