What Ivanka Trump and Gwyneth Paltrow get wrong about work/life balance and 'self care'

Both successful women have offered advice on work/life balance - but there's one thing they're both forgetting.
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Both successful women have offered advice on work/life balance - but there's one thing they're both forgetting.

OPINION: Oh, work/life balance. If we could all just figure it out wouldn't life be blissful? Everything would just fall into its rightful place and we would no longer feel guilty, or tired or defined by our work.

The tricky thing about work/life balance is that the people most likely to desperately seek work/life balance are the very same ones who use busyness as a status symbol, who post photos of themselves working late in the office to social media, and in response to someone asking how they are they can be counted on to reply "soooo busy" (subtext: with my fulfilling and important job and jammed social life!).

They are mostly not the people for whom work/life balance is a concept so absent from their lives that it is laughable.

The women who really need better work/life balance likely are not posting their career mission statement on Instagram, or mainlining management books or booking in 'me time.' They're mostly doing the best they can to get by. To keep going. 

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Perhaps the most galling example of this was revealed in a Guardian report about the conditions factory workers in Subang, Indonesia are labouring under to produce Ivanka Trump's line in neutral-hued office-friendly separates for Women Who Work.

One worker, Alia, told reporter Krithika Varagur that she and her husband can only afford to visit their children (who live with their grandmother) one weekend in a month. Alia laughed when presented with Trump's argument about finding 'balance' with life and work. Her idea of work/life balance, she told Varagur, would be if she could see her children more than once a month.

According to the report workers in the Buma Apparel Industry factory are paid one of the lowest minimum wages in Asia and have impossible to achieve production targets. Others detailed accounts of verbal abuse. It's rather stark contrast the advice offered by Trump in her much-panned book released earlier this year. Such as: "Divorcing ourselves from the reality that we have full lives isn't useful or sincere," and "Passion is what makes us feel most alive."

And especially this: "No matter your age, your background, your education, or your successes, we are all granted 168 hours a week."

 

A post shared by Ivanka Trump (@ivankatrump) on

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Sure we might all have the same hours in the day (including the same amount of hours in the day as Beyonce as the coffee mug slogan goes!) but Trump's hours are spent a little differently than the hours of a factory worker in Indonesia, or a single mother who works full-time and feels hot flushes of guilt that she has to miss her kid's special assembly because if she doesn't work the family doesn't eat. We might have the same hours in the day, but life is a little easier when someone - or at least masses of money - can handle the hard slog and the logistics of life, no?

It was a similar case at Gwyneth Paltrow's first and most Goopy of new venture's Goop Health: a health and wellness summit that took the practices that Gwynny preaches on her website - shamans! kale! vagina steaming! - and put it into practice among other like-minded, and like-wallet-ed women. 

One panel during a day of panels that preached 'putting yourself first so that you can look after others' as its key mantra, featured Paltrow alongside a gaggle of her famous friends, including Cameron Diaz, Nicole Richie and Miranda Kerr, discussing the juggle of motherhood (and nobody is denying it is a juggle - it is). 

And there was one major omission.

 

Dream girl band @camerondiaz @nicolerichie @toryburch 💖💖💖💖#ingoophealth

A post shared by Gwyneth Paltrow (@gwynethpaltrow) on

As Lindy West, who attended the summit put it, "the women deliver a bounty of platitudes about ambition, female friendship, self-care, their mothers and sticking to one's 'practice'. They are charming and humble. Richie is funny. But at no point do any of them say the words: "I HAVE LOTS AND LOTS OF MONEY AND A STAFF."

In the context of a conversation about the challenges facing working mothers, the omission is, frankly, bizarre. It is a basic responsibility of the privileged to refrain from taking credit for our own good fortune. They might as well have been reading from Ivanka Trump's book proposal. As with all the other panels, they do not take questions.

So perhaps people value balance differently, and perhaps finding it will save us all from being consumed by stress and guilt and identity crisis.

But it's essential to acknowledge that even the concept of seeking it out is a privilege that is not available to all. Pretending otherwise is an insult to the people who haven't the space to even dream of it. 

 - SMH

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