Monday, June 25, 2012

What Does "Have it All" Even Mean?

My feelings about the epic article about women and careers  in The Atlantic that has everyone buzzing are thoroughly conflicted. As much as I agreed with and appreciated some of the issues the author raises in the article, as just a regular woman who is neither an ivy league professor nor a current or former director of anything, it was like reading an article written by an alien. Clearly this chick's idea of career and my idea of career are two different things...and I find it disturbing and just annoying that to even have a voice on this subject you have to be of this woman's intellectual ilk. Because, what, the rest of us down here on planet Earth with regular jobs that don't involve State dinners and rubbing shoulders with Hillary Clinton or Elizabeth Warren (I wish...I'm obsessed with her) don't count at all or aren't smart enough to weigh in on this subject? Please.

Also, is the issue really that complex that it couldn't be distilled down from FOURTEEN print pages?? Isn't that over-intellectualizing the issue just a tad? Of course women can have it all--"all" being kids and career--but the reality is that someone is going to get the short end of the deal in that arrangement until such time as we figure out how to clone ourselves and/or be present in two different realities at the same time. There is simply no way around it--no matter how big your paycheck is or impressive your resume is. Anne-Marie Slaughter can pontificate about the notion of "having it all" until the cows come home; it doesn't change the fact that nobody can be in two places at one time--so it is not possible to be "all" at work and "all" at home with your kids, no matter how many words you use to try to explain why it is. Even in the best-case scenario where you work remotely or have a super high-powered job and call the shots and your own schedule,  when you're working you're going to be missing stuff in your kids' lives and when you're with your kids you're going to be missing out on some work opportunity. And/or you're going to sacrifice your marriage in your attempt to balance the dueling priorities of job and kids, because there simply isn't a third orbit for "husband" in that plate-spinning arrangement. Sorry, but even if she'd written A MILLION pages about it, it wouldn't change that couldn't the editors have chopped about half of what she wrote, and saved some of my eyesight for other things?

Ok, let me back it up and talk myself off the limb and say that I've been both a stay-home mom and a working mom, and there was nothing "all" about either. Both are hard, both were/are rewarding for their own reasons, and I neither did stay-home mom-ing or working mom-ing perfectly...because it's not a black or white issue as Anne-Marie Slaughter tries to paint it. Parenting and putting the needs of your kids ahead of your own interests, ambitions and income is hard, yet has its satisfactions and benefits. Working and putting a career before your kids at times is hard and has its satisfactions and benefits. But no amount of cultural shift, remote working, "redefining the arc of a successful career," doing what you love, or getting men to rally for work/family balance will change that--there's no "all" in "all" because it's a zero sum game--some is good for you, some is good for your kids; none of it is good for all of you all the time, no matter how you may try to optimize the arrangement by making school last 12 months a year or creating a world where offices allow everyone to work from home all the time.

Also, the whole idea that women should be expected to know this shit by the time they're 20 years old and plan accordingly--who does that? One of the points she makes is about how, if you're a woman, you're supposed to know enough plan your "career arc" to be able to either fully establish yourself in a career by the time you're 25 then take time off to have kids, then go back and resume world domination...or wait, was that START a career when you're 25, then reach the top rung of the career ladder by the time you're 40, just in time to pop out your last good egg and ramp back your career to raise the kids for a few years before resuming? She used so many words I just couldn't keep track....the bottom line, though, is that in real life women don't know the secrets of the universe by the time they're 25...or 30...or 40....or EVER, so the notion that you can lay out this life plan and choose wisely before you even know what the choices are--maybe I"m just uniquely stupid but I don't see how that's realistic. When I was in my 20s I had laid out my life plan: I wanted to be a stay-home mom. Then I did that and realized it was not actually what I wanted, nor was it a smart or good choice for me financially, or a good role model for my kids. So I changed that plan and went back to work, starting back at square one career-wise...and here I am today, doing the best I can like every woman tries to do. Should I really be penalized for not having the foresight to plan better? Isn't there some value to be had in learning while doing, and not knowing all the answers when you're just starting out, and maybe not making the best choices but seeing your way through to better ones through those life experiences? Isn't that part of the joy of being a woman? And taking away those learning experiences because you've got your whole life planned out at the age of 20--where's the "all" in that?

Anyhow, all I can say is that if being a woman is as hard as this article makes it out to be, I'm tired and sad for us. Also, I'm fine with having only part, not all.

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