A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who’s a top editor at a women’s magazine. She has two small children, and she’s finding it increasingly difficult to balance the hours and stress of her job with raising her kids. “I just don’t think I want to be an editor-in-chief,” she told me. “I never thought I’d be someone who said that — I spent my 20s working harder than anyone else so I could get where I am now. But now that I’m here, I see what I would need to do to become an editor-in-chief, and it just doesn’t appeal to me anymore.”
I thought of what she said — and some of the other, similar conversations I’ve been having lately with my friends, all of us professional women in our 20s and 30s — as I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s cover story in the new issue of the Atlantic: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In the piece, Slaughter — who’s a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton — discusses her own struggles with raising a family and having a high-powered job (she also was the director of policy planning in the State Department from 2009 to 2011), and concludes that some pretty major social changes need to happen in American society so that women (and men) can pursue a healthier balance between their families and their careers.
But Slaughter also seems to feel that women my age aren’t holding up our part of the bargain, that — like my women’s magazine editor friend — we’ve decided that “having it all” isn’t even that appealing, in part because we’ve seen the sacrifices that women Slaughter’s age have had to make in both their careers and their family lives.
As she writes:
Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the ground that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk. I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.
But maybe nobody should be able to “have it all.” What, exactly, is “having it all,” anyway? Rising to the top of your profession and yet still being able to be home in time for dinner and make it to all the soccer games? That seems impossible, no matter how we restructure our economy and our society. Something, somewhere, is going to have to give; there are only so many hours in the day and only so many soccer games. That is not to say that our economy and our society couldn’t be structured to take work-life balance more into account — just that it seems dangerous to assume that somehow there is a magical solution that allows one to do both, perfectly.
There’s also an insidious, not-so-implicit assumption that part of “having it all” is having a family. What about men or women who don’t want children? Are they disqualified from the “having it all” sweepstakes?
I don’t know, exactly, where my career (or my personal life, for that matter) is headed. But I do know that “having it all” sounds really exhausting. So if not having it all means missing a few soccer games — or not becoming editor-in-chief — I think I’m okay with that.
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- jerrecej I Don't Want To Have It All
- Pack I Don't Want To Have It All
instead of a women vs society or women vs men discussion, it should really focus on putting more emphasis on rest and time off from the work place. Americans work the longest hours, are offered the least vacation time and we ourselves take the least amount of time off when compared to other first world nations.
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To be fair, not everyone feels the same way. It’s perfectly acceptable for a women to have kids and still feel her career is incredibly important to her. No one faults men for continuing to work full time and be dedicated to their careers, do they? But both you and the article raise an good point, the idea of “having it all” should be a personal definition. To you, being a mother is sufficient (I assume you’re a stay at home mom? That’s what it seems like). To some, as the article pointed out, kids aren’t part of the picture at all and having a successful career is the goal. You shouldn’t have to have both to be seen as “having it all.” But at the same time, you SHOULD be able to have both if that’s what you want (like I said before, men do it all the time). But you can’t be fully dedicated to both and always make both your top priority. It’s not humanly possible. You WILL have to miss soccer games for meetings, or turn down overtime for family time.
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It just depends on how you define “having it all.” I was raised by a feminist architect in the 70s whose career came first. Although she was upper middle class and had a happy marriage, she claimed she was oppressed and was being held back by her family (she and her firm were by all accounts successful). I studied history. I have a BA and an MA. Instead of completing my Ph.D. and becoming a professor—and this was guaranteed by the Institute where I was studying— I chose to do something that was more interesting: I became an editor. I married, had a baby. I found a job that I found satisfying (academic editing) and that I do at home so I could be the kind of mom I wanted to be. I have received a lot of criticism for this choice. I have been told that I am not feminist (because I like my husband and kid), and it has been implied that I have let down womankind. The women who have said these things seem to be unhappy with their lives, and resent that I turned down a clear path to their idea of success. I, on the other hand, feel like I am “having it all.” I am successful at my job, do lots of freelancing; I have raised an intelligent,independent, positive child who never heard “go away, I am busy”; and I have time to write novels and ride horses. “Having it all” to me means being happy, confident and relaxed, owning up to your decisions, and being relentlessly dedicated to self-realization. I am so glad I have gone this route. My life is mine. Period. There was a post on Buzzfeed last week about the executives in Mad Men and how they did not seem to have qualms about choosing between careers and family. I wanted to point out that at that time, the women who were executives were from the urban elite and most likely had servants at home. See, for example, Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada. Being middle class is an entirely different scenario.
Not to mention that Meryl Streep’s character was not tremendously happy with her life. I mean, she seemed content, for the most part, but she also was pleased to see Andie taking a different path in her own life. She was fully aware of what she’d had to sacrifice to get to where she was. As for your real point, I hate how judgmental people (mostly women) can be about the choices women make with regards to career and family. No matter what you do, it seems like people will slam you for doing it wrong. You shouldn’t be a stay at home mom, you’re letting down womankind! You shouldn’t have a job, you’re failing your kids! A real mom shows her kids that she values herself enough to prioritize her career. A real mom wouldn’t ship her kids off to be raised by daycare. And on and on… I think it’s awful to look back and remember the centuries of women who had no choice but to be stay at home moms (though, to be fair, there weren’t exactly a multitude of jobs available to anyone for most of that time), but there’s nothing wrong with CHOOSING to be a stay at home mom (or dad!) now. Whatever you feel is best for yourself or your family—be it working full time, part time, from home, or not at all—so be it. As long as it makes you (and your family) happy.
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