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Know Your Unicorn Space: A Conversation with NYT best-selling author Eve Rodsky

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Photo credit: (Palamatic 90)

Eve Rodsky’s first book, The New York Times best-seller Fair Play, sparked an exciting conversation about achieving gender equality on the homefront. 

Her second argues that even if you achieve equality there, something else is critical to women’s well-being. She calls it “Your Unicorn Space,” a place where a person has some intention—even if just for a couple of minutes at a time—to do something they enjoy outside of their obligations as a partner, parent, or professional.” 

Rodksy spoke with us recently about both books. What follows are highlights of the conversation, lightly edited for clarity and brevity. 

Q: Your first book, Fair Play, began a national conversation about gender equality on the home front. That was in 2019, before COVID. What is the state of gender equality on the home front now? 

When I investigated the issue in 2012, there was little traction. More than 12 years later, these issues are regularly in the news and people’s mouths. So, I think the biggest change has been visibility. I am glad people are talking about the problem, and we have evolved past not knowing what invisible work is. 

The pandemic helped me argue that the home and work fronts are intrinsically related. Yet structural barriers remain. 

And there are two camps: There are systemic barriers that hold women down and we need to will our way to the top. Of course, both are important. We need to understand structural barriers, but we can also take agency. 

Q: Your favorite chapter in Fair Play is “The Top 13 Mistakes Couples Make—and the Fair Play Fix.” What are some of those mistakes, and how do we create a fair play fix?

The biggest mistake is a short-term mindset. This is the idea that I can do it myself in the time it takes me to tell him how to do it. The problem is that this will devalue future time. If my spouse or partner is not diapering well, I don’t want to be locked in for six years just because, in the beginning, when we had a 2-week-old, I thought it easier to do it myself at the moment.

The second biggest mistake couples still make is breaking up the ownership of tasks. Fair Play is based on the tenet of an ownership mindset. Instead of having a helper, the idea is to have a partner who owns tasks and takes them completely off your plate. If your kid wants to ski, one person should do all the research, planning, and execution. 

Similarly, if your husband is going to make a meal, it shouldn’t mean you pick the menu and get the groceries, and he cooks. That’s merely executing your wife’s dinner plans. 

Q: What’s fascinating in your recent work is that you realized that even when the domestic workload is more balanced, people still report missing something. You talk about it as the unicorn space. 

Being consistently interested in your own life has been the only answer I can find to burnout among women.  And that means you must be unavailable from other things–being a parent, partner, or professional–for a time. 

This is a harder sell, but you can see the health impacts on women who don’t have their interests: depression and women numbing themselves through edibles, psychedelics, and Mommy juice. It’s alarming to me. 

One of the best things my mother did for me was never give up her unicorn space, even if parenting had to come second. I hated it as a child, but I saw it as an important lesson as an adult. And I felt sad and ashamed when I did lose myself in my roles as parent and partner. Coming back to owning that was very personal. For me, it was things like starting to dance again. 

I also tell the story of a woman who was a stay-at-home mother and devoted spouse. One night, she had a nightmare of being stuck in the mud and not able to move. She asked herself what the opposite of that is. It was the need for speed. And she became an amazing race car driver in her fifties. Watching her daughter talk about her mother made my heart burst. She saw her mother as an extension of herself until she started racing. Then she saw how brilliant she was. 

It’s about what makes this person beyond being a spouse and mother. It’s the unicorn space, being the whole self. It’s about how they shared themself with the world in some way. 


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