With the conflux of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the July/August issue of The Atlantic and Marissa Mayer’s announcement of being named Yahoo’s new CEO and her pregnancy on the same day, women are agog about whether or not they can have “it all”. But what does that mean? What does “it all” imply? And is a woman less of a woman if she don’t want “it all”?
When Mayer left her previous job at Google, she was worth $300 million dollars, and her salary at Yahoo won’t be pithy either. She is married to a supportive man who is an entrepreneur, so he probably does okay in the cash department,too. Now they are going to complete the picture and have a baby, but everyone seems up in arms– will this 37 year old be able to have it all? Will she be able to handle the problems of motherhood and Yahoo– especially with her plans to work through her maternity leave? There are many who wonder how she will accomplish this feat. They seem to think that it’s just going to be Mayer and her son alone in their big house looking at a lap top together– the light from the screen casting an eerie glow over their faces. Mayer is the CEO, and most likely has a cotillion of staffers who will be near her ready to do her bidding, or at least hold the baby. Yes, she faces great challenges, but she’s not going to do it alone; her world is not the world of the regular working woman. When she returns to work as CEO, I doubt she will have to bow to other people’s schedules very often, mostly they will revolve around hers. As CEO, she can also shape the culture of motherhood at work through her attitude toward working mothers and any changes she implements for their benefits (for example, at my work many of my colleagues have recently had children and they would really like a comfortable and private place to pump). On the home front, she can probably hire a nanny or two, give her husband the freedom to be a stay-at-home dad, and have plenty of help. She can afford the best private schools and already has her son’s college tuition, not to mention the health care benefits for a CEO are probably pretty good. She and her family are well set, and fit the realm of having “it all”.
Slaughter quit her high profile job in the State Department working under Hillary Clinton to spend more time with her devoted husband and two sons, but she is still a professor at Princeton who still writes articles, teaches a full course load, gives speeches, appears on TV, and is working on a book. Yet, because State Department job didn’t work out with the needs of her family, she can’t have “it all”. But really, what more does she need? While she is not incredibly wealthy as Mayer, she can still provide her family with a very nice life and still work in a field that is rewarding.
As much as I appreciate Slaughter wiping away the facade of having “it all”, because it’s really hard to get in this imperfect world that only provides 24 hours a day to do it all in, I think it would be beneficial for women to redefine “it all”. Slaughter wrote her article for highly educated women on the fast track to the top, so their definition includes a loving husband, kids, and a high-powered job. Considering that there is a finite number of those jobs, and a lot of women, not every women is going to pursue that career path. Most women are like me: they have a job they enjoy but do not wield lots of power nor bring in anything close to Mayer’s salary. For those of us in this bracket, the expectation is still the same. Women my age should have strong, committed relationships with their husbands that include great sex, adorable children who are signed up for a myriad of after school activities, a good job that they excel at, and still have the energy to look like their “best self” and throw spectacular birthdays parties complete with Elmo and gourmet cupcakes (made from scratch). Women aren’t expected to be women, they’re expected to be a multi-tasking super-hero. But what we’re really left with is a bunch of tired mommies.
This model of having it all leaves out many women. My sister-in-law opted to not get married or have kids, and she lives on her own and travels. Whose to say that she doesn’t have “it all”? She has the life she wants. There are stay-at-home moms who chose their children over their careers. Then there are women like me who are married with no kids. Women like me know that they would throw Elmo into the neighbor’s pool and hand the other kids the goody bags and push them out a half an hour the party started out of sheer boredom. Not to mention, many women are unable to have kids. Are sippy-cups part of having it all? Slaughter points out the divide between women her age who fought to shatter the glass ceiling versus the newer generation of women today who are reluctant to fill their shoes. In order to have a high-powered job– or mostly any job– there are sacrifices that need to be made. Such jobs demand polygamy of both male and female employees– they have to be married to their work and married to their spouse. It seems like most women are glad those types of jobs are there for the getting, but they also see the challenges they would face if they pursued them.
Women are still in the fight for equality in the workplace and on the pay scale; they are also still fighting for their reproductive rights. The battles are far from over. But I don’t think the goal of the Feminist Movement was to mandate that women marry, have kids, and work all at the same time. The Movement was started to give women a voice and a choice– the choice to break away from the domestic role of wife and mother, to create new identities for themselves. One result is the choice to have “it all”, but more importantly, it gave women the choice to have the life they want. It all boils down the the ability to make one’s choices in life.