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In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on our Q&A with Alison Wolf.
The XX Factor is sure to spark debate. Alison Wolf’s controversial thesis? While the gender cap is closing, the gulf is widening among women themselves. RIF asked Alison a few questions about writing her provocative book.
Q: What was the most surprising thing you found while researching The XX Factor?
A: The importance of pizza! The arrival of home deliveries transformed women’s lives, and pizza came first. It was ready-cooked food that cut the time women spent on housework–washers, dryers and dishwashers had, amazingly, almost no effect at all on women’s time. Less housework plus easy-to-buy hot food at the end of a working day, transformed women’s ability to take demanding paid jobs. A lot of other things surprised me as well. For example, which women get married and when, the extraordinary number of female Chinese billionaires, and the fact that we are wrong about the common belief that women work more than men. But if I have to pick one, it has to be the pizza!
Q: There have been many books published recently about women in the workplace, including Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. How does The XX Factor differ from those books?
A: First, I think I have lots of new things to say! But also, many books, including, of course, Lean In, are about how to beat the odds. They want to tell readers how it can be done. I think there are a lot of truly inspiring women in The XX Factor; but I’ve set out to describe and explain their success, not give direct advice. That said, if you understand our world better, you’ll be better suited to deal with it. There is also a lot written about the glass ceiling, the Mommy track, and books about what is wrong and how to fix it. My book is very different from those, too. It is not about specific workplace problems facing women, but takes a really broad sweep: Where are we going? Are women’s lives moving in the same direction everywhere, or is the U.S. following a different path? Why are things changing so much faster in the developing world than they did in the U.S. or in Europe? And The XX Factor also looks at women as a whole, not just at professionals. I don’t think you can understand the lives of today’s educated professional women without also understanding just how different they are from the majority of contemporary women. And how much they are like educated men.
Q: What’s the single-most important take-away that you’d like for readers to have after finishing your book?
A: I’d like them to look at the world a bit differently, and notice things they didn’t before. I hope that reading The XX Factor will refocus everyday life, so it’s clear how many surprising effects female employment has had, and keeps on having. For example, successful female bankers and lawyers wear expensive shoes with impractical very high heels. Elite campuses have a hook-up culture. When you have men and women of roughly the same intelligence going to school together, The Girl Scouts and other volunteer organizations are finding it hard to recruit leaders with less women available for volunteer activities. On almost all our streets and shopping centers, there has been a steady increase in the number of cheap-but-slightly-different restaurants cropping up. These are all things we have probably vaguely noticed. However, they not only make perfect sense but also fit together – or should once you’ve read the book! And I’m sure there is a lot more that I have missed and which XX Factor readers will spot.
If you’ve read The XX Factor, what do you think of Alison Wolf’s thesis? Is it true that the rise of working women has created a far less equal world?
About the Author
ALISON WOLF is an academic and writer living in London. She is currently the Sir Roy Griffiths Professor of Public Sector Management at King’s College, London. She also advises the UK government on education policy.