Can Women Have It All????

I originally published this post on 29 Feb 2008 – it was my second month of blogging. I have had some wonderful conversations with women around me on this issue lately, so seeing back in Feb 2008 I had only a handful of wonderful readers, I thought I would share this post again. Mainly for the fantastic thoughts and opinions in the comments – please check them out and thank you to those who contributed to the conversation.

I ended the post contemplating what I would tell my daughter and the comment from the lovely Kate @ Picklebums gave me a perfect starting place:

Maybe the line we should be telling our future women is not that they can have ‘it all’, rather that they can have ‘whatever they want’?


Can Women Have It All?

Image by I’mClaude

I have seen the best seller “The Dangerous Book for Boys” in the book shops and must admit that I haven’t really taken much notice of it. It was with surprise that I read that there was also two like books on sale for girls. Peggy Orenstein writes about these books in “Girls Will Be girls” which was published in the New York Times on Feb 10 this year.

The above mentioned books are are two advice manuals aimed at girls, “The Dangerous Book for Girls” and “The Girls’ Book: How to be the Best at Everything.” and Orenstein in her article comments that both books encourage

“for girls to have it both ways: to be able to paint their nails and break them too;”.

She then follows this with:

For decades now, girls have been told that “you can do anything”. How to Be the Best at Everything, originally published in England, might as well add “in heels and lipstick.”

Now I have not read either of these books, but found that Prenstein’s critique of them drew me back to the core issue of women “having it all”.

In July 2002, a leading Australian journalist, Virginia Haussegger wrote an opinion piece in the Melbourne broadsheet, The Age titled “The sins of our feminist mothers.” Haussegger in her piece wrote about her pain of having a career and then trying late in life to have a baby and being unable to do. She expressed her anger at believing in what she felt was the myth of “having it all” as sold to her by her “feminist mothers.”

At this stage of my life, I had two children and was still getting the paper delivered daily and I eagerly watched the fall out of this article. I couldn’t wait to get the paper in the morning and head to the opinion section and see what was being said next. This was a very public forum on the issue that Orenstein is also tackling in her article in the New York Times.

The Virginia Haussegger opinion piece had tapped in to a very raw nerve amongst Australian women and it moved from just the opinion pages of the paper. “Meet Virginia, the women many love to loathe.” was one headline that came from this discussion.

For me I read this with interest and it made me think about what I had thought was possible prior to actually having children. Having my first child at 26, I had thoughts of wanting to “have it all” and I went into motherhood with a large dose of naivety. I was going to take 3 months off from my responsible job and head back to work. What was I thinking???? I did go back after 9 months, with a view to do my time and get home full time again as soon as I could. Having children is such a personal thing, that I don’t think you can ever really prepare yourself for how you may feel. I surprised myself with the ease and how happy I was to abandon my career.

But in reading the responses of the “they said “, “she said” fall out from Haussegger opinion piece, I did not think much about the future predicament of upcoming young women, I had only two sons at the time and it didn’t really enter my thoughts. Reading the piece form Orenstein in the New York Times has made me re-think this issue with a different focus. What will I tell my daughter? Will I tell her that she can have it all?

But what is having it all? I spent some time with a very smart and articulate woman yesterday, who suggested to me that the “all” is likely to be very different for each woman. What makes her “all” is operating her own successful business in a way that allows her still to have time to enjoy her beautiful children. My “all” for some years has been about being immersed in home life, but my “all” is now changing as my family grows up.

I am not sure what I will say to my daughter yet, when it comes time to talk to her about the choices she can make. I am glad though, that there have been many brave women before me that have made it possible that she does have a choice, regardless of how difficult the decisions might be to make.

I also wonder in the end if it will be my actions, not my words that will tell my daughter the most. I have chosen to be out of the paid workforce for last seven years now (but who knows where I will be in another seven!). As Possum is only four, I at least have time to plan what I will say to her on these issues.

Is this an issue that you have had to start dealing with yet? I would love to hear how you approached it.

NB. If you had trouble accessing the New York Times article, you may need to register (free and very quick) to see it properly.