Thursday, March 21, 2013

intermission: can we have it all?

Taking a break from our regularly scheduled all-pelvis-all-the-time programming to bring you Sarah’s-deep-musings on topics that don’t even apply to her (yet!). Yes, this will probably get me into trouble, no, I’m not judging moms, I’m just judging those who think they know better (like me, apparently).

Can women – or men, for that matter – have it all?

Well, here we go. As a hope-to-one-day-be-a-working-mom, I’m wading into this Internet debate. I just can’t help myself. Aside from my firm conviction that “having it all” is an objectionable phrase that should have been retired almost as soon as it came into fashion, I also find this ongoing conversation to be, well, how can I put this: silly. Not because there’s not a problem here – there is – but because the “solutions” proposed by the parade of working-mothers in glossy magazines are inadequate and incomplete.

There are multiple tropes, but many of them boil down to this questionable assertion: feminism lied to us.[1] Closely followed by a fusillade of prominent, accomplished working-mothers proclaiming – almost resentfully – that they are not feminists. Because feminists are militant and dour and don’t wear kitten heels and a power suit while brokering an international treaty all before picking up Junior from soccer practice. Or whatever. The bottom line is that women accuse “feminism” – that wretched straw-woman! – of selling us a bill of goods; we can’t have it all, they say. And all that marching and protesting and letter writing and policy-making our mothers and grandmothers – and fathers and grandfathers – did? Well, that was just a fraud. But this argument is nothing more than a front; a carefully negotiated distraction.

It’s a bait-and-switch because these nauseating missives about whether the fairer sex can-truly-have-it-all! distract us from proposing real solutions – like challenging and changing a culture that still rewards sexist and unequal behavior, passing laws that allow for greater family leave and paid maternity and paternity leave, subsidizing child care in a meaningful way and allowing greater working hour flexibility for ALL working parents and caregivers like, you know, most civilized nations. Instead, we promote quick fixes aimed at mostly upper-middle class, highly educated women, that do little to address the root of the problem.

You want proof? Let’s take stock: Marissa Mayer, in a move so tone deaf I begin to wonder whether she was drunk (on power), installed a private nursery adjacent to her office at Yahoo! while simultaneously banning telecommuting for her employees, many of whom I suspect are working mothers parents. Anne-Marie Slaughter cut to the chase: you can’t have it all she declared in a much-hyped Atlantic article – at least not if you have a struggling adolescent at home and you’re commuting to DC to work long hours in government. Sheryl Sandberg told us not to “leave before you leave” and prescribed “lean in circles” for the privileged few among us who can pay for nannies to watch our kids while we learn how to be more efficient at work. And then, in the latest bout of woman-shaming, NY Magazine unveiled the earth shattering news that some feminists “have it all” by choosing to stay at home. Setting aside the question of whether “choosing” to stay home is really a choice when your options are significantly narrowed by time, money and the demands of parenting, my real problem with this commentary is the parading around of a seemingly intelligent and self-proclaimed feminist and “flaming liberal” who makes cutely “retro” statements like, “women are raised from the get-go to raise children successfully.” (In case it wasn’t obvious, if we don’t expect men to be co-parents, then they won’t be.).

But what I’m getting at is this: the idea that some kind of upper middle class corporate revolution of lean-in circles, a new breed of retro housewife and other ready made antidotes are going to solve this crisis is both foolish and short sighted – come on, we’re smarter than that. We know there’s a problem – and there will always be a problem for parents who want to work outside the home in a time where women still do the lion’s share of the housework, make 70 cents on the dollar and never have time to juggle their busy lives because they are constantly being asked why/how/if they have it all. But until we have real policy changes that drill down to the root of the disparity, inequality and just plain under appreciation of the balance parents and caregivers have to strike – and until we start asking men whether they can have it all, too – we might as well lean back, because ain’t nothing going to change. What do you think, dear interweb people?

(For the record, I was raised by two parents who worked full time in demanding jobs that often kept them at work – or traveling abroad – for long stretches of time. Which means I was also raised by grandparents, nannies, babysitters, other people’s parents and after-care programs. By contrast, C’s mother was a stay-at-home, very involved mom for much of his childhood. We both turned out happy and (relatively) well-adjusted and I can see meaningful benefits to both approaches – both for the child and the parents. For the record then, I don’t hold any opposition to either set up – or any set up at all. But feminism is about real choices, etc.)

[1] Or, alternately, the 30 rock version, “Murphy Brown Lied to Us.”


  1. Haha. Good luck getting consensus on that one.
    I started to write a comment, but despite my best attempts to not be wordy and stick to pure, undeniable truths about life we can all agree on (HAHAHA) the "comment" got out of control so I just put the whole thing on my blog

    Have a great weekend.

    1. I know, there's totally zero consensus to be had on this one. But what can I say, I like wading in (way) too deep. Looking forward to reading your thoughts!
      Also, just saw this - so there's another layer:

  2. That NY Mag article was absurd, almost as bad as this:
    I agree with everything you said. Let's stop shaming mothers and start supporting them. I recently met with a low-income client who brought along her (insanely adorable) 4 month old. She started bottle feeding him during intake, and turned to me and said, "I know it's bad, I hate that I can't breast feed my baby, but I had to go to work 6 weeks after he was born, and I have no choice." What's the point of "breast is best" without policies that allow working women to breastfeed? This client can't pump at work, and she had ZERO paid leave. The sad thing is, she clearly feels guilty about it, and I'm sure she's been shamed by other mothers. Women spend so much time and energy bashing each other, and yet we still have no right to paid leave in this country. Let's direct some of that energy toward that goal.

    1. Here, here!

      (Also, in regards to that jezebel piece - excuse me while I pick my jaw up off the floor. "Future bride" onesie = where feminism goes to die.)

  3. "Future Bride?" WTF?
    I personally won't wear anything with any writing on it though, so I wouldn't even consider putting a baby in something with writing in it. Even if the writing was not so inane. I'm a bit extreme that way.

    Whenever we overcome the IF thing and are actually pregnant/bringing a baby home (yay for optimism!) I can already hear myself laying down the law to friends and family members about what are appropriate gifts. :-) I have very strong opinions about gender stereotypes (i.e. pink and princess crap) and I also don't like how children are manipulated by marketing and advertisers.

  4. Good for Mr. Winerip. He knows what is important to him and took the steps to make it work, and it sounds like he's at peace with his decisions (even knowing he sacrificed work advancement). I also grew up in a family where both my mom and dad made career sacrifices (though as a stay at home mom for a couple of decades, my mom made the greater sacrifice). I wouldn't necessarily duplicate my parent's choices, but I do respect them for knowing what was important to them and making sure that their choices were based on what was important to them, not some (often arbitrary) standard of "having it all." Like I tried to point out in my blog entry, "having it all" or even just "having enough" often simply means having what's most important to you as a priority.