Let Me Say This About That…

Don’t blame feminism for the concept “Having It All.” 

(This isn’t a response to the article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic, which I have bookmarked to read this weekend, but rather to much of the reaction to it I’ve read over the last several days.)
What Second Wave feminists of the 1960’s and 70’s were advocating was legal equality for women, and equality of choices and opportunities, and a cultural and societal evolution that would bolster and sustain that equality and expanded roles. (They also promoted the idea that traditional “women’s work” should be more highly valued and compensated.) It wasn’t feminists who coined “bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan;” that was a pop song, and an idea that required little change from the cultural status-quo or traditional roles, only more expectation heaped upon women.
As so often happens with any cultural movement, the message of feminism was co-opted by media and commercial interests in order to sell products. “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby” sold cigarettes. The first reference to “Having It All” that I remember seeing was in a book by the same title by Helen Gurley Brown, at the time the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine. (And if I recall correctly, her version of HIA meant career and marriage, but not kids.) 
At least in the U.S., our society is still very much structured in a way that makes juggling work and family obligations difficult. Good quality childcare is expensive and hard to come by.  There is no uniform paid family leave, aside from unpaid leave mandated by FMLA. While some companies have adopted telecommuting, flex hours and other adaptations to the work schedule, they are in the minority. The standard work week still holds sway, as does the idea that getting ahead means long hours in the office.
But here’s the other thing that chaps my hide, when the phrase “Having It All” is invoked, it’s always in reference to women. Which tells me how far we still have to go. Sure, men increasingly talk about wanting to work less and spend more time with their families, more power to them (and us!). But the chiding, the contempt that this phrase evokes is always directed at women, the implication being either that we’re wrong to want it, or inadequate if we haven’t achieved it. Silly selfish women, you’re short-changing your families, your employers, your husbands! Or conversely, look at her, she’s  an investment banker and still has time to hot-glue 300 buttons onto her child’s Halloween costume AND make clever cupcakes for the class party!  
So let’s bury this phrase in the trash heap of pop culture, where it belongs. The reality is that women do work and have families and it’s damn hard. We do the best we can, we prioritize, we learn, we grow.  But let’s continue to agitate for change that supports the reality: flexible work hours, paid parental leave, supports that women in other industrialized nations enjoy.
~
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25 Responses

  1. materfamilias
    | Reply

    Say it, sister! No, seriously, I couldn’t agree more. This is getting so old. Still no affordable, accessible. universal childcare here, 35 years after my daughter was born in the UN-declared Year of the Child. What’s good for women would be good for all of us, women, men, and especially our children. I don’t want to “have it all,” but I’d love my daughters to be able to enjoy satisfying careers and raise their children as confidently as possible, should they want children. And their husbands, and my son and his wife. So sad that our generation couldn’t achieve this, but we’re not done yet, right?

    • materfamilias
      | Reply

      Whoops, my math is off, don’t tell my daughter who’s only 33, having been born in 1979, International Year of the Child . . .

  2. Bravo, Une Femme. I love this: “We do the best we can, we prioritize, we learn, we grow.” Prioritize is the key. *Nobody* “has it all”, at least not at any given time.

    I agree with deep-sixing this hackneyed phrase. How about another (stolen from Tim Gunn) for all of us like: “She/he is making it work the best she/he can.”

  3. Dea
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    I cannot comprehend “having it all.” I’m single and consumed with the basics — having enough to cover rent, getting enough sleep, keeping a job. Piling on more seems overwhelming to me.

  4. Tabitha
    | Reply

    No one ever has it all, they just purport too.

  5. Claire R.
    | Reply

    Thank you for this post. In many areas of life we are in a terrible backlash against the basic feminist issues we raised in the 60s and 70s. Having it all is a ridiculous fantasy turned into a nasty demeaning accusation. I’m with you! Thanks again!!!

  6. Poppy Buxom
    | Reply

    Yes, yes, yes, and amen.

    And could we please get over the idea that certain professions almost require a stay-at-home (or at best, minimally-employed) spouse to pick up the slack caused by 80 hour workweeks? (I’m thinking physician, lawyer, tenure-seeking professor, C.P.A., politician, etc.)

  7. LPC
    | Reply

    Go you. Of course you are right. I knew you would be:).

  8. BigLittleWolf
    | Reply

    Infrastructure, compromise, reality. Exactly.

    (And you know I ranted on this one for two days a week ago… )

    http://dailyplateofcrazy.com/2012/06/21/women-on-women-and-the-war-continues/ (and the next day, too).

    Here’s the other thing, since you mention flexible working hours and FMLA, etc. – Don’t forget, those of us who are not part of an “employment relationship” have no FMLA, no Short Term Disability, no Long Term Disability, no medical insurance, no life insurance, etc…. unless we buy some (at exorbitant rates and often, with equally outrageous co-pays). We’re working, but with zero benefits of any sort.

    Also, organizations with under 50 employees (if I remember correctly) are not subject to FMLA, and remember… FMLA is unpaid leave (with a lot of complicated eligibility criteria as well). How many of us can take “unpaid” leave – though of course, if you’re an “independent,” any time you’re not working you’re not earning… And much of the time you are working, you’re not earning…

    Again… sane infrastructure. Applicable to men and women both. Recognizing that if you’re going to have a country, you’re going to have a women giving birth, and someone (or lots of someones) raising the kids.

  9. Northmoon
    | Reply

    I always thought what feminism was about in the 70’s was a woman’s ability to make a choice for career or stay-at-home-mother and be valued either way.

    Obviously no one person can do both full time jobs at once without support, and as pointed out, there isn’t much official support for raising children in spite of the ‘family values’ rhetoric.

  10. Susan
    | Reply

    I totally agree with your statements in this post. Everyone knows that life is tough/hard–whether you are a career mom/wife or a stay at home mom/wife. All of us know that. No one has it all or even dreams that they could achieve that. Sacrifices are made by all, whatever the venue. As usual, Deja pseu knows of what she speaks which is why I come here to read what she writes.

  11. Susan Partlan
    | Reply

    Great post Pseu. I read the article and though I agree the phrase “have it all” is a poor choice the article does advocate the changes needed to support working women raising families.

  12. Tish Jett
    | Reply

    Brilliantly said — do I ever tell you enough what an incredibly talented writer you are?

    I read the article, but it seemed somehow false and judgmental. (I read it quickly because it annoyed me.) It sort of seemed like a good peg on which to hang an article. It’s been a while since we’ve trashed women and the idea that we can’t have it all. It always makes for a good pop read.

    In a recent conversation with a French acquaintance she remarked that very successful French women take the time from their work for their families and it is accepted, expected. It is part of the culture. As far as I can see this seems to be true.

    Maternity leave is several months, vacations are long, holidays throughout the year tend to dribble over into extended weekends, read four days. And, just imagine — never mind the problems with the economies throughout the world in this little rant of mind– the French do seem to get their work done while at the same time having respect and compassion for family.

    Whew. There. I feel much better now. Merci Pseu, cherie.

  13. Dawn
    | Reply

    I have halfway read the article and halfway heard an NPR interview with Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I can’t say I’ve disagreed with anything I’ve read or heard from her so far. However, I do wholeheartedly agree with you that the conversation should be about solutions — longer leave, flexible hours, etc. rather than the tired old Us vs. Them.

  14. Marsha
    | Reply

    Amen. I still have difficulty communicating to my husband (who is childless; I am not – my child’s father died when she was 12) that having children is not a luxury, it is not a favor reasonably granted to women only if they are willing to work twice as hard and still fall behind financially, and society needs to be restructured to accommodate the individuals who choose (and those who don’t choose) to reproduce so that they can also work, provide for themselves and their offspring, and be able to look up from the grindstone once or twice before death. The fact that women do the heavy lifting in the reproduction department should not mean that they are penalized for doing so (as though it were done on a whim, to satisfy them and them alone) – which means that men can step up find ways to make matching contributions, which would need to be financial as well as participatory. For all our yelping about family values, we do little to support family in the long term (the person who physically bears the child usually winds up losing out career-wise in terms of hireability and retirement, and is therefore more dependent on a partner who may or may not be in for the long haul). It’s a matter of social structure and social mores – I think the mores are changing, but the structure is slow to catch up. I personally never wanted “everything,” I just wanted to be a human being who could take care of myself AND have a child and not feel that I was somehow indulging myself inappropriately. Rant over – thanks, I needed to get that out.

  15. The Style Crone
    | Reply

    Great post! Beautifully written and resonates with my values.

  16. kathy peck
    | Reply

    Susan,
    This is the best article on the whole subject that I’ve read yet. It’s logical, realistic, and makes perfect sense. You write with great clarity, and directness. I agree with all you said, and have nothing else to add. Thank you.

  17. Veuve
    | Reply

    Amen to that!!

  18. So true and a great idea.
    Sam

  19. California Girl
    | Reply

    Excellent & succinct. Why are we still fighting the fight anyway? Women have surpassed men in % of college grads &, I believe, # jobs in the work force albeit not upper mgmt or high level positions. I went through 5 nannies when the boys were little just to keep them home because I had to work. I am one of the lucky ones because I could afford this and the pricey day school that followed. That was 20-25 yrs ago & we’re still no closer to in -office or body day care than in the 1990s. I believed I could “have it all” but the stress and the price were too high.

  20. Kristien62
    | Reply

    After reading, Bringing Up Bebe, I was blown away by the supportive childcare environment in France. It would be so much easier for women who work if these options were available in the US. I opted not to work for the years that my boys were very small. Believe me, I didn’t have it all. My choice was based on the lack of affordable childcare in my area and actually a poor jobs environment. It made more sense at the time to live on one income and it was anything but easy.

  21. Ann
    | Reply

    Yet another example of the media manufacturing, or at least distorting, the position of a group. Women’s advocates fight for basic human rights like child care, equal pay and health care, and, surprisingly, those are very controversial. So the media instead recasts the argument to look something like “spoiled upper class women professionals whine because they can’t have it all!” That way the real issues are clouded and ignored.

  22. Linda-B
    | Reply

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  23. Linda-B
    | Reply

    I couldn’t agree more. I was so fortunate that my mother-in-law provided child-care for me while I worked, but I resented the social expectation that I SHOULD work and the financial climate which essentially FORCED me to work. And I frequently felt that I was holding several jobs: career, mother, wife, caretaker of house, cook, personal shopper, etc. I never felt that feminism did me any favors. I am now, unapologetically, a selfish retired woman, finally able to enjoy home and family.

  24. Rita@Goldivas
    | Reply

    Let’s not forget that a law establishing a national day care system actually passed both houses of congress, but was vetoed by President Nixon in 1971, he said it “threatened the American family”. Another bill almost made it in 1990. It’s hard to imagine anything like that in this day and age of YOYO – You’re on your own.

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