The XX Factor

If Your Future’s That Bright You Maybe Need Shades

Though I was not qualified to be a secretary when I was 25 (nor am I now, 35 years later, based on the super organized executive assistants I’ve run into since then), I would certainly have been affronted to be mistaken for one as Katherine Mangu-Ward wrote she was when she shared an elevator with a veteran newswoman at the New York Times three years ago. The younger woman was quitting a great job, with nothing lined up, to move to Boston with her fiancé and she took the job confusion, and the older colleague’s advice the couple’s next compromise should benefit her , as condescending and patronizing. But the remarks were hardly as insulting as the Generation Y writer’s ungrateful description of another encounter with the same superior recalled in Double X yesterday, “as I stood there looking at her rumpled suit and dated hair and frown lines, I was overwhelmed with pity.”

Mangu-Ward, not yet 30, admits she was able to “breeze into life” in part because of feminist values the older woman had adopted and compromises she refused to make. The senior co-worker ungracefully offered career and education advice that was not relevant to the Yale-educated departing researcher because, by 2006, her prospects were already stellar. She was “free to make professional and romantic choices in a far better world” than when her would-be mentor had started out. Mangu-Ward still has years of energy-filled opportunities rolled out before her including, not insignificantly, newly created media to showcase her work.

The talented but callow writer doesn’t say whether she has children though she sniffs at endless discussions on “work-life balance.” Still in kindergarten when The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades was released, the recently married journalist has still not arrived at the age when, if you lose a night of sleep, it shows on your face for a week. When the lines of her life’s success (perhaps not as “laboriously carved out for herself” as that of the middle-aged feminist), add character and gravitas to her visage, I hope she will have something she’s proud of to pass on to future daughters and the young women she will encounter when her elevator is going down.