The Miranda Priestly Dilemma

Confession: I am a huge, huge Meryl Streep fan. Okay, it’s not much of a confession, since everyone loves her. Although, I will admit that despite Meryl’s long career in film (yes, we’re on a first-name basis), what won me over was seeing her in The Devil Wears Prada. Meryl plays the feared and powerful fashion magazine editor/ice-queen Miranda Preistly. In the film, she is at the top of the couture food chain, along with her ability to shake the fashion world with a purse of her lips.


But I digress, since we’re not here to review Meryl’s glorious career—a worthwhile activity for another day. What got me thinking about The Devil Wears Prada, and specifically what I call the Miranda Priestly Dilemma, was the Pew study released this week on “breadwinner moms.” We now see a historical high in percentage of households (40%) with mothers as the primary or sole source of income. However, the study indicates that three-quarters of adults believe women who work make it harder for families to raise children. Plus, half of adults also think working women strain their marriages.

These beliefs, at best, hearken back to more traditional views on women’s roles. At worst, they perpetuate a sexism still visible in gendered income disparities within the workplace. Hence, the Miranda Priestly Dilemma. Although successful in her career, the fictional Miranda Priestly has multiple divorces behind her and spends little time at home. The implication from our pop culture is that a successful career woman must not only sacrifice her family life but must also have the shrewish personality of a harpy.

So is it too much to want it all? I remember reading a New York Times article about a medical student trying to simultaneously navigate school and pregnancy. The story particularly resonated with me, maybe because I’m currently wading in my own medical school applications, but mainly because it brings up an important question: what happens when a woman’s career timeline clashes with her biological timeline?

The optimal time for a woman to start a family is in her twenties to early thirties, but this is also the optimal timeframe to jumpstart a career. Whether it be more daycare options in the office or paid maternity leaves, it seems that the workplace needs to adjust to the long-emerging working mother. Although women may (biologically) have more to balance than men, it hardly makes work and family mutually exclusive. The increase in women as the primary breadwinners signifies an increasing prominence of women in the workplace.

And traditional views will just have to catch up to already present realities.


Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.