But I Want To Have It All
It's my nature to think in the long term. Even though I am fully aware that at the age of 18 even though I can drive, rock the vote, and go to war I still have a lot of time before I have to think seriously about having kids and/or a career. I know I want to have both: kids and a successful career that will allow me to make the world a better place. Which is why after reading Anne-Marie Slaughter's article Why Women Still Can't Have It All in The Atlantic I felt seriously discouraged. Don't get me wrong, I still plan on becoming a kick ass journalist or lawyer, but while I was reading that article I just couldn't stop thinking, “Is this the only option?”
I was raised by a single mom who was pretty much on her own when it came to my brother, sister, and me. I remember at the age of 7 wishing that my mom was like my friend Samantha's mom who was president of the PTA and seemed to always have time to bring in cupcakes for our class or be in charge of something at field day. Recently when I was writing one of my college admissions essays on why feminism is so important to me, my mother told me that she did in fact wish she could have afforded to be a stay-at-home mom, that she hadn't missed so many school plays and doctor's appointments because of work. From watching my mother, I see that being a mom is a seriously undervalued job. That being said, I always imagined my life being very different from my mother's. For one thing, at my age, the age of 18, she was pregnant with my older brother, where as I am preparing to go to college. And although I think while being a stay-at-home parent is an admirable choice, I know that it's not the right choice for me.
As most of us know, the picture of powerful women painted by Hollywood and the media is a pretty bleak one. When viewing movies about women with successful careers you usually only see the “bitchy” boss, who only has a successful career at the expense of her love-life and her family. This leaves two equally depressing scenarios: either our leading lady has a family that hates her for being gone so much or she has no family at all (ignoring the fact that realistically not all women even want a family). These depictions are pretty depressing for women and girls who want careers and families.
But I never imagined living either scenario. I mean, call me naive, but I always thought that with a good education, a lot of hard work, compromise, and the right progressive husband who understands that my career is important to me, I could conceivably have the life I want. A nice house, kids that I can teach good values to, and a job that I love, that allows me to give something back to the world. I never thought that it'd be easy, but I always thought it would be possible.
The reason that I found Anne-Marie Slaughter's article so discouraging is that she makes the kind of life I want seem next to impossible to obtain. I found it sad that most of the women she talked about didn't even sound relatively happy. I get that these are her experiences, but she makes it sound like it's not possible to be successful without being an absentee parent. Or that it's not possible to be the kind of parent you want to be without making sacrifices in your career.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I think she does make many good points. For example, institutions in this country from what I can see don't make this balance easy for parents, and that needs to change. America is one of only three countries that doesn't offer paid maternity leave (the other two are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland), which (for lack of a better word) sucks. But is it really so hard to believe that I could be a Pulitzer prize winning journalist or partner at an awesome law firm without feeling guilty or my hypothetical imaginary children winding up in some shrink's office talking about how much they hate me for not being around? Also, why is this conversation just being had by women? Why aren't men worrying more about work-life balance?
Ultimately, I'm reminded of something that a friend of my mom once said: “I hate that dads always have a choice, but moms don't.” I'm not a mom (I'm not even a college student yet), so I don't know for sure if that's true. But if it is true, something needs to change, and it's another salient reason why we still need feminism.
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