Tuesday, November 13, 2012


The “having it all” debate seems to surround me lately by that strange phenomenon when you consider something once and then see it explode all around you. Professors and commencement speakers in college addressed the idea, but at twenty one “having it all” seemed to be a debate inconveniently dragged into our time by those who came and fought before us. Now, it bombards me repeatedly. A well-known journalist and feminist, speaking at our graduation, talked of all the victories our grandmothers had earned us, leaving us to answer the relatively new question of how to have it all.

Women can have it all! Women can’t have it all! Women can’t ignore biology! Women should ignore biology! Women should practice attachment parenting! Women should avoid helicoptering their children! Women, women, women. Where are the men in this debate? Surely, leaving them out of the battle and in the living room watching TV defeats the entire purpose, doesn’t it?

The neat dichotomy between love and success and family and career is a presupposition that these elements are mutually exclusive. I’m not referring to baby-wearing to work or flexible working hours, I mean the very idea that having it “all” means hanging on to many things you hold dear all by yourself. Men may not birth babies, or breastfeed or race against as strict a reproductive clock, but they do, in strictly biological terms, form half the equation in creating babies. If it is assumed that the debate about whether it is possible to juggle job and family doesn’t concern them, the position is inherently sexist. It may not concern all men, but no woman in a committed relationship should be questioning whether she can achieve feminist utopia alone. Whatever your expectations are from life, whether it  is to have twelve children and stay at home with them, earn three advanced degrees, start your own company, simply make ends meet or all the above, you should be able to know that havingitall is not a lonely enterprise. It is not the straightforward one discussed so often in the media, with its images of snappily-dressed career women arriving home at 5pm to feed the children (alone), or the one of Supermom preparing breakfast for ten (alone) before scheduling the day for her kids (alone) and having a June Cleaveresque relationship with her husband, who is a well-intentioned but bumbling, clueless mutt.

And if it is a lonely enterprise, or a single one, or a same-sex one, you will notice there are not many voices decrying the desire to be perfect, traditional wives and mothers while also being perfect and high-powered everythingelse. Perhaps they already realize the individual-ness of major life decisions, perhaps they watch less television, perhaps they expect less of men, perhaps they expect more of men-as we should. Whether men decide to be stay-at-home dads or whether they choose to be the sole breadwinners, the choice cannot be left to be made by women alone and forever.

The world is a mess of choices six years after my first induction into the cheerful belief that havingitall is something the modern woman does and messes are not meant to be swept by women alone. Time to stop asking if women can do it all and pass the broom around for a much tidier state of mind.