Women cannot have it all

Oh, yeah. You heard me.

In 2007, one of my wonderful professors, Mark, said to me “You can’t have it all.” It pissed me off that a man was telling me I couldn’t be a mom, professor, artist, wife, healthy, and overall awesome women at once. And Mark always had a way of hitting a nerve (to my benefit it turned out – I never forget what he said, and it shaped me in ways I won’t soon forget). Hotly, (okay, arrogantly,) I remarked, “Maybe you can’t. But I will.”

Five years later… I’m not so sure. And now I wonder – do I really want it “all?” What parts of “all” do I really desire to place into my future? I feel fortunate to be able to ask this question. Not all people can.

The last six years I so desperately was working toward one career goal that I neglected numerous parts of my life and health. After all, I had gone “all in.” I was playing the biggest game of my life in a win or lose outcome that had to go my way. It didn’t go the way planned, but what if what came to be was better? I didn’t win or lose – the game got longer and the rules changed. Now, with jobs that are good, solid and worth sticking to, my husband and I can think of something else other than getting a better job (THE job).

Naturally, being in my thirties now, I wonder next: do I want kids? Well, God knows our student debt may make that impossible (please spare me the “you can make it work” speech. I’ve heard it). But I like the idea of getting to a place financially where I could consider that choice from a heartfelt place, instead of how it feels now: like the choice has been made for me by a number of factors.

So comes the realization that, no – given my personal, economic, and professional circumstances – I most likely will never have it all. And I am wondering – is that so bad? Was the idea of having it all ever “real?” Or was it simply a dream I clung to in order to motivate me to a higher goal? Good questions. I don’t have answers.

What I do have is a really amazing, thorough, thought-provoking (and LONG) article by Anne-Marie Slaughter in the Atlantic called “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I urge you to take the time and read this essay. I am glad I did. I may not have gotten done what I had planned for my evening, but I wouldn’t give back the time it took to read Slaughter’s story. It is relevant to all genders, all ages. And I have to agree with Slaughter – improving the lives of parent-workers and non-parent workers alike will only happen with a massive paradigm shift in and out of the work place. (I would love for all employers to have “family” leave like Princeton! Or paternity/maternity leave come standard for six months? What a dream!) I think it is about time this change happened – for real. What do you think?

5 thoughts on “Women cannot have it all

  1. So right. I did my Master’s thesis on women’s fertility, controlling for labour market participation and education, among other things. Human capital is real. Women who have more children, work fewer hours, and earn less money. Period. Nope, you can’t have it all. Doesn’t matter if you are a man, or a woman. You can’t have it all.

  2. I agree Jen. Appreciating and treasuring what we have is the only road to happiness. I really respect Anne-Marie Slaughter’s decision. She is a strong woman: Capable of “having it all” in the male-dominated political realm, yet dedicated enough to her role as a mother that she chose something different. Perhaps I need to change my previous statement that “you can’t have it all”. Perhaps Anne-Marie Slaughter is the perfect example of someone who does have it all.

  3. Regarding work-place policies and broad paradigm shifts: I believe that this is a waste of time. The necessary changes will come only if men and women make economic choices that force change. While some organizations, mostly academic, have made positive strides, these changes will not deliver paradigm shifts. Paradigms will only shift after peoples’ behaviors change. Peoples’ behaviors will only change after their beliefs change. Peoples’ beliefs about family life will change only with good role models. Parents are the biggest role models in life. The question to ask is: Are we good role models for our children? Perhaps Anne-Marie Slaughter and her partner will be the kind of role models that are necessary for paradigms to shift. I would like to see more discussion about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s partner, and at sometime down the road, I would love to hear about the kind of lives her two boys make for themselves. Will they work in an organization with many female leaders and family-friendly policies? Will they find their niche in the male-dominated political realm that their mother was attracted to? If they do, will they work toward changing expectations so that positive parenting is still possible while they excel in their careers, or will they let their wives and their mothers do the parenting while they focus on their careers? We can’t wait for our children to change the world. We need to set the example for them. Only then are they empowered to shift the paradigms.

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