Why I Didn’t Feel Guilty When I Went to Work Part 2




Judith M. Bardwick, Ph.D.


My relationships with my husband and children were very good for a long time.

John and I met in college and from the very beginning he knew I was outspoken and an achiever.  In terms of most preferences, values and talents there were no surprises which made things easier for both of us.

Many of the problems I later saw were the result of individuals embracing values that were very new and the opposite of the traditional ones that defined the roles of women and men. I started seeing middle aged women in my graduate seminar who had angrily left home, furious that they had given up their Self. To reclaim it, they felt they had to leave the cause of their selflessness behind: which meant leaving their husband and children.

I was doing some clinical work at that time and saw people, primarily middle aged women who were petrified with fear and agitated and desperate, with no work skills or experience, left behind by a husband who had heard the siren call of the 1970s on free love and the benefits to the children, of divorce.  I called these abandoned and betrayed women, who had been married and mothers for many years, Patients of normal pathology.

That phrase meant there was nothing really wrong with them; rather, emerging values which substituted personal choice for coercive conformity and encouraged narcissistic pleasure which justified dumping them. Those new values were seductive and absent of responsibilities. Thus the emerging values which had evolved at the height of feminism minimized the value of women’s work as mothers and as the core of stability of the family while it idealized the world of men’s work.

I was sufficiently imbued with the traditional values so that I could understand (but not act on) divorce. But I felt strongly that parents who left their kids were immoral and unforgivably selfish.

My guess is most of the pioneers of feminism felt the way I did. We were not radicals.  We were married and glad of it, had children, and just wanted to add one more sphere of action and responsibility to our lives.

I became the major earner and we needed the money.

John came from a wealthy family.  Before we were married he told me he would never work “just for money.”  I didn’t believe him because I thought he would never want to live less well as an adult than he had growing up. 

Alas, I hadn’t the faintest idea of the extent of the pathology about money which existed in his nuclear family.  From the outside they looked like a fortunate family whose portrait belonged on the front cover of The Saturday Evening Post. There was the tough president of the largest Savings and Loan in the suburbs of Chicago who was very generous to his wife and their two sons.  His wife was pleasantly plump like the ideal mom (of those days) should be.  Never was heard a disparaging word from my mother in law.  She was commonly referred to as a saint. John was the older brother, incredibly handsome and very bright who was passionately in love with flying.  His academic record was spotty, depending on how much time he spent with party boys that semester.  The younger son was extraordinarily charming and sexy.  He seemed to take nothing seriously.

 I really enjoyed the lack of temperament of my in-laws and their apparent good nature.  My own family was relatively uninhibited, freely arguing loudly, emotions worn proudly on sleeves.  I hated all that heated anger.

It took several years for me to learn that each member of John’s family depended on the father for money and while he was generous, he also controlled them.  It was unspoken but each understood the rule was never to disagree with the father because in his displeasure, he might…whatever they imagined. The only family member to get distance from this nuclear family was John. After college he never went back to live near his parents and there were few visits. When John said he would not work for money he meant I will not become like my father. And he didn’t. But he never earned more than $17,000 in the 10 month academic year.

It was virtually impossible to fight with John; he was skilled in selective deafness.  And because he appeared endlessly good natured, no one realized how intractably stubborn he was on those few issues where he dug his heels in.  That included making money.

As a result, the task fell to me. If I didn’t earn money we would have been in the lower middle class – at best.  So I accepted every opportunity irrespective of how little it paid or how inappropriate it was for a Michigan professor.  The one that really disgusted my mother was a short stint as an early “Dear Abby,” which paid $25 per column.

Over time, feminism was successful and I became very visible as an important resource and the opportunity to make money kept increasing.  It started accidentally when I first went to IBM and spoke to middle managers about how to supervise women. Ultimately I became a favored consultant to Fortune 100 companies, a popular lecturer for speakers’ bureaus, and a frequent keynoter at many large meetings.

In short, I doubled my salary in a few years and ultimately my university salary was very minor compared with my non-salaried earnings.

Besides being grateful for the opportunities which were coming my way, I confess I was also angry at John’s willingness to accept money from me or his father while he didn’t earn a living.

I was also very aware that in terms of money John and I had reversed roles.  He was a very brilliant and creative engineer and I suggested he take the exam to be a Professional Engineer and consult.  Medical Engineering was moving up as a career and there was a new department for it in the School of Engineering.  That also sounded like a natural field for him…What I learned was that if I made no suggestions I didn’t care and if I did make suggestions, I was nagging.  Damned if you do…damned if you don’t.

My financial success was very expensive. In the long run the gender reversal in earnings, status and professional respect cost John his self-respect as well as my respect for him.

 In 1975 he moved out and started divorce proceedings.

Looking back, I don’t think I would or could have changed the trajectory of our lives.  But, for a long time, I wished I could have.

But then, life moved on.  And, as someone once told me would happen, unbelievably, John ultimately became just another person whom I had once known.


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