“’Empowering yourself,’ [Lisa] Jackson said, ‘doesn’t have to mean rejecting motherhood, or eliminating the nurturing or feminine aspects of who you are’…If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.” ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter, Why Woman Still Can’t Have It All.
Before I begin, let me first say that the following is not a critique of Ms. Slaughter’s article, rather it is a response written in full agreement with her. She is a highly-intelligent, articulate, and inspiring woman. I admire her very much. I highly recommend, that upon finishing my post, you read the article linked above as it is fantastic. With that said, I think that not only can’t women have it all, we should neither want nor feel the need to do so.
Why should women be pressured to “have it all?” This is not a scripted movie and we are all not Sarah Jessica Parker (this is a reference to “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” which I have not seen but judging by the trailer it is playing into exactly the sort of myth that Slaughter discusses in her article), rather this is real life. And in real life time is limited, bodies can only work so hard, and human relationships can only endure so much stress before they break. Moreover, why is this unattainable expectation to be successful professionals, wives, mothers, and homemakers placed upon women?
Granted, this is beginning to change as more men are taking on larger shares of household labor and more active and involved parenting roles, but it is occurring slowly and women still get the short ends of both the career and homemaking sticks. Women still earn less than men. White women earn 22 cents less per hour; black women, 31 cents; and Hispanic women, 41 cents. As Slaughter points out in her article, “women hold fewer than 30 percent of the senior foreign-policy positions [across the government, the military, the academy, and think tanks].” Women are still more likely than men to work two full-time jobs, one out-side of the home and one making the home. And studies show that women, as this article discusses, are expected by employers and colleagues to work twice as hard as male co-workers in order to prove that they have what it takes to make it in the “working world.”
All of this must change, certainly. But the change must begin within ourselves. We women have got to stop believing that we have to “have it all” in order to be considered successful and equal to men. Men don’t worry about this, at least most of them don’t. I have never, in all my working life, seen my male colleagues fret about leaving work because their child is sick or about taking a personal day to attend a child’s game or recital. One former co-worker, who had an agreement with his wife that they would take turns missing work to fulfill parental duties, after receiving a call from his daughter’s school that she was ill and needed to be taken home simply walked into our supervisor’s office and said, “I need to take a half day, my daughter is ill,” and then left to pick-up his ailing daughter. Yet whenever my female co-workers found themselves in a similar situation they would worry and begin trying to think of excuses that would sound less unprofessional. This was, in no small part, because in their homes the bulk of the parenting fell on them rather than their husbands and they found themselves often taking off days or leaving part-way through a shift to deal with family issues.
What “having it all” for women really implies is doing it all. It means bringing home a paycheck, perhaps after having earned a degree in some profession, and doing most if not all of the following: keeping the house clean, doing the laundry, tending the garden, taking care of the children, keeping the finances straight, and making sure dinner is made/served and everyone eats it. If, on any given day, something does not get done we are made to feel, either by ourselves or those around us, that we have neglected our duties. How many men do you know (be honest now) who are expected to do so much? Aside from my husband and my dad, I don’t know many.
Women have to start demanding more participation from our spouses (unless of course they’re already helping out, in which case thumbs-up to you) and insisting that they respect and appreciate what we do. This will certainly cause arguments, but if you’re tired and stressed out all of the time, perhaps a little arguing is needed. Also, if your spouse loves you and respects you then he will eventually listen. After all, you’re supposed to be partners.
We women must start demanding not asking for the same respect and opportunities as men because asking suggests that we are not entitled to these things by virtue of the fact that we are human-beings and active members of society. We deserve fair pay. We deserve career advancement. We deserve time off to tend to ourselves, our children, our spouses, or our parents when need be. We deserve the same as men because we work just as hard, in many cases harder, and we are equal to them in nearly every possible way.
We, both women and men, need to raise our children, our boys and our girls, to recognize the difference between gender constructs and sexual physiology, and encourage them (encourage, not push) to defy them. Gender expectations, like war and poverty and pollution, are man-made and thus can and should be changed or all-together eliminated. They do no good for anyone. They limit our choices, pigeonhole both men and women into careers and social roles that they might not want. If a man wants to be a stay-at-home dad while his wife, who desires a career, works then he should do so because this is will be far more personally fulfilling to each of them. Gender roles force each of us to define ourselves, and our children, along arbitrary lines: girls are supposed to like pink and princess and want to be nurturers, while boys are supposed to like blue and super-heroes and want to be defenders. But, not all children want these things, nor do all adults for that matter.
I wasn’t all that into pink or princesses when I was little, nor was my sister. Sure, I had Barbies and I loved them; but my Barbies were adventuring archaeologists like Indiana Jones, top-notch spies like James Bond, or explorers of Time and Space like the good Doctor. The room I shared with my sister was littered with toys of every kind: Ninja Turtles, Spider-Man, He-Man, She-ra, Barbie, dinosaurs, trucks and cars, and all of the ancient treasures (mostly just dirty rocks) that Barbie and I had discovered on our numerous archaeological digs around the neighborhood. I loved digging in the dirt. I loved catching frogs and little garter snakes. My Dad, who was a bit more of an involved parent than my mother, never discouraged our ways of play and never raised my sister and I to behave according to strict gender roles. We learned to throw baseballs and footballs as well as any of the boys in our neighborhood. He taught me to throw a good right hook, just in case I ever needed to defend myself. As I grew and expressed a desire to be everything from a space-explorer to double-O-7 when I grew up, while others would tell me that I could not be these things because I am a girl, my Dad would tell me that I would make an awesome whatever-it-was-that-month. When I was a little older, I fell in love with history and knew that someday I would be an historian, another career dominated by men, and I couldn’t be happier than doing what I love and defying gender roles as I do it. It’s an opportunity that we all deserve, the chance to find ourselves and to able to do so free from the restraints of socially constructed concepts of boy’s play and girl’s play, of men’s work and women’s work. Each person, male and female, should be allowed to construct their own identity.
And this brings me to my last point, one that is crucial to achieving everything else: We women must stop being so critical of each other. The battles between stay-at-home moms and working moms, formula-feeding moms and breast-feeding moms must cease immediately. The way I see it is that whether you are willing and/or able to be a stay-at-home mom or breastfeed or you are, either by choice or necessity, a working woman or you formula-feed that is your business and it is not a matter of debate or judgment for anyone outside of your family. We all have choices to make and needs to fill, and more often than not these choices and needs are ones with which only women are expected (thanks to antiquated and arbitrary gender expectations) to face. The last thing any woman needs is to be harassed by other women – who, whether they admit it or not, have been backed into the exact same gender corner- and to have her choices/needs unfairly and unnecessarily judged by the very group of people who should understand the position in which she finds herself. We women must re-learn what feminism (to use an out-dated term; a new one is needed, I think) is really about. Feminism is not about being like men, it is about embracing, celebrating, and nurturing our womanhood and determining for our individual selves what that means. It is about being true to ourselves as individual human beings. Whether or not we choose to have children and/or pursue careers, we are each still a woman. We are strong physically, emotionally, creatively, and intellectually. Feminism does not mean, despite the way in which it has been depicted in the past, that women have to have it all by doing it all; rather it means that women should stand up and demand their fair and equal share of the society that we, right along side of men, have helped build. When we can stand together, women united in the common cause to have the right to choose the path that is right for each of us as individuals and respect each others choices, then we can finally stop trying to do it all and start being the people we want to be.