on Having it All

8 Jul

I anxiously read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Why Women Still Can’t Have It All in the July/August Atlantic Monthly and then watched all the responses on Twitter and in the blogs I follow. (Let’s get this out of the way quickly: framing women’s current struggles as “having it all” is reductive and retro, to me. Slaughter acknowledges, in her own way, that it has a narrow focus; besides dealing mostly with white-collar, white, academic or politically-employed women, she focuses very narrowly on heterosexual and married women. She doesn’t really touch on the socialized hindrances and the glass ceilings women might face. Instead, she frames the barriers in terms of personal ambition versus cultural hurdles. She’s not wrong, it’s just not complete.)

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All talks about just how hard it is to have both a family and a professional career, focusing on highly ambitious career paths like Slaughter’s own, and to be happy. According to a study, “women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men.” And I can see that as a reason for many women to opt out of either having children or a professional career. Don’t keep doing what doesn’t make you happy.

I still feel a huge responsibility to my daughters, my nieces, other girls, to make this (having it all) work for myself, to show that it can be done. Slaughter writes about this compulsion from previous generations of feminists and just how much they sacrificed personally to rise professionally. But I’m thinking we are at a point where we get to move beyond having to sacrifice. It will require partners and families who support each others careers, a big change in workplace expectations, and a cultural shift in what we value (i.e. money, rank). It was revolutionary for our grandmothers to become lawyers. It will be revolutionary for our daughters to become lawyers who can work a healthy forty hour work week, take a long maternity leave, and get promotions.

“I fear that the obstacles that keep women from reaching the top are rather more prosaic than the scope of their ambition.”

These obstacles are “inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel, and consistent pressure to be in the office.” I am naive, I know, in my staunch belief that we can expand Results Oriented Workplace ideals in more companies. I was reminded how hard it is for other mothers last week at a birthday party. Another mom was saying how she has to be in the office at certain hours because of the logistics of the municipalities she serves as an engineer. I’m lucky: my company lets me work at home and I can be flexible with my hours. (When my daughter was 6 months old, I switched my hours so I still work the same number, but the times coincide with our New York office, and it means I can pick her up earlier in the afternoon.) But I travel, and my husband travels, and I’m familiar with the unrelenting call of the Blackberry in the off hours. But I’ve never felt like ignoring my email at baby’s bedtime means I won’t get a good review, or an opportunity if it arises. I’m lucky, but now that I’ve had a taste of this, this is what I want everyone to have! For that to happen, effective people who also value work-life balance have to be promoted instead of workaholics. We need to find the effective people and simply let them be effective. We need to inject elected offices with women, and with men who also turn off their phones at night.

I have my own obstacles and I’m sure we share them. I think there are bigger issues, like paid parental leave with job protection for both parents, guaranteed, for longer than 12 weeks. This has to be solved by having more women in politics, but it also has to be solved by a shift in thinking. If families really are important, let us care for them and establish a solid foundation. Also, I think we value people’s work for the titles they carry. We need to value people for more than how powerful they seem to us. That’s a very emotional connection I don’t know how to change. We still value men as breadwinners; until we can get over this kind of pressure, women’s careers will always come in second in their households. High expectations are another enemy; I keep my daughter in simple playschool programs, one at a time, to keep our lives simple, rather than trying to create SuperKid, and I try to authentically share my personal life rather than creating a completely rosy story on Facebook or when I’m talking to friends.

Other obstacles for me? If more travel were required of me than it already is, I’d have to turn down a promotion. I don’t get enough practice at certain things I’d like to (public speaking at work, deeper analysis). I’m not in the office much, so I don’t get to network, or learn from my colleagues. Personally, I realized that not letting my husband be the primary parent sometimes was limiting me, so when he offered to take Romy for a haircut last week so I could spend time with friends, I “let” him. Until I stop saying I “let” him help out, we’re not even in responsibility at home.

I’m coming to terms with some of my own baggage about Stay at Home Moms versus “Working” Moms. I’ll tell you that I do think my life is pretty complicated with the way I work and take care of my family and house. I know it’s all relative, but it’s definitely a totally different situation than my friend who stays at home with her kids. I love working and can’t imagine how we’d live without my job, but I’d love to spend more time playing at the park and teaching my daughters at home.

There was a lot of talk after the Atlantic Monthly piece about how we need to redefine “having it all” and simply scale back. If you’re ambitious, though, I don’t think that’s the answer. If you want to write legislation or run in the Olympics, don’t scale back your dreams. The change I see has to come from a very deep, human level, and it will only happen when we slow down or find a way to focus when the world is moving so fast.

I want to be my daughters’ role models, with my happy balance, but I want them to see other moms who do even bigger things than I’ve ever wanted or trained to do. I do feel like I have it all, but not because I’ve scaled back my goals. My ambition lies in that I’ve tasted a really good work-life balance, though luck and privilege, and want to hang on to it and make sure my daughters know how to fight for it themselves.

A couple interesting discussions about this that I followed and really inform the whole conversation beyond the original article:
Whitney Johnson on Maria Shriver’s site
Feministing’s roundup
Happiest Mom: In Defense of an Ordinary Life

What I Do

5 Jul

If you’ve ever wondered what I do, specifically, here you go! Around 3:05, the video specifically talks more about what I do and a colleague specifically highlights a project I worked on this winter.