I sighed loudly when I read the “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” cover line on the latest issue of The Atlantic (July/August 2012). When done sighing, I wondered what the “all” was now. I hoped the “all” was a nap because I was exhausted before I even opened the issue and read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s story.
In case the cover line doesn’t catch your attention, the cover features a cute white baby being toted around in a briefcase by a set of female legs wearing an outfit that looks especially hot and uncomfortable for a summer issue—nylons, gross. The cover art also looks like it was inspired by the poster for that Diane Keaton movie Baby Boom. You know Baby Boom, that 1987 movie about juggling career and baby. It seems Diane missed the memo about just stuffing your toddler in your briefcase cause in the poster she’s actually trying to hold both the baby and the briefcase. She’s juggling, get it? Visual metaphors=fun.
Also, this is getting off topic, but I really dislike when briefcases are used as a symbol of career success. Serious career gals have expensive leather briefcases that smell of rich mahogany. And wear power suits! I could never be regarded as a serious career gal cause I have a cheap purse that I carry work papers in and which often contains Toaster Strudel remnants from the breakfast I made in the morning and put in my purse to eat on the subway but always forget about until I go to pay for something and my wallet is covered in strudel filling. We’re getting into Liz Lemon/Cathy cartoon territory here—Ack!—so I’ll move on.
Back to Slaughter’s story. Slaughter is a Princeton University professor and the former director of policy planning for the US State Department. She’s also a mother of two teenage boys. Slaughter’s piece argues that women can’t have it all—or if they can its cause they’re rich superhuman snazzy briefcase carrying robots—and that we need to abandon the myths women believe about having it all. For example, “it’s possible if you marry the right person!” Slaughter’s piece ends with some ideas on what needs to change in the workplace so that women can have it all—both children and the career they want.
Slaughter’s ideas on how to achieve better life-work balance are not particularly groundbreaking, but I think they’re important things that would benefit us all. I don’t think you have to have a career-aspiring vagina to believe that changing the culture of face time in the workplace or using teleconferencing for meetings is a good idea. I also would like to have less meetings and not check my email at night, but it’s because I like to spend my nights watching reality TV and drinking wine—my definition of having it all!
Slaughter acknowledges her position of privilege in the piece, but sort of backhandedly, as if an editor said “you better throw in a couple of sentences that acknowledges that you’re writing from the position of being an educated, white, rich woman with a high ranking government job that had a job at Princeton to fall back on when you left your high ranking government job cause our server can’t handle the number of comments on the website in response to your piece if you don’t. Also, maybe take out the part about your sabbatical in Shanghai so your kids can soak up the culture cause that will really piss people off.”
So, the definition of having it “all” still comes down to a having a successful career and a cute kid to stick in your briefcase. Seriously, we’re still clinging to that idea? It seems as dated as Keaton’s look in Baby Boom. My definition of “all” looks a lot different than this. I’m also opposed to the idea of “all” which I think has a finite quality to it and sets one up for unrealistic expectations and a never ending sense of failure. Fun!
I was thinking about how I would define “all” a couple of days ago when I came across an old episode of Sex and the City. It happened to be the episode where the gals talk about what having it all means to them. Charlotte comments that having it all really means having someone to share your life with. She says she didn’t feel complete until she married Agent Cooper. I rolled my eyes, but we all know there are way more Charlottes out there than Mirandas—sadly .
If Charlotte weren’t a fictional TV character I would ask her how that Prince Charming rescue having it all fantasy worked out for her and suggest she meet up with Katie Holmes for cosmos and some girl talk about how that fairy tale ends. Scientologists, not welcome!
Unfortunately, Charlotte didn’t help my ideas about what having it all means. She just annoyed me more. Then I heard Michael Cobb being interviewed on the radio. Cobb is a University of Toronto professor and the author of Single: Arguments for the Uncoupled which talks about how people are choosing to live alone—gasp, the horror!—and not couple up. So I’m single. Am I having it “all” now? I certainly think I am. Sadly, the perception that I have it all may not be around for long since Cobb’s interview left me with the feeling that singledom is being treated like a trend. Something with a shelf life, like hammer pants or Hollywood thinking women are funny.
Slaughter’s piece ends with the notion that we can change the conditions of women working at Walmart, but that we may need to put a woman in the White House first to do that. Good luck, with that. Sorry ladies at Walmart, you’re still screwed. When this happens, she says, “we will stop talking about whether women can have it all.” I think we should just start now.