Having It All

It’s finally summer. The kiddo is out of school and has another few weeks until he starts up at camp. I have plans to fill that time with bike rides, visits with friends and family, trips to secret swimming holes, and lots (lots) of soft serve. There will also be tons of baby snuggling if my best friend ever manages to have that baby of hers (officially due now).

And yet, instead of floating in a lazy river somewhere ignoring the pleas of pretty much everyone (except, you know, when my son asks for extra sprinkles on his ice cream. Sure, kid – it’s summer. Have at it.), I’m sifting through the recent explosion of articles in the latest round of Mommy Wars.

The first article that got folks talking was Elizabeth Wurtzel’s piece for The Atlantic, 1% Wives Are Helping Kill Feminism and Make the War On Women Possible. While I didn’t post about it at the time, I had thoughts. Of course I had thoughts. Wurtzel attacks the 1% moms, who she feels not only give feminism a bad name, but are helping kill the concept of feminism at the same time.

I am going to smack the next idiot who tells me that raising her children full time — by which she really means going to Jivamukti classes and pedicure appointments while the nanny babysits — is her feminist choice. Who can possibly take feminism seriously when it allows everything, as long as women choose it?

I certainly understand her frustration and contempt with the trophy-wife set and the various choices they make. I also understand her anger over “choice feminism.” Rail against the 1%-ers all you want, but the article seems to veer into territory of a different kind when it makes sweeping generalizations of a different kind:

If you can’t pay your own rent, you are not an adult. You are a dependent.

What about the many women who stay at home because it’s not a choice? The ones who need to choose between staying home or taking on a job just to cover childcare? Wurtzel’s article reeks of privilege, and not just of the 1% she’s attacking. Instead of blaming choice-feminism or the small percentage of “ladies who lunch” (and essentially fostering a war on women by women) – why not turn the ire and disdain on the actual patriarchal system that is causing women in many situations to even have to make the choice between working or childcare. And let’s not even get into why the husbands aren’t staying home instead. When we can get to a place where women make as much as men, then we can toss around that argument. While there is validity in attacking individual choice, we also need to continue to question and challenge the systemic issues that influence all (both women and men) of our “choices.”

There are many layers surrounding Wurtzel’s post, and to me, it feels like she’s just peeling back and examining the layer closest to her daily life. The same could be said for another Atlantic article that came out today, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. 

Photo via The Atlantic

Slaughter’s article left me struggling with many of the same issues as Wurtzel’s. Again we’re taking one person’s experience with a specific (upper-class) subset of people and using that experience to paint a broad stroke picture of all mothers (and all feminists). And, to be honest- the description of her life (full professor, maintains up to 50 speaking gigs/year, publishes frequently, etc…) sounds like she lives more of that “having it all” than most folks. Also, just the mere notion of framing things as “having it all” being the preferred outcome is a trap, or as Rebecca Traister notes “a setup for inevitable feminist shortfall.

Where is the outrage over the systemic issues that prevent folks from having it all or making the choices that Wurtzel derides? In addition to paid parental leave, better health care, more management opportunities for women, equal pay, etc… we also need to change the way we look at parenting in general in this country. We’re still focused on women as the primary care givers. A recent Nightline episode even posed the question, Are Dad The New Moms? Um, no. They’re still dads, but maybe our lowered expectation of them as merely babysitters or drop-in parents is changing? Maybe.

While I appreciate these women stepping up to the plate to take on these topics, I take issue with the way both of these essays are framed, and really how motherhood and the concept of choice is framed in general in our society. Let’s really get to the reasons why both mothers, and women in general, can’t have it all in our current society. Let’s question the notion of choice and who has it and who doesn’t.

Perhaps I get so worked up about articles like these because I see women in positions of privilege talking about their immediate experiences and perhaps not even realizing how significant it is that they even have this platform in the first place. Perhaps it’s because I’m working tirelessly to get the word out about a project that would provide a platform for young mothers whose voices are summarily ignored or talked over. Or maybe it’s because I’m tired of the Mommy War bullshit and would love for somebody to get a damn magazine cover for the actual work they’re doing regarding women and mothers (or… how mind blowing would it be for a magazine to pose the question about men having it all, and looking at how fatherhood is really perceived in this country?).

What about you? Do you relate to either of these article? If not, what do you wish was being put out there instead? What’s your dream headline/story related to motherhood?

While you think on that, I am going to go have it all – at least for the afternoon (and by my own standards). I’ve got a date with some editing, followed up by a secret swimming hole and some soft serve.

7 thoughts on “Having It All

  1. I just wrote about both of these articles on my blog. Interestingly, my reaction is a little different from yours. Wurtzel’s INFURIATED me, and Slaughter’s left me feeling hopeful.

    I think the difference for me was that Wurtzel (very specifically) defined success as economic wealth. (In fact, she says that “Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own.”) I take a lot of issue with mapping out your own definition of success (which just so happens to be based on a very capitalist/patriarchal structure) and then calling out anyone who doesn’t see success the same was as not a “real feminist”).

    Slaughter’s article, in my opinion, left a lot more room for real life. Her article was definitely longer and messier, but I think that’s because she’s recognizing that real lives are messier and longer.

    I especially liked her point that it does no good to try to stand up as a role model for future feminists by working in high powered jobs if the younger women headed towards those positions see the women currently in them as cautionary tales who can’t balance their lives successfully. It was already problematic for me to define our role as feminists as setting examples for which other women should lead their lives, but Slaughter points out that we might not even be doing a very good job of it in the first place. And I REALLY appreciated Slaughter’s discussion of parenting and the pursuit of happiness as valid parts of life and identity, especially after reading Wurtzel’s insistence that we all become cogs in the money-machine.

    I agree with you on the elitism, as both of these women are in highly privileged positions. I do think that Slaughter does a little more to demonstrate her recognition of that position (though that doesn’t negate the impact of that elitism).

  2. The Wurtzel piece ticked me off too much to finish, but Slaughter’s article was a huge help to me. I hope it doesn’t get lumped in with the “mommy war bullshit.” It left me hopeful. It spoke to my personal struggles, and made me feel like it’s okay for me to feel like my options are inadequate, that the system is rigged against me, too, even though I have a master’s degree and a nanny. I spend most days feeling like I should either apologize for having a nanny, or apologize for having a job that is somewhat less high-powered than I might because I want to be present for my family. I’ve picked a spot somewhere in the middle, like Slaughter. I recognize the privilege that gives me this “choice” between two forms of guilt. And I realize (as does Slaughter, quite explicitly) that these are not to be compared with the struggles to make ends meet that many women face. But she is pointing to ways employers and leaders can change things for women who are in positions like hers (and in business, and other professional roles), which I think is essential. Because nothing will change for women and children as a whole anywhere, in any circumstance, in all the far-more-difficult situations you’re talking about, until women have paths to leadership that they can and want to walk.

  3. I don’t know – I thought Slaughter’s piece dismantled the idea of choice nicely – she took on the “you aren’t ambitious enough” myth and the “your husband isn’t equal enough myth” and several others. She struck at the heart of social, economic, and workplace policies that make ambition difficult for women. I understand the frustration of the whole issue being framed by privilege, but for me Slaughter was the ultimate take down of Wurtzel, and I was just happy to have a woman talk about the messy truth (and offer some solutions, most of which are about workplace flexibility, which I think is a *huge* issue for all working women, not just the elite of the elite). It read to me like the opposite of mommy-wars-bait.

    The title, yes, I hated the title, and I almost didn’t read it for that reason, but I’m so glad I did.

    And I think Slaughter gets her privilege to a certain extent anyway – she’s very clear about how smug she used to be, until she was confronted with an inflexible reality that pushed her to a place she never thought she’d go (giving up).

    • oh, of the 2 articles, I certainly appreciated Slaughter’s more so than Wurtzel’s for a variety of reasons. And you’re right, that Slaughter does toss a bone and acknowledge those w/o access to the things she has. But just the fact that for most people, she’s a prime example of “having it all” yet still doesn’t feel that way just rubs me the wrong way. Of course, it’s all very personal – I understand that. but if her life isn’t having it all…what is?

      I’ll admit that my reading of Slaughter’s article was probably colored by my frustration for Wurtzel’s, which I read 1st. Rebecca Traister does a much better job of summing up my feelings on Slaughter’s piece here: http://www.salon.com/2012/06/21/can_modern_women_have_it_all/

  4. OK. Admittedly, I have read neither piece. Slaughter’s is here on the kitchen table, I just can’t find the time… !

    That said – my comment is, whether relevant or not, when are we going to take a deeper look at what “having it all” even means? I assume it still means “job + family” and “women as caretaker”.

    Look. I don’t want kids. I don’t even know if I want marriage. I’m also in a field of work will NEVER make me a1%-er, but then, I will never need that kind of wealth. Does that mean I will never “have it all”?

    Finally, even though I don’t want kids – when are we going to talk about parenting as being about PARENTS, whoever they are, instead of about how mommy balances and isn’t it nice when daddy does the dishes? When are we going to take parenting as a serious commitment to our children that needs to be negotiated by ALL those who wish to call themselves “parent” – both the good and the sacrifice? And, of course, WHEN is our government and society going to do a better job of supporting parents in the first place??

    (Sorry if I am wayyyy off base – I do try not to comment when I haven’t read all the material but…)

    • I don’t think you’re off base at all, Nikki! In fact, I agree with what you’re saying – I definitely think that we need to tackle wtf “having it all” even means, and I think Traister’s article on Salon does a good job of broaching that conversation. And yes to talking about parents not just mothers and how best to support them. It’s amazing that in a country that frames things as “when” you’ll have children (rather than “if”) we don’t do a better job of providing ways to support those who choose that route…

  5. Pingback: Submit to the Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival: Fifth Edition (Having It All) « The Mamafesto

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