Jewfem Blog

On planes, trains and Swadharma, or answering the question, "How does she do it?"

 Since I began working at JOFA, first as Interim Director and then as Executive Director, the staff and I have been inundated with the question: “How does she do it?” I tend to wonder what “it” is – work in a high-pressure job, leave my kids once in a while, or take a job that I really love? But let’s assume that for the most part the question refers to the issue of my travel and living arrangements; after all, I live in Israel and work in New York, and I have four children ages 9-19, and that feels like an impossible combination. I can bore you with some of the logistical answers, details of plane rides, light-packing, Skyping, and tag-team parenting. And of course I must acknowledge the necessary support system which would be different for everyone. For me, it includes the husband-partner, the tech-savvy staff, the flexi-thinking Board of Directors, and the occasionally on-call friends and neighbors.  But I think that these things don’t really answer the underlying question. When we ask, “How does she do it?” I think we’re asking something about women’s lives in general and whether women have the ability, the right – I daresay, the societal permission – to live fully and to reach for our dreams. After all, let’s face it. Men do this kind of thing all the time. Many men travel the world, work endless hours, and commute by plane without ever being asked “How does he do it?” With men, it’s assumed that he will do whatever is necessary for his career and that the support system will adjust to his needs and ambitions. By “support system” we usually mean their wives. Women compromise on their careers all the time in order for the men in their lives to fully advance in their careers. I see this visually on the “commuter flights” that I take to and from Israel – the flights that arrive in New York early Monday morning and leave Thursday night in order to land in Israel in time for Shabbat. The flights are often dominated by professionals like me, who are noticeable by the fact that they travel alone, travel light, dress professionally, and are attached to their laptops and other electronics. And what I have discovered is that, for the most part, these professionals are almost all men. So the question that we should be asking ourselves is not how “I” do it, but why are we asking this question only of a woman? Why is it that only men are given the freedom to work as their hearts desire? When I hear a woman ask, “How does she do it?” I hear a wanting. I think it reflects a longing for whatever that “it” is that we see in the other person, something that we feel is missing in our own lives that the other person seems to have. In the many interviews I’ve done for research and writing over the years, I have spoken to countless women...

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