The Wisdom of David Leonhardt

Brenda Barnes became a national figure 20 years ago when she quit her job as a top PepsiCo executive to become a full-time parent. Some people celebrated her decision, and others criticized it. But everyone seemed to agree that she was doing it for her children.

Barnes died last week, from a stroke, at the age of 63. She died at an unfairly young age, but lived a deeply fulfilling life. She reminds me of what the psychologist Amos Tversky said before his own early death: “Life is a book. The fact that it was a short book doesn’t mean it wasn’t a good book. It was a very good book.”

Barnes always described her decision as a personal one, more for her own benefit than for her children’s (although they quickly came to relish it). She hated judgmental debates over women’s choices about work and family.

Yet there was really a larger wisdom in what she did. In her own graceful way, she called the country’s bluff. She made clear that our society demands impossible choices from parents — and pretends otherwise.

Society enables, nay positively celebrates, people taking decisions which they themselves feel leads to a good life well lived.

And this is society demanding impossible choices?

Jeez….

15 comments on “The Wisdom of David Leonhardt

  1. “She hated judgmental debates over women’s choices about work and family.”

    “..so I’m going to use her obituary to make one of my own, because that’s how you show respect for a life well lived.”

  2. “Much of today’s gender pay gap, research shows, stems not from blatant discrimination but from the penalties for working fewer hours or taking time off.”

    It’s shocking that employers won’t pay you for work you’ve not done.

  3. She made clear that our society demands impossible choices from parents — and pretends otherwise.

    She made her choice, so the choice was not impossible. It might have been a hard choice to make, but it was not an impossible choice to make.

    What this feminist lickspittle is saying is that women should not have to make this choice – that ‘society’ should ensure that women can ‘have it all’ by making special allowances for them.

  4. @ JuliaM
    “It’s shocking that employers won’t pay you for work you’ve not done.”
    That’s always the case if you are self-employed: so, in the UK, full-time self-employed people work, on average, 23% more hours than full-time employees. There are (surprise, surprise) roughly four times as many men as women among the full-time self-employed.
    https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/trendsinselfemploymentintheuk/2001to2015
    David Leonhardt is, of course, talking about the USA. In the UK most of the so-called “pay gap” is a fiction because the number quoted ignore the value of employers’ contributions to DB Pension schemes (the overwhelming bulk of which are in the Public Sector where a majority of workers are female) which are much greater for female employees.

  5. He’s saying what statists always say; the government should enforce (or at least encourage) whatever I think is “a god life well lived”.

  6. > Some people celebrated her decision, and others criticized it.

    > Society […] celebrates …

    C’mon Timmy, have some consistency! The line you quote tells you that some people criticised her decision. How on earth do you therefore figure that society celebrates it?

  7. How hard can it be to be a Pepsi top executive?

    I mean, it’s about selling Pepsi. Is that so hard?

  8. BiG,
    Quite. Just like any other big brand, they scarcely need executives as sales and development will just happen by accident. She probably quit out of boredom.

    Volkswagen might now need to invest in a couple though.

  9. How hard can it be to be a Pepsi top executive?

    Ask Joan Crawford. Her third (or fourth, I forget which) husband was a Pepsi executive who died suddenly, leaving Joan with all the responsibility and his position on the board. She wound up getting Pepsi product placement in all her later movies.

    This reminds me of a great story. Crawford and Bette Davis of course worked together making What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, and absolutely hated each other. The movie, of course, was a huge hit, to the point that it led to a lot of golden age actresses doing overwrought dramas in the same vein. Fox tried to bring back Crawford and Davis for Hush, Hush… Sweet Charlotte, but the two hated each other so much that it caused no end of problems. Eventually, Davis handled the problem by bringing a Coca-Cola vending machine to the set. Crawford was replaced by Olivia de Havilland.

  10. 1. There’s no such thing as society 🙂
    2. It’s true that the “you can have your cake and eat it” of being a stay-at-home mother and full-time high-flying business women is impossible. But I think the expectations are largely self-inflicted (that is, women on women).

  11. I mean, it’s about selling Pepsi. Is that so hard?

    Pepsi Co. actually outsold Coca-Cola Co. recently, but not in sales of Pepsi Cola versus Coke. Pepsi acquired some good bands (Gatorade being one of them, I think) and their other brands outsold those of Coca Cola. Presumably that other stuff needs marketing.

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