There are parts of The Atlantic’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” that resonate (e.g., the crazy force that is billable culture) and then there are parts that bother me, like the quirky parallel of the marathon runner employee who gets up early and the mothering employee who gets up early.
I agree it’s time to challenge traditional feminist idea of “having it all,” but this story almost perpetuates the problem by settling into some boxed/absolute thinking of its own. The author often narrows in on family values, an isolation that misses the chance to talk about the bigger social opportunities. At times, this isolating angle seems to come with an underlying judgment: that family rearing is a kind of noble activity that should therefore be uniquely considered and supported, as opposed to supporting quality of life for all people in general.
It makes me think of the scene in Little Women, where Jo argues that women should get the vote not because they are good, but because they are human beings and deserve equity. Similarly, people should not be supported or have flexibility in their careers just because they are raising families, but because they are people and it’s simply better to have a balanced life.
This should have nothing to do with kids, and maybe that’s what most bothers me about the article. Maybe I’m annoyed in general that if I am a feminist, there’s an assumption that I must have an innate orientation to motherhood, and that means I must also carry the banner for families. This bothers me in two ways: First, it doesn’t go far enough in terms of a cultural shift. Second, it insults men like my husband, who are working their asses off to evolve in their own right but tend to be the afterthought of social movements aimed at “women and families.”
It’s time to dig deeper. I don’t really care if you choose to wake up at 4 am to train for marathons or if you choose to get up to feed your newborn. What matters is creating a society that values and supports balanced living.
“Family-friendly policies” are not exactly that radical at the end of the day. Radical change would be the world deciding to go to a four-day workweek. Radical change would be regular creative sabbaticals, or a complete redefinition of careers away from title-collecting and ladder-climbing toward strengths-building and project-hopping. This article has done lots to describe the symptoms and current conditions, but if we really want to reinvent ourselves, our careers, and our workplaces — rather than merely fix broken systems and solve old problems — we need to expect more and experiment actively and significantly. We need to give ourselves permission to imagine bigger instead of inheriting and rehabbing yesterday’s model.