Kasey Edwards is in this situation. She's a Melbourne woman in her early 30s who has written a frank account of her life in her latest book Thirty Something & Over It.
The basic scenario is straightforward: Kasey Edwards is a successful career woman who turns thirty and can no longer face the prospect of working.
Where it gets messy is that Kasey Edwards just can't let go of a feminist way of thinking in dealing with her situation.
For instance, Kasey Edwards makes it clear that she has succeeded in doing whatever she wanted to in her career, earning very large sums of money along the way. Even when she starts to give up and begins slacking off, she is still rewarded with positive work reviews, visits from corporate headhunters and large bonuses.
She opts out because she no longer believes that the grind of work is fulfilling and meaningful.
She interviews male colleagues who tell her that they don't find the work itself meaningful, but that they are committed to it to support their families and that they stay positive to make the most out of the situation.
In spite of all of this, she still writes a couple of chapters about how men have it easy in the workplace and that women are the victims of male power.
Here is some of her privilege:
I had everything I'd always wanted - a successful career and the lifestyle and assets to match ...
I equated success with money and leapfrogged from job to job with bigger and bigger pay cheques ...
In my fourth year, I was earning more than my parents combined ... People raise whole families on what I get as a bonus payment, yet I spend every cent I earn ... It isn't unusual for me to eat out all three meals in a day ... I've stopped looking at prices on the menu ... my friends are just the same. I recently went shopping with a friend who bought five handbags on impulse, which came to a grand total of $4000 ... the entire transaction took less than 15 minutes ...
Here is her presentation of the lot in life of her male colleagues:
Over a glass of wine I casually enquire, 'Jamie, do you ever feel like you don't want to work anymore? He looks at me bemused and, to my complete surprise, says, "All the time, mate."
He says he only works because he has to pay the mortgage and support his family ... he views working as a necessary part of life and therefore has resolved to make the best of it.
"There is no point in me moaning about having to go to work and making it miserable for myself and the people around me," he says. "So I make the most of it while I'm there and get fulfilment from other aspects of my life".
The difference between Jamie and me, and many of the other women I've spoken to, is that Jamie seems resigned to his fate of corporate drudgery and is just getting on with it. On the other hand, my sisters and I are not so willing to accept unfulfilling work as our lot in life. We are resisting it, resenting it and dreaming about alternatives.
You would think that all the above would be a reality check. Kasey Edwards achieved everything she wanted career-wise, was paid large sums of money but has opted out because she finds work itself unfulfilling. The men, meanwhile, buckle down to what she is opting out of in order to support their families.
But Kasey Edwards's feminism immediately springs back to life. She follows up with an attack on "male power" in the workplace, including this ugly quote from a friend:
I ask Emma why she thinks women seem more over it than men. "Because we don't have dicks," she says simply. "By the time we get to our thirties we've realised that a dick is far more valuable in the workplace than intellect, education or dedication. We'll never have the necessary equipment."
This comment is allowed to stand, despite the fact that the friend Emma thinks of her work as "high-stress, soulless and unsatisfying" and compensates by engaging in "a blur of binge drinking, all-night parties and casual sex". In her own mind, though, the problem is not with her or with the nature of work itself, but with something mysterious withheld from her as a woman by men. She refuses to give up on the belief that men are withholding something from her and that she therefore belongs to a victim class.
What's disturbing reading Kasey Edwards's book is that the men that she knows all seem prepared to support whatever it is that the women want to do, whether it involves paid work or not, but that in return she still sees men as the enemy, not at a personal level, but in terms of society.
And so you get comments like these:
If the sisterhood had the unity and loyalty of the gay movement I think we'd all be a lot better off ... if we banded together .. Why don't women realise that when we undermine each other we are hurting ourselves because the group that benefits from our actions is men? It's hard to blame men for having all the power when we give them even more of it ...
It just doesn't fit together. Kasey and her friends are opting out not because they were held back but because they got to the top and found it unfulfilling. And yet the feminist resentment survives, as does the view that men are privileged and have easy lives, as does the idea that political justice is about women banding together to fight men in the workplace.
If the corporate grind really is unfulfilling and meaningless, then why would Kasey Edwards call on women to band together to commit their lives to it, particularly when she and her friends have themselves decided to opt out? And why would she regard the men she leaves behind to shoulder the grind as living easy, privileged, lives?