There is a bumper sticker that says, “What if the Hokey Pokey IS what it’s all about?”
What is it all about, anyway? My brain hurts when I turn my attention to the really big questions. But I can say this: if I have to sit on one more panel where a moderator asks a lineup of successful businesswomen the question, “Can a working woman hope to have it all?” I’m going to spit. And that’s if I’m feeling polite – if not, I’ll jump up and start raving.What is this baloney about pondering and perserverating and mewling over the question of whether women can have it all? I mean, has anyone ever asked a panel, “Can a man in business have it all?” OF COURSE NOT. It’s assumed that men have it all – all the all that they want, anyway – which is really all the all any of us should be worrying about. Here’s what men have and have always had the opportunity (in the developed world, and with an education and some pluck) to have: a challenging job, a fulfilling family life, a connection to friends and community. Come on. It’s not rocket science. Why would there even be a question about whether women could have the same things?
Here’s why: because women’s leap into the professional realm is a scary thing for a lot of people. And so the question is raised: what must she give up, in order to have success in business? Surely she’s got to give up something! You can’t just have everything you want, y’know! To which I say: bull dookie. You CAN have what you want.
I’m sad that my mom with her Mensa-type brain and degree from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service (first graduating class that included women, in ’50) couldn’t become an ambassador, like the guys she graduated with. That stinks. She did the other thing that women did then – she went home and became a supermom to eight kids, head of every church committee, writer, performer, historian, you name it. Every kind of needlework and homemade bread and homemade clothes for eight tykes and a national spokesperson for progressive Catholic organizations – all that stuff. I am happy that she enjoyed what she did and sorry that there weren’t other kinds of opportunities open to her. But today some of those opportunities are out there.
Must we say “But you can’t do it all – you have to forfeit something” because our moms did, or because we’d seem too greedy if we wanted the great mothering experiences and the great work experiences and all of the rest of the package? To which my next question is, whose opinion are we worried about? Exactly who is this outside observer who might deem us greedy for wanting it ALL, and why, exactly, do we care what he or she thinks?
People talk about tradeoffs all the time – “You have to make tradeoffs.” I don’t get it. Why do we have to make tradeoffs? I went to conservatory after high school because I wanted to be an international opera star. I saw that life up close, I didn’t cotton to it, and I did other stuff instead (I always sang opera, but I always had a day job too). Later I got to be very good friends with an international opera star and I loved hearing about her days on the road. I had a business career, rather than an international singing career – did I make a tradeoff? I don’t see that. I see that I liked one thing more than another. My friend chose another course – what exactly did she, or I, give up?
It is easy and convenient after the fact to say “I couldn’t have done this AND that, so I gave one up” but none of us knows the course our lives would have taken had we not gone left or gone right at a particular fork in the road. Women who came before us and chose business careers over family, or vice versa, will say “I couldn’t have done both” and who are we to naysay that? But we can do those things in tandem now. The days of “it’s impossible to be a mom and a businesswomen” are racing into the past at the speed of light. The business world needs our talents, and those of us with enough backbone to succeed professionally surely have enough backbone to laugh at the pathetic and fear-based sneers of “Of course her children will suffer, look what a workaholic she is.” No matter what choices we make, someone will find fault, so we may as well jump whole hog into the paths we choose and damn the torpedos.
What a slur, what an insult to women to ask “But can she have it all?” What the heck else would she be after?