I have to officially weigh in on the “have it all” debate. I’ve been thinking about it a lot – and I’ve been reading most of the articles in response to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article that have come across my dash. I even wrote something about it in which I applauded Slaughter’s choice to return to her teaching job after her two-year stint in a high-powered career so she could have more time with her family. But even that wasn’t quite what I wanted to say.
The fact of the matter is, in my opinion, Slaughter is right. We can’t “have it all.” But I think she didn’t take it far enough. I think we can’t have it all, nor should we.
I watch a lot of television in my spare time, and although I know that what we see on TV doesn’t necessarily represent real life, I also know that a lot of it does. There are a lot of portrayals of high-powered career women and men out there and, most often, they have one thing in common: they don’t have anything else outside of their careers. And, if they do, they drive themselves up a wall trying to juggle it.
Take The West Wing for example. I know that show has been off the air for a while, but since I am in the middle of watching it for the first time on DVD and it’s a great, well-researched show, and it also represents the same kind of job Slaughter herself left in favor of the family life, we’ll use it. Can you think of one character on that show, besides President Bartlet, who had a really good, solid relationship? I mean, I’m only on season 4, but I cannot think of one. They either don’t have relationships, or the relationships they did have ended. And they certainly don’t have kids, or they don’t see their kids very much because they are always at the office.
The thing with the characters on The West Wing, and any other pop-culture representation of high-powered career people, is that they made their choice. They chose to be a part of the White House and, for the most part, it was OK with them that this was all they had. The same thing goes for life. You make your choice and stick with it. You can either have the high-powered career or you can have a career that is more conducive to family life and the family to go with it. You can’t have both. And if you try to have both, well, you all read Slaughter’s article, so you know that happens.
We seem to be forgetting that this isn’t just a problem for women. This is a problem for men, too. The difference is that men were brought up with the mentality that they have to provide for their families no matter what, and so that is, essentially, the only choice they have. Some break out of that mold and choose careers that allow them to be home more often to help out, or stay home all together, but based on the fact that most women are still doing the lion’s share of the housework, even if they make more money than their male partners, I’m guessing it isn’t all that many.
The bottom line, though, is that men have to choose, too. They just don’t talk about it so often because it is a choice they were brought up knowing they would have to make. Us women, on the other hand, have been told that we can do anything, which we take to mean that we can do everything.
You can’t do everything. Not all at once, anyway. You can, actually, have it all. Just not at the same time. And that means that you have to make choices, and you have to be at peace with those choices. And there’s nothing wrong or unfeminist about that.
If this topic interest you, or if you find yourself struggling to have it all, I highly suggest you check out Undecided by Barbara and Shannon Kelley. I guarantee you’ll find some of the answers your looking for in that book. At the very least, you’ll find help pinpointing the problem.
Photo Credit: Victor 1558