Feminism | Posted by Atiya I-M on 07/6/2012

But I Want To Have It All

having it all

It’s my nature to think in the long term. Even though I am fully aware that at the age of 18 even though I can drive, rock the vote, and go to war I still have a lot of time before I have to think seriously about having kids and/or a career. I know I want to have both: kids and a successful career that will allow me to make the world a better place. Which is why after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All in The Atlantic I felt seriously discouraged. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan on becoming a kick ass journalist or lawyer, but while I was reading that article I just couldn’t stop thinking, “Is this the only option?”

I was raised by a single mom who was pretty much on her own when it came to my brother, sister, and me. I remember at the age of 7 wishing that my mom was like my friend Samantha’s mom who was president of the PTA and seemed to always have time to bring in cupcakes for our class or be in charge of something at field day. Recently when I was writing one of my college admissions essays on why feminism is so important to me, my mother told me that she did in fact wish she could have afforded to be a stay-at-home mom, that she hadn’t missed so many school plays and doctor’s appointments because of work. From watching my mother, I see that being a mom is a seriously undervalued job. That being said, I always imagined my life being very different from my mother’s. For one thing, at my age, the age of 18, she was pregnant with my older brother, where as I am preparing to go to college. And although I think while being a stay-at-home parent is an admirable choice, I know that it’s not the right choice for me.

As most of us know, the picture of powerful women painted by Hollywood and the media is a pretty bleak one. When viewing movies about women with successful careers you usually only see the “bitchy” boss, who only has a successful career at the expense of her love-life and her family. This leaves two equally depressing scenarios: either our leading lady has a family that hates her for being gone so much or she has no family at all (ignoring the fact that realistically not all women even want a family). These depictions are pretty depressing for women and girls who want careers and families.

But I never imagined living either scenario. I mean, call me naive, but I always thought that with a good education, a lot of hard work, compromise, and the right progressive husband who understands that my career is important to me, I could conceivably have the life I want. A nice house, kids that I can teach good values to, and a job that I love, that allows me to give something back to the world. I never thought that it’d be easy, but I always thought it would be possible.

The reason that I found Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article so discouraging is that she makes the kind of life I want seem next to impossible to obtain. I found it sad that most of the women she talked about didn’t even sound relatively happy. I get that these are her experiences, but she makes it sound like it’s not possible to be successful without being an absentee parent. Or that it’s not possible to be the kind of parent you want to be without making sacrifices in your career.

Now, don’t get me wrong — I think she does make many good points. For example, institutions in this country from what I can see don’t make this balance easy for parents, and that needs to change. America is one of only three countries that doesn’t offer paid maternity leave (the other two are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland), which (for lack of a better word) sucks. But is it really so hard to believe that I could be a Pulitzer prize winning journalist or partner at an awesome law firm without feeling guilty or my hypothetical imaginary children winding up in some shrink’s office talking about how much they hate me for not being around? Also, why is this conversation just being had by women? Why aren’t men worrying more about work-life balance?

Ultimately, I’m reminded of something that a friend of my mom once said: “I hate that dads always have a choice, but moms don’t.” I’m not a mom (I’m not even a college student yet), so I don’t know for sure if that’s true. But if it is true, something needs to change, and it’s another salient reason why we still need feminism.

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  • Matt SS @ at 5:25 pm, July 6th, 2012

    I think maybe the problem is that you just can’t compete career wise with someone who is willing to spend 100% of their time at a job.

    A lot of jobs, like being a partner at a law firm really do benefit from having the total focus of a person’s life. In most lawyer depictions in the media high powered lawyers don’t have time for family regardless of their gender.

    This is backed up by my personal experience, a lot of my friends and my sister’s friends had one or more lawyer parents, and although some of the lower level lawyers, and almost all of them started having kids around like 35-40 after they already did the intense work schedule of the new lawyer, some of the lower level lawyers had time for their kids. They still had a lot of babysitters and after school programs and activities and maybe up until high school kids kinda wished they had more parent time. On the upside, busy parents can’t restrict your life as effectively as a teenage.

    Can you compete job wise with a career focused peer while spending a lot of time with your kid? Probably not. Can you compete with a SAHP while maintaining a professional position? Also probably not.

    Of course its all relative. Asking if you can be successful is almost always rhetorical if you haven’t defined what being successful means. The managing partner at a top NYC law firm might have a different definition of successful than a life time associate at a firm in Missouri.

    I know this is a feminist site and so it mostly focuses on women, but men have a far larger breadth of experience in top careers due to patriarchy and I don’t recall that a significant percentage of them were ever able to balance parenthood and job well, which is quite a problem given the amount of work a man is expected to put in to qualify as a good parent, much smaller than for women.

  • Kristina @ at 11:42 pm, July 6th, 2012

    I noticed that the entire article and only comment focused on the difficulty of balancing work and family while entirely assuming that the woman would be working for someone else. What about women starting their own business?…where they can make their own schedule and be their own boss, thus allowing them time to focus both on work and family at a time and pace that is appropriate for them, their children, and their spouse. I think the real trap here is that we ladies are hardwired to ‘play it safe.’ As a gender we are not inherently risk-takers, thus we may not always see the scary, yet seductive, option of working for ourselves.

  • T @ at 3:59 pm, July 7th, 2012

    There was a great article on The Atlantic, responding to the infamous Slaughter piece. It makes great points,and I think quite aligns to your post. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/we-need-to-tell-girls-they-can-have-it-all-even-if-they-cant/259165/

  • Rachel @ at 2:27 am, July 19th, 2012

    Thank you for this article! As an eighteen year old female going off the college, I also read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article and was worried about my own future. I felt silly voicing my opinion about the ‘having it all’ debate because I have neither a career nor a family. But I want to have both. So thank you!

  • Chloe H. @ at 2:37 pm, July 26th, 2012

    I totally agree with what you’re saying. Women shouldn’t have to choose between motherhood and their careers. Being a mother is one of the most important jobs in the world because they are grooming future generations. Women deserve to be able to do whatever they want, and unpaid maternity and paternity leave is inhibiting us.

  • Jen @ at 7:09 pm, August 26th, 2012

    There’s a solution to this that I wish I’d figured out when I was a teenager.

    The media bombards us with messages saying that the only men we should want are the ones with successful careers. It’s obvious from Slaughter’s article that she fell for this.

    What a career-oriented woman really needs is a man who keeps his apartment clean automatically, cooks really well, is nurturing (i.e. always helps friends move or does other things to help out his family and friends, or volunteers) and has a low-paying job or else one he’s not too passionate about, or else a passion that doesn’t pay too well (like being an artist). If you selectively date that type of man, then your chances are high of having both an awesome career and happy kids who gets loads of attention from a cool dad. There’s a solution to this that I wish I’d figured out when I was a teenager.

    The media bombards us with messages saying that the only men we should want are the ones with successful careers. It’s obvious from Slaughter’s article that she fell for this.

    What a career-oriented woman really needs is a man who keeps his apartment clean automatically, cooks really well, is nurturing (i.e. always helps friends move or does other things to help out his family and friends, or volunteers) and has a low-paying job or else one he’s not too passionate about, or else a passion that doesn’t pay too well (like being an artist). If you selectively date that type of man, then your chances are high of having both an awesome career and happy kids who gets loads of attention from a cool dad.

  • Jen @ at 7:10 pm, August 26th, 2012

    whoops, sorry about the double-pasting; my laptop wobbled unexpectedly. (:

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