“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”

I’m not a parent, but I spend a good amount of time thinking/worrying/planning for how to effectively balance my life when that time comes. I don’t know why I think about it so much. You’d think I’d just wait to figure it out once kids are actually on the near horizon.

But, alas, the topic is often on my mind, which is probably why I found myself close to tears while reading this incredibly eloquent article published in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Despite what we’ve often been told, Slaughter admits, it’s difficult — if not altogether impossible — to “have it all.”

In all my thinking about balance between career and the rest of life, I’ve come to realize that this is likely true. When I was in college, my Psych 101 professor said something that has always stuck with me: “You can only be truly good at one thing.” In other words, yes, the “have it all” mentality as it currently exists is a myth. Talking about the reality of balancing one’s busy world, Slaughter begs, is key to dispelling the lie and ending the cycle of women feeling poorly about themselves for not being able to figure out how to squeeze everything in.

As with most things of this nature, there’s no right answer, no one-size-fits-all approach. Each family needs to decide the right route for them to take, regardless of the stereotypes society has put in place.

And one more thing: women need to become better at encouraging each other as they decide how to structure their lives.

Slaughter recounts discovering this truth:

“All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

The good news? We’re living longer, and can expect that our careers will change often and will extend into our mid-70s. That means we’ll likely have several years to invest in careers after children have grown up. And, thanks to technology, working remotely (read: working from home) is becoming easier and more accepted, hopefully giving us more time with family when necessary.

But then, might the real issue lie in the definition of “it all”? Who says we need to listen to what the world is telling us equals success, either at work or at home? Let’s start creating our own individual expressions of “it all” and then begin chasing those goals. That seems far more attainable — and worthwhile.

One Comment

  1. gwynnem

    Cameron and I read this article, too, and had a good discussion on it. I think your last paragraph in the post was a definite issue for me, too, when I was reading Slaughter’s article. What does “having it all” mean? For Slaughter, it means being in the highest echelons of power and successfully raising her children according to a standard she values. Makes sense since she’s been a player in politics, but I also felt as if her real audience is pretty darn narrow.

    She adds a little counter-argument in her piece about how she knows most women don’t even have the opportunities she’s struggling to balance, but that counter-argument felt more like lip service than true understanding. Many women do have to balance a great deal if they want to be mothers and pursue a career, but I think she ignores whole swaths of the female population who may not even want to be mothers (Are they somehow less feminine? Does Condoleezza Rice even want kids? If not, does that make her less of a woman?) as well as non-traditional relationships where children are successfully raised and loved.

    Hopefully, I didn’t rant up your blog here. 🙂

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