Mondays with Meg: Can women “have it all”?

This weekend, I came across an interesting article from the Atlantic that’s been gaining a lot of press due to its controversial subject matter: can women really “have it all”? I’m still trying to figure out the answer to this question.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor at Princeton University and former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, tackles this issue in this month’s cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” But what does “having it all” mean, exactly? For Slaughter, “having it all” means maintaining successful professional career and a rich home/family life, complete with children and a husband. Yet, Slaughter argues that it’s not capable in today’s world:

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.

And I’ve got to agree with her there. Our society’s structure doesn’t easily allow career women to maintain a fulfilling job and family life. It doesn’t allow any working woman to maintain that work-life balance easily. Long hours, competing school and work schedules, and short maternity leaves are just a few of the factors that make it difficult for women to maintain a balance between a personal and professional life. But is that what “having it all” really means?

Slaughter makes many valid points throughout her article arguing that American society still has a LONG way to go in terms of gender equality in the home and the office.  But she assumes that “having it all” means having both a family and a career. And I have to wonder about the women who don’t want to be mothers, or who want to be stay-at-home mothers. What does “having it all” mean for them? And we have to consider, does anyone really “have it all”?

Rebecca Traister of Salon.com disagrees with Slaughter’s idea of the perfect life:

We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again…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.

My mother stayed at home to raise my sister and I up until we both entered elementary school, and says she doesn’t regret it at all. She loved staying home with us and was able to re-enter the workforce with a part-time teaching job as we entered school. “Having it all” meant raising a family to my mother:  being there for our firsts–steps, words, sentences, laughs. While I don’t anticipate giving up a career when I want to start a family (granted, I’ve got a long way to go before that happens), I don’t think that my mom gave up “having it all” to raise us. It was her choice.

I believe that “having it all” means different things to different people. Yes, that sounds like a cop-out answer to this question, but I believe it. I don’t think that women need to choose between having a family or having a career. It’s difficult to balance both, and serious changes need to be made in order for women to maintain a steady work-life balance. But I believe the key to “having it all” is the freedom of choice and finding self-love.

For me, “having it all” means happiness. Honestly, that’s what I want from my life. I want to have a career that means something to me, that makes me feel fulfilled. That doesn’t necessarily mean I need to run a Fortune 500 company one day—that’s not what I want for myself. One day, I want to have a family, and guess what? My family will have its flaws too. “Having it all” doesn’t mean that I’ll have the perfect career or the perfect family. Why? Because life isn’t perfect. Perfectionism and I don’t get along–never have, never will. It’s a mirage that devastates and disappoints. I do not want to spend my life chasing the perfect career and perfect family, and the perfect balance of both. I want to have a career, a family, a personal life. I want happiness, peace, and fulfillment. To me, that’s having it all.

What does “having it all” mean to you?

Happy Monday! :)

-Meg

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