Every now and then a "leaving memo" makes legal news. Occasionally they involve cursing, a big F-you to the partners, or an F-you to the legal industry generally. I myself, have tired of these. Good for you, you have the balls to really give it to them. Your memo went viral. You're legal career is over. Worth it? Who's to say.
But last week, a different kind of leaving memo made its rounds on the internet, written by a departing Clifford Chance associate. You probably have read about it already, but if you haven't, here's an excerpt, taken from Above the Law:
A day in the life of Ms. X (and many others here, I presume):
4:00am: Hear baby screaming, hope I am dreaming, realize I’m not, sleep walk to nursery, give her a pacifier and put her back to sleep 4:45am: Finally get back to bed 5:30am: Alarm goes off, hit snooze 6:00am: See the shadow of a small person standing at my bedroom door, realize it is my son who has wet the bed (time to change the sheets) 6:15am: Hear baby screaming, make a bottle, turn on another excruciating episode of Backyardigans, feed baby 7:00am: Find some clean clothes for the kids, get them dressed 7:30am: Realize that I am still in my pajamas and haven’t showered, so pull hair back in a ponytail and throw on a suit 8:00am: Pile into the car, drive the kids to daycare 8:15am: TRAFFIC 9:00am: finally arrive at daycare, baby spits up on suit, get kids to their classrooms, realize I have a conference call in 15 minutes 9:20am: Run into my office, dial-in to conference call 5 minutes late and realize that no one would have known whether or not I was on the call, but take notes anyway 9:30am: Get an email that my time is late, Again! Enter my time 10:00am: Team meeting; leave with a 50-item to-do list 11:00am: Attempt to prioritize to-do list and start tasks; start an email delegating a portion of the tasks (then, remember there is no one under me) 2:00pm: Realize I forgot to eat lunch, so go to the 9th floor kitchen to score some leftovers 2:30pm: Get a frantic email from a client needing an answer to a question by COB today 2:45pm: postpone work on task number 2 of 50 from to-do list and attempt to draft a response to client’squestion 4:30pm: send draft response to Senior Associate and Partner for review 5:00pm: receive conflicting comments from Senior Associate and Partner (one in new version and one in track changes); attempt to reconcile; send redline 5:30pm: wait for approval to send response to client; realize that I am going to be late picking up the kids from daycare ($5 for each minute late) 5:50pm: get approval; quickly send response to client 6:00pm: race to daycare to get the kids (they are the last two there) 6:30pm: TRAFFIC with a side of screaming kids who are starving 7:15pm: Finally arrive home, throw chicken nuggets in the microwave, feed the family 7:45pm: Negotiate with husband over who will do bathtime and bedtime routine; lose 8:00pm: Bath, pajamas, books, bed 9:00pm: Kids are finally asleep, check blackberry and have 25 unread messages 9:15pm: Make a cup of coffee and open laptop; login to Citrix 9:45pm: Citrix finally loads; start task number 2 11:30pm: Wake up and realize I fell asleep at my desk; make more coffee; get through task number 3 1:00am: Jump in the shower (lord knows I won’t have time in the morning) 1:30am: Finally go to bed
It struck a nerve. And a lot of criticism. As I perused the comments to some of these articles, I was horrified. I was offended. I was sad. Here are a few of them, from the Above the Law article:
"Don't have kids. Problem solved."
"Don't go to law school is a better solution."
"How can this woman expect to keep a good man around when she doesn't make it a priority to devote time to her husband? I did not see one 'quality' time entry dedicated to this woman's husband. You can't have it all without a man. Remember that honey."
"I don't know why you think I'm supposed to feel sorry for this person. They can't have a household where both he and she have fabulous well-paying jobs AND get to spend plenty of time with their designer children. Boo freakin' hoo."
Other, more reasonable commenters, voiced that her husband should have chipped in. That she should get a nanny. That she was portraying herself as a martyr.
Me? I think she was just being honest.
What she describes is nothing new - an all or nothing, impossible situation in biglaw where one must choose kids or work. But the reason, I think, that this article has gone viral is that it is so rare that anyone has the courage to talk about it. Good for Ms. Anonymous Memo Writer. We should be talking about it.
What has happened to feminism? And what is feminism? When I first left my job, I felt like I was letting feminism down. All these women had worked and fought so hard to give me the same opportunities afforded to men, I had taken advantage of them and achieved success, and there I was, throwing it all away. Numerous comments on my blog have conveyed as much. I was, in many senses, ashamed. I felt I had failed all women. I felt I had failed myself.
But in the couple of years since I walked away from biglaw, my opinion has changed. I don't think feminism is about achieving equality with men. No, that aims too low. After all, I don't necessarily want what today's men have, particularly in the legal industry. A stigma associated with any kind of parental leave? An inflexible working environment? Long hours? No, thank you. As one commenter put it:
"If 'feminism' means women get 3 hours of sleep per night and young children never see their mothers, then fuck it."
I don't think feminism is about this, or at least, it shouldn't be. I think feminism is about achieving greater choices for women. More options. More flexibility. About acknowledging the fact that we do have children, and when we do, there has to be some way to forge a balance. Because that is better for EVERYONE. Better for the women, better for the companies that retain talent, and better for, perhaps the most important player, the children.
Old school feminism was built on the model of achieving equality with husbands - husbands who had wives who worked full time managing the household and raising the children. And we have achieved that, to a certain extent. But at what cost? As Lisa Belkin wrote in her column, "[t]he workplace as it exists - particularly in the legal world in which this woman works - is a 1950s model set in a 2012 world. It assumes that workers can do their jobs (billing 1800 to 2000 hours of work each year) with no distractions, because there is someone (traditionally a wife) at home to sort out the rest of their lives." Now that that wife is no longer at home, society seems to accept, and even expect, that children should be secondary to career demands.
This isn't to say that all parents should stay at home with their kids. Or that all mothers should work part time. Or that fathers can't do the former or the latter. It's to say that there should be flexible choices for all of us, that aren't so all or nothing - that aren't so black and white. And that companies, the legal industry, society - all of us- need to change our value system a bit. The fact that this woman spoke the truth, in a quite literal way, and was blasted for it, is very telling. It's almost as if we women should be so appreciative of the opportunities afforded to us, of the salaries that success yields, that how dare we complain.
The fact is, this woman was lucky, in the same way I was. We had a choice - we were able to leave our jobs in favor of a more reasonable, livable situation. So many women aren't in the fortunate financial position to make that choice.
(By the way, the identity of this attorney is anonymous, but she does live in Washington, DC. So anonymous attorney, if you by any chance ever read this, email me! (firstname.lastname@example.org). You should totally do a guest post for the blog. Or meet me for a drink.)