You might say we’ve come a long way, Baby, when even a(n older) man recognizes that it’s most often women who make the career sacrifices. This isn’t just any man we’re talking about here — but none other than Francis Ford Coppola who, I will be the first to admit, is a genius.
Back in September, Coppola was interviewed at the Toronto International Film Festival by its director, Cameron Bailey, in front of a packed audience. Last week, excerpts of the interview aired on Fresh Air, providing some good food for thought in a week devoted to, well, food. Coppola revealed that he had always wanted to make small art films, and that he originally envisioned the films that turned him into a big shot director as the way to finance what he really wanted to do. (The fact that those paycheck films were The Godfather and The Godfather Part II and, ultimately, Apocalypse Now — my top three all-time favorites, in no particular order — is beside the point.)
Toward the end of his gig, Coppola took questions from the audience, and the one that closed out the interview — and prompted this post — was from a young woman, an aspiring filmmaker, who asked in a quavering voice what advice he had to offer to young filmmakers. And here’s what he said, without skipping a beat:
Well, if it’s a guy, I say get married …. I was married at 22, and I was desperate to have kids. I had so much fun with my kids. The fact that I was married and had this family of little kids, I was very responsible, I wanted to have a house they could live in, so I worked very hard. I didn’t go out and waste time as young men are known to do, I was diligent writing my script and what have you. Marriage had a very good effect on me. When I was married I was broke. Eight weeks later, I had a job as a screenwriter. I attribute a lot of it to the sense of togetherness, a little team I wanted to provide for.
If you’re a young woman, I would say, don’t get married, because then you have this guy who’s trying to get you to do everything for his career. And you’re not going to have any time for your own career ….
His answer drew a big laugh from the audience — the guy can deliver a line, after all — but I have to believe it was one of those hoots that come from recognition. Because of course he said what no one says out loud. For decades now, it’s been the DoubleX of the marriage team that has often negotiated the trade-offs, often to the detriment of her own career. And we rarely question why we play second fiddle.
Not that we are less smart. Or less talented. Or less strong. Or even less driven. But because that’s the way society thinks, and it’s been slow to change. Why don’t we ever question this?
Case in historical point. I did a story many years ago on Navy wives, whose husbands were stationed at a nearby base. Many of them were extremely smart, well-educated and very accomplished. But most of them had put their careers on the back burner, not necessarily by choice. Why? Because they could never assure an employer they’d be around for more than 18 months. And, you know, whose career came first? (Fun fact: at that time, the grocery bags at the PX were emblazoned with a patronizing little slogan: “Navy wives: Toughest job in the Navy”. Whew.)
Okay, I agree. The military might be an extreme example. But more recently, we were on a national radio talk show when the host started talking about all the kids he sees in his upscale New York neighborhood who were ferried around solely by their nannies. Clearly these folks have plenty of money, he said. Why don’t they just scale back a little so that the mom can stay home. Not dad, not parent. Mom. You can bet we set him straight. Oh, and did we mention this guy was a very liberal sort?
Frequently, it’s money that’s the issue. The biggest paycheck tends to call the shots, and since we’ve noted time and again, it’s men who score the biggest ones, we girls lose again. Is Dick likely to take a chance so Jane can follow her dreams to another locale? To be fair, it’s often a practical decision, especially in this economy. But always?
Or maybe it’s all about the time crunch. When both members of the team are working night and day, and traveling to boot, who’s going to stick around to hold down the fort? As we heard from one of the sources for our book, an economist who teaches in a prestigious business school, when there are two partners with killer jobs, the kinds of jobs her students, regardless of gender, train for, aspire to, and usually land right out of grad school — something has to give, especially when kids enter in. Could this be why we see so few women at the top of the ladder? As she told us, it’s the women who often bow out, rather than settle for a nine-to-fiver that kills the dreams they’ve had in their sights since grade school.
To be sure, for many women, this is a trade-off they are willing to make. But that’s not our point. Going back to the master’s comment in Toronto, after the laugh, let’s stop and think. And wonder why.
Like I said. Food for thought.