This past Monday, Barnard president Deborah Spar talked about her new book, Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection. Quest perfectionist Isabella Johnson was there.
DSpar’s latest book is a “hybrid” of cultural history, social analysis and personal anecdote. Wonder Women: Sex, Power and the Quest for Perfection is her take on the controversial topic that women can’t have it all—including big boobs.
President Spar’s book talk took place in the Diana Event Oval at 12:30 on Monday afternoon. Barnard was the first public forum where the book has been discussed—it was not even released until Tuesday. In the hall of 90% young women, who upon leaving school will face the reality of trying to “have it all,” the audience was very excited to hear what wisdom DSpar could impart upon us. Spar began her speech by painting a picture of what feminism has meant to her over the years. She believes that feminism in its 1960s form pushed for broad social goals, but present-day women have internalized “feminism” and turned it into their own personal quest for perfection. Instead of liberating women, feminism has actually “upped the ante” and raised our own standards of how we think women should be.
She outlines several general topics in her book and how they pertain to our quest for perfection; at her speech she gave us a couple of teasers. From body image to marriage to housework, it seems being a woman today is as loaded with expectations as it has ever been. Instead of recreating, evolving, or erasing traditional expectations, society has kept those and added new ones. We are now expected to be the president of the PTA, cook every meal for our families and to have a developed, glamorous career. “Guilt,” Spar identifies. “I hear this all the time from all different kinds of women.” No matter what women are taking on, they feel guilty for not doing more. Women, she explains, do not know how to pull back.
So what is a girl to do? “Give up on perfection—go for something less than perfect.” We need to understand, Spar says, that we cannot do it all. She argues that women need to prioritize and know when to pull back. We need to figure out what we really care about, what means the most to us, and then pull back on things that aren’t so important. If you spend your life trying to have it all, “you’re blowing it.” During the Q&A session, DSpar discussed learning to say no to things you like. It is easy to pull back on things you don’t like, but the struggle comes in compromising between things that you love.
I think some young women may feel betrayed by Spar’s words—how can she claim to be compromising? She’s the President of Barnard, on the board of Goldman Sachs, an accomplished author and a wife and mother of three. Not too shabby, right? But when Spar was asked about what we can do to change these absurd standards for women, she explained “successful women” need to be more honest; they need to show where they messed up and where they pulled back. She did not elaborate on her personal struggles with this at the talk, but luckily we were all given a free copy in order to find out for ourselves. I look forward to reading her book, especially the personal side, as this was my first face-time with Spar, and I was impressed.