Home of Dr. Christine B. Whelan

Success is Sexy – Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference Video 4/17/09

On April 17, I had 500 women on their feet yelling “Success is Sexy!” at the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference. Watch this 45-minute video — including lots of Q&A — to shatter the myth that men are intimidated by smart, successful women, and learn how you can proclaim that your accomplishments are attractive, too!

April 28, 2009 - Posted by | Marry Smart: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to True Love, Relationship Tips | , , , , , , , ,


  1. Success would’ve been a lot sexier with childcare. So tell me, what was supposed to have become of all those smart, sexy, post-SWAN(R) women with young children to look after?

    Christine, I think that if you have kids, you’ll find that the “what does it mean to be a smart woman” story changes radically, and involves household gender wars like you’ve never known them. Did you notice when those open sessions and networking dinners were held? (1) As school let out for the day; (2) on a school night. That means the only mothers participating are those with grown children, a willing grandma handy, or unusually cooperative husbands. Not to mention those with significant disposable income. Even mothers with nannies will not generally leave the kids in nonfamily care 16 hours a day.

    (And I can see your reaction: Of course my Peter would help out and watch the kids so I could go! Yes, I’m sure he would, if you had only that conference to think of. But parents have these scheduling struggles daily, and over time, on the whole, the man will fight for the primacy of his career, and shunt the childrearing/house work to the woman. In real marriages involving nice, feminist-talking men, women skip events like these because they find they have to choose their battles, and save their “please watch the kids” tickets for career-essential events, conference trips out of town, and the like. They also find themselves, to their own vast surprise, trapped. If they push too far, they risk divorce or separation, and that would harm the kids and leave them with far more work and trouble.

    You should talk to Jennifer Glass and see what sort of negotiations she’s has to make to leave her career running as it does. Smart, tough lady, right? And her husband, as I recall, not only does considerable childrearing, but has a career with far fewer hoops and demands than hers. Ask her how footloose she was about events like this during the decade when her children were young.)

    I raised the issue of childcare repeatedly with the organizers and never got a response. I guess it was something they decided successful women don’t need. Or maybe they were afraid to come straight out and say, “No, we’re not going to do anything to see that mothers can attend these events. We are going to pretend those problems don’t exist and leave them for someone else to worry about.”

    I remember once attending an IWF luncheon with my then-toddler, and was startled to find that there was no childcare. I participated in the group activities as best I could, with Regenia and others trying to help out but increasingly uncomfortable. There was obviously no place for children there, nor any place for women — no matter how smart or successful — directly responsible for the care of children. We eventually left, and I haven’t had anything to do with IWF since. I’m really not interested in women’s organizations that are determined to slot women as “successful/connected/movers” or “mothers”.

    Comment by amy | July 1, 2009 | Reply

  2. All right — I’ve had a look at your book on amazon. I see “motherhood” mentioned there three times, once with a nod to stresses of juggling career and children while married.

    Christine, I think you’ll have to do your research on this. You might start with the CHE fora and MomMD, but there are plenty of high-achiever-mother sites out there. Unless the plan is to get the women married without thought to what happens next, I think you’d best look at that part of the picture.

    I find that smart men really do on the whole look for smart women (though, maybe, not quite as smart as they…they tend to find it exciting at first, but the excitement wears off when the ego gratification is not forthcoming after a while and the woman keeps on being whip-smart; the second wives tend to be smart, but gentler and not quite so stellar, and often childless, willing to pay full attention to them and subjugate their careers). I’ve never had any trouble in that department — the men want someone they can talk to, a confidante, and they’re very appreciative, find the brights fun on dates. But it’s not so easy to find a man who’s genuinely willing to share the career hits equally over time. Who’s willing to do his share of the housework and family-maintenance work, including being the contact with the extended family. Who’s willing, you might say, to play fair.

    After watching these games go on over the last six years, in my own marriage and others, my tentative conclusion’s that the men go on behaving like men, and expect their wives to compete like men in noncaregiving affairs, but to be wifely when it comes to childrearing, home care, family, etc.

    Sure, they might do the at-home daddy thing for a year or so, especially if it coincides conveniently with a weak economy. But once they switch “career and family provider” back on, they will check you like Canadian hockey players when it comes to fighting for work time and the freedom to play ideal worker, and expect, since you’re in the game, to compete too. After all, you’re for real about the career, right? But this is in direct conflict with what they expect of their wives and their children’s mothers. There you’re supposed to look after people, be kind, not be a bitch. You’re supposed to let them have some pride in supporting and protecting their families.

    And women give in. They succeed…but not as well as they might have. Yes, they get the PhD, they get the tenure…but they turn down the move to the prestigious R1 and stay at the sleepy regional SLAC, give up the dream of research and find silver linings in teaching, stop presenting so often, and rely on their husbands’ much larger incomes. Yes, they’re in practice…but they let some locum tenens come in and are no longer seen as contenders for department head. And so on. It’s a high level of mommy-tracking, but mommy-tracking it is, and that carries very real costs and resentments.

    I gotta run — must finish packing for a research trip. I’m taking my daughter with me because her dad’s mentally ill and I can’t trust him to look after her for three weeks solid. The grant will cover my expenses, but not hers — not her airfare, camp tuition, etc. Of course, the terms of custody only allow two weeks’ travel with her each year, so I have to plan my research extremely carefully and efficiently, and residential fellowships are not an option. Although I’ll be near some people I’d like to interview while I’m out there, it’s unlikely I’ll be able to get to them without making the trip grueling for my daughter, so I’ll likely leave the interviews for another (expensive) time, some kamikaze in/out mission during the school year, sometime when I can leave my daughter with a friend without disrupting her school week too much.

    Married can be groovy, but I really think you ought to advise these ambitious women to think ahead very carefully, and realistically, before having children. I thank God every day that my daughter’s healthy and bright. As hard as things have been for me after marriage (whoopee, marriage), they could be much worse.

    Comment by amy | July 1, 2009 | Reply

    • Amy, thanks for all your comments. You raise excellent points, and yes, I admit that the picture is much less rosy for dual-career families trying to negotiate the expectations vs. realities of changing gender roles. I’m going to be doing some more research on this in the future, and yes, Jennifer Glass has done great research herself. Unless you’d like to remain anonymous, send me an email directly–sounds like you’ve got some interesting insights and stories to tell.

      Comment by cbwhelan | July 1, 2009 | Reply

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