“Women can’t have it all”


Marie-Anne Slaughter recently published an article proclaiming that women can’t have it all.  This is not coming from some religious fundamentalist home-maker, but from a professor at Princeton who worked for the state department.  This statement was bold and shocking and goes against 30 years of feminist doctrine.  But to me this is totally obvious.  The reason this headline “Woman can’t have it all” is shocking is the assumed subtext that “men have it all.”  It’s simply not true.  She worked 60hr weeks in Washington at her dream job while her teenage kids lived a couple of hundred miles away… and she felt like she wasn’t there when her son needed her. 

Duh.  She wasn’t there.

Some jobs require long hours.  Some jobs require travel.  These jobs are not conducive to close and affectionate relationships with your children.  And all of the most elite “you made it” jobs  fall into this category. 

We should note that most of the jobs requiring this level of sacrifice are not elite positions.  Industrial construction workers who spend 6 months away from their family building power plants and steel mills.  Roughnecks isolated on an oil rig for 3 months at a time.  Soldiers and sailors on deployment after deployment.  The people who work these jobs make personal sacrifices to do so every bit as much as Marie-Anne Slaughter did as Director of policy planning at the state department.

NO BODY GET’S TO HAVE IT ALL!  The whole concept is ludicrous.  The province of entitled elitists.

I don’t get to have it all.  I work rotating shifts and miss out on a lot of family events.  On the flip side I turned down a job offer as a start-up electrician making 50% more than I do right now that would’ve required me to spend months away from home at a stretch.  I compromised and am content with my choices.

I don’t want to seem like I’m down-playing the difficulties that women face in the workplace.  I know that most of them earn less than men working the same jobs, which is total BULLSHIT.  I know that when women are assertive they get called bitchy.  I know that their ideas get dismissed, or worse, stolen.  I know that if life is a video-game “American-white-male” is the lowest difficulty setting.  But let’s face it, you can’t have it all.  And for whatever combination of cultural, personal, and biological reasons when it’s time to choose between family and accomplishment men value the accomplishment over the family more often than women do.

Now that I’ve ranted about the “duh” of the statement, it’s starting to percolate into my brain that maybe women were being programmed to try and have it all.  Being lied to in fact about what is an achievable and realistic set of expectations in life.  The article isn’t targeted at women because they can’t have it all while we can, but rather because they’ve been encouraged to try and have it all under false pretenses.  And when they fail to have it all they feel like they failed. 

If someone asked you to choose between material success and family everyone would choose family.  But that’s not how life works.  Instead we’re asked to choose between a few extra hours at the office and missing dinner tonight.  This is a choice that normal rational moral people can make either way, and the accumulation of answers to questions like the latter is how we get our answer to the former.  The guilt Slaughter felt over her inability to be there for her sons is a product of being told she can have it all. Where as many men in the same position would hardly think about the fact that they missed out their son’s difficult period.  They’d just show up on the weekend and yell at him to get his shit together and then maybe buy him something because he felt guilty.


2 thoughts on ““Women can’t have it all”

  1. In the last paragraph, you got it. Exactly. I still struggle with squelching my ambition to run the WHO or at least a pediatric residency program or at least be an ICU attending because I choose my family. But I was told I should and could and should be the best of the best of the best in work and in my family. I’m not. It’s ok. But I have to keep assuring myself that I’m not a slacker professionally by deciding to work my 9-5 cushy job. And that I’m not a slacker personally by not staying home to cook delicious wholesome meals. I have to remind myself that there are limits and trade-offs and I can’t have it all. And I think my male counterparts for the most part don’t have that struggle because they are not raised to feel the primary weight of the family on their shoulders while simultaneously being raised to pursue the feminist goal of running the world. And that’s my inner struggle for today. Thanks for listening. :P

    • You totally should’ve run a pediatric residency program. You should’ve made that husband of yours into a kept man when he was unfocused and rambling. It was the perfect moment to stick a kid in his lap to give him a nice long project to keep busy with.

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