When Dame Helen Mirren talks, I listen. Last week at the Women in the World Summit in New York, where Hillary Clinton gave the keynote address, the Oscar-winning actress explained the driving force in her life: “I was brought up,” she said, “to gain financial independence.” Seeking that goal, she added, is the “most important thing to teach our daughters.”
I have one small problem with Dame Helen’s message: Much as I applaud it in theory, at age 37 I have not managed to achieve financial independence myself.
My mother expected that her daughters could — and would — do anything they wanted. The year I started at Yale was the first that female undergraduate admissions surpassed male. There is a sculpture in one of the university’s main campuses whose surface is etched with the number of women enrolled each year from Yale’s founding in 1701 to 1992. I remember passing by it often and thinking, however naïvely, that gender equality in my own life would be a given.