The important and urgent debate about worklife balance and whether it is possible for women to "have it all" (just women?), inflamed most recently by super-achiever lawyer Anne Marie Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" at The Atlantic, has been going on for so long now that the discourse has become deeply rutted in cliche, and enervating. But these two comments on The Dish strike me as both fresh and hopeful:
- The focus should not be on adding roles for individual women, but on the family. Each traditional American family has a breadwinner, a caregiver and the cared for. If we treat each of these as part-time roles then there can be splits that allow everyone to fulfill part of each role - not based on gender or age, but on ability then we can have balance. But if we look to see if any one person in the family can have 100 percent of each of these roles, the answer has to be no. A truly spectacular person might be able to be a complete breadwinner and a complete caregiver - the '80s feminist ideal of "having it all" - but then they don't get the caring for that they need to be whole and the family suffers. But if each parent takes on 50 percent of each role and even the kids take on some (necessary to train them to be loving, successful people) then the family can truly have it all.
- I am a trial lawyer and mother of three, in my 30s, married to my law partner, who splits both duties with me right down the middle. I’m just ready for everyone to get post-feminist and acknowledge fundamental truth that no one can do everything perfectly all at once, but that doesn’t make it a zero-sum game.
I have both a fulfilling career and family life, and so does my husband. I made choices in my career that allowed me to be with my children as much as possible while still having a demanding career that is deeply fulfilling. I chose to be paid on a contingency-fee basis instead of hourly, so the clock didn’t rule my finances. I chose a suburban office near my home and the kids’ school instead of in downtown high rise so I could pop in for school parties and pick them up daily.
What I "give up" is similar to what Anne-Marie Slaughter gave up when she left the White House to go back to being a law professor. I’m not running for elected office or State Bar President. I have given up traveling on a weekly basis or doubling my caseload. In short, I have given up taking over the world for the time being to raise my family.
Yes, that’s something of a "sacrifice," just as Slaughter had to "sacrifice" a plum White House job for a still-fantastic, though less glamorous legal career as a law professor. But that’s just being an adult and juggling multiple responsibilities; it’s not anyone’s fault. I’m not sure any of us should even feel disappointed about this state of affairs.
It’s easy to forget that during the height of the feminist movement in the '60s and '70s, women rarely went to law school and had a hard time finding employment when they did. If the '80s "overpromised" anything, maybe that overreach was a necessary part of the growth curve for society just to get women in the professional world. Now it’s time for everyone to be a grownup, make rational choices about what your priorities are in life, and stop whining. Maybe we need to redefine "having it all" to be something other than a childish dream of running the world and still making it home in time for cookies and afternoon cartoons, and embrace what it means to "have it all" as an adult.
I’m building a powerful, successful career and a deeply fulfilling home life. If that isn’t having it all, I don’t know what is.