This week, David Brooks wrote in a New York Times column he titled “The Sandra Bullock Trade”
“Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?”
Huh? Leaving aside the hoary assumption that women have to choose one of the other (which smacks of backlash, and raises the question–and why didn’t Brooks write about the “Tiger Woods Trade”?), here’s my philosophical question for Brooks: “Would you stay with an adulterous jerk if you had the money and power to leave and support yourself?”
It wasn’t that long ago that women didn’t have that choice. Period. As recently as 150 years ago, when a woman married in the US, all her property became her husband’s, by law. Even personal items like clothes and trinkets and pictures, belonged to the husband. A woman couldn’t sell her property without her husband’s consent, and if they divorced, all pretty much reverted back to the man, who also kept the kids. It was nearly impossible for women to support themselves if they left their husbands. They were basically financial dependents for life.
Fast forward to today. Women, like Bullock, have used their economic power to leave unhappy relationships, to create family situations where they have more power, and to reinvent family patterns in a way that gives women far more say than ever before. As women have moved from economic survival to independence, they’ve had a massive impact on the family, boosting family income (ONLY families with a working wife saw real income growth between the 1970s and today) and inventing a broad spectrum of new family structures that accommodate all kinds of people.
Sandra Bullock shouldn’t be the specter of what happens when a woman chooses a powerful career: She should be the poster child for what economic and social influence allow women to do. To support themselves and their families, to make the real Sandra Bullock trade—trading in a man who abuses your trust.
So my question for you is: How will you use your economic influence? Will you use it to build a stronger family? To advance your career? To change the way your company is managed? I want to know how you plan to use your influence. Please tell me.