Hayley and I wanted to open up the “having it all” discussion, even though every time we say it or write it, we can’t help but think of Whitney Houston’s, “Didn’t we almost have it all?” (Okay, that’s not entirely true, but slightly…)
I thought a lot this weekend about the notion of women having it all: a career, a family, a clean kitchen, a great sex life and a fulfilling sense of self…simultaneously I’m reading a lot of positive psychology and thinking a lot about our notion that we should be happy. We are a culture that thinks happy is the goal but we’re poorly trained for how to create the sensation. Anyway, more on that later. The quote below is shamelessly lifted from the Salon article by Rebecca Traister, here, is a beautiful pondering on what constitutes having it all as a woman:
What does “having it all” even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?
It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.
The more I think about what it means to “have it all,” I think this “trap” idea sounds about right. Miri, I also read Rebecca Traister’s article and agreed, but I’m leaning towards Tiger Beat Down’s Flavia Dzodan’s version of this problem.
“We cannot have it all, in part, because we are forced to participate in the illusion that we can have it all.”
Isn’t having it all really about what someone’s dreams are? Anne-Marie Slaughter’s dreams are to work at the State Department and have a family, though how can her job allow her to do both. Granted, Slaughter admits this in her article that part of the issue is hers as having an elite government position doesn’t allow such flexibility like problem teenagers. Or it doesn’t allow any FLEXIBILITY whatsoever. Or alternatives. Or options outside of must work 60 hours a week all day all night and ignore everyone around me to keep up with the man or the corporations or the government (as in Slaughter’s case). Dzodan writes:
I want my feminism to be a feminism of daydreaming. I want my feminism to believe in the transformative power of imagining the impossible. I want my feminism to stop chasing this faux equality that puts us on the race to be better managers of exclusion and, instead, gives us the possibility of re-thinking a future where we no longer have underclasses within the underclass.
In a way, having it all when you’re a parent seems utterly impossible. Slaughter touches on the element of having it all being impossible for a woman because “maternal” instincts kick in and instead of allowing your stay-at-home husband handle the situation (as Slaughter’s was while she worked in Washington D.C), you drop your “dream” job to help with your child’s issues.
I still am not convinced that Slaughter isn’t having it all. (Have you read her pedigree? Jesus!) I just think that she’s dealing with having a family. Can’t she just chalk this up to the conclusion, as Dzodan suggests, that having it all is unrealistic because we’re not robots–we’re human. That our dreams of having it all are more about human limitations? Or more–unrealistic capitalistic demands?
Or maybe they have to do with what Jessica Valenti discussed in The Nation yesterday–that gender roles are still too engrained. She writes: “A new report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that women—even those with full-time jobs—still do the bulk of housework and childcare.”
We’d love to hear your take on this subject.
Because as it’s very clear. There are many, many views.
(Image: Mara ~earth light~/Flickr Creative Commons)