Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Can we have it all?

I read an article by Anne Marie Slaughter titled 'Why women still can't have it all". She seemed to have it all…..a fantastic career, a supportive husband who was ready to take on the lion’s share of the parenting responsibilities, two healthy kids and the potential to grow more in her professional life as a full time career woman and a regular writer.  However, her article was an eye opener for me. She decided to go at a slower pace in order to deal with the hard time that her teen was going through.
For the first time in my adult life, I felt like I had read a real story about the real life of a career woman.

I grew up with a feminist and a super achiever all rolled into one mom. She had a fabulous career and kept a tight leash on things at home and on both of us, sisters. Well, that’s the accepted version, anyway. She believed it. Our extended family celebrated her for it and as her daughters we lived it. But the truth is, she struggled with it, as did most women of her generation and mine, too. It was a tightrope walk most of the time and I have been guilty of blaming her for not being around when I needed her. I can only imagine what she must have felt by that allegation.

Most young women with average intelligence and a modicum of ambition hope to have a career. In my growing years, I was fed on a diet of the importance of a career in a women’s life and how it was the most crucial element to our identity.  I am pretty sure; a lot of other women heard it multiple times from their female role models. Just like the woman in the article, we believed that we could do it if we tried hard enough. We could have a career and a great family life if we put in our best effort. Even as I write this article, I continue to believe in that myth…..but I am beginning to realize that I am wrong.

The flaw in this theory is the assumption that it is all about “Me”, that the woman with her supreme will can have it all. In this form, the precept mocks the presence of real human beings in her life and does not make concessions for their emotions, thoughts and behaviors. I may work hard to be successful at my work and put my best foot forward at home. But I cannot forget that my partner is human, too. He and my children could have differing and conflicting expectations from me. My boys, like all kids have their own personalities with the accompanying joys and foibles. The result adds some unpredictability in my life for which I cannot plan ahead.

The other hole in this superwoman theory is that it does not make any room for a woman’s emotional reactions to different variables in her personal life. That’s a big loophole. Most women are mentally much more involved and affected by the smooth running of a house and raising of children than their husbands. Ergo, anything upsetting the family balance will generate a host of negative emotions in her. Guilt, sadness or anger are not exactly conducive to seeking and sustaining a high flying career with a well adjusted, effectively functioning personal life. 

I think its time we set new standards and expectations from ourselves and our young women. It is important to talk openly about the real struggles of juggling a career and a family life….lest we continue to feel like failures for the inability to manage both, simultaneously or be miserable that we have lost our identities because we take a break to give birth and raise our children.

It’s important to talk about this issue to allow women to have the freedom to make choices for or against their career aspirations and feel equally fulfilled and content with it. Till then, the real liberation of women is a far dream.

As far as I am concerned, a career being equal to my identity is pretty much hardwired in my brain and its going to take some time and effort to get it out of my DNA. But, I live in the hope that the future generation of women don’t get chained down by this model of assessing self worth.

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