Who Told You That You Could Have It All?

woman2520juggling_2I couldn’t be happier that conversations about women in the workplace are taking the mainstream media by storm. My hope is that these conversations will lead to greater awareness and will help workers bargain (and employers see the value) in women-friendly policies. There are a number of policies that can make the workplace more hospitable to women and men who have families, telecommuting being one of the most important.

That being said, it is a reasonable expectation for women to want to “have it all”? When did that become the goal of professional, high-earning women? In the New York Times piece, He Hasn’t Had It All Either, Michael Winerip discusses the choices he and his wife, both journalists, made for their careers and family. The couple had four children and two successful journalism careers – and guess what – each one of them took a turn at being the primary breadwinner and the primary caregiver. (He makes their family sound like our ideal egalitarian couple. Congrats! Maybe Mr. Winerip should write a Lean In style book for men.) Even coming close to this situation requires a commitment from both partners to value each others’ careers equally – something that may not be possible or practical if there are significant differences in their earning potential.

Sometimes I wish that someone would just say, “Look: if you have children, your work will suffer. If you prioritize your career, you’ll miss out on many of the important moments in your life. Your house is going to be a mess, and your children may resent you. But you will still have a roof over your head, which is hopefully building equity, and you will still have children, who (perhaps after a little psychotherapy) will hopefully grow up to forgive your shortcomings and appreciate that you made an effort to parent them, provide for their material needs, and pursue your professional ambitions. Hopefully, through your work, you will have contributed something to society beyond the realm of your family unit. Maybe your work will lead to innovation or discovery, maybe you’ll inspire your students or colleagues, maybe you’ll write a blog that people look forward to reading on their lunch breaks. Maybe you’ll just be earning a paycheck and counting down the days until the weekend. The point is, you will be engaging in the public sphere, and hopefully making a few dollar bills along the way.” This wouldn’t be very politically correct, but it would allow us to adjust our expectations of ourselves. Without this neurotic guilt over not achieving some impossible standard, what could we accomplish? Would we be more effective at bargaining for better workplace policies?

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4 replies

  1. You speak the truth! We tend to want things to be perfect even when we work and that I think is what causes the most angst among working women, the guilt of the messy house and the sometimes neglected kids. I wrote about this very recently, the whole idea of what women want and why it’s ok to want different things.
    http://goddessonthemantelpiece.com/2013/03/08/our-own-worst-enemy-a-perspective-on-womens-day/

  2. To quote Sheryl in her Barnard commencement speech, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

    (But also, what would you do if your husband did the laundry without being asked? Let’s not forgot some real practical day-to-day issues that come alongside empowerment and equitable partnerships.)

  3. The answer to that question (what would you do if you weren’t afraid?) is what lead me to go back to school in economics! So yes! The jury is still out on what would I do if my partner did my laundry … maybe post more on this feminist economics blog? But, this is all to say that even when men and women share household responsibilities (as the couple in the NY Times story shows) difficult decisions still have to be made.

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