We live in an unequal world so long as “working mom” is an expression and “working dad” isn’t—which is why Bill and Melinda Gates aren’t taking it for granted that their daughters will have an easy time juggling their careers with family.
“What I always tell my daughters is that I hope they will do both—I hope they will figure out how to balance a family life and how to balance the work piece in, and I guarantee you they’re already thinking about it,” Melinda Gates told Quartz in a recent interview.
“My 19-year-old, she’s already saying, ‘Ok, well, this career would mean I’d, you know, have to have my husband do this part at home and do that.’ I mean, they’re thinking about this already when they go to college and as they go through college.”
If being the daughter of one of the world’s wealthiest, most influential couples does not spare a 19-year-old woman the awareness that she’ll have to demand certain cooperation from her partner, stand her ground, and make deliberate career choices if she wants both a profession and a family, then truly no one can make the presumption that duties at home will be shared equally or that work-life balance will ever come easily.
But Gates says her daughters are seeing, in the examples of those around them who were able to share family duties more evenly than previous generations did, “what that balance is like and how you can craft a life.” And that balance, as many women have realized by now, is more about being able to slip into whatever identity one wants to at a given moment (woman, wife, mother, daughter, friend, professional) than it is about having it all, all the time.
Gates’ concept of “crafting a life” conveys well the continuous negotiation that even this new generation of young women will have to entertain with their partners, and society. While it’s likely that no 19-year-old boy is actively thinking of what he’ll need his wife to do, if he wants to be a father someday, more young women are at least finding they have a relatively larger margin in such negotiation. There are more possibilities and new support systems that should make it easier—even if only gradually, and in frustratingly tiny increments—for a woman to shape her future on her own terms.