There has been a lot of discussion in the Blogsphere recently about ‘having it all’ following an article in Atlantic magazine from Anne-Marie Slaughter about her job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department. I’ve followed these discussions with great interest as I’ve secretly questioned the basic premise behind ‘having it all’ and whether it’s even a possibility.
For many ‘having it all’ means effortlessly juggling work, family, friends and a social life perfectly while feeling equally fulfilled in every role. Maybe you can get close to ‘having it all’ if you’ve got a job where you get paid the earth for doing not much and can actually pay other people to clean your house, run your errands, do your shopping – AKA run your life for you. But for the rest of us who get paid regular money for increasingly longer hours I think ‘having it all’ is, probably, fast becoming a long lost dream.
While reading all the articles around this debate I read a fascinating quote from Amy Walburn: ‘It is our responsibility as educated career women to understand more comprehensively what the quest to “have it all” really means. It means that we need to fight for women’s equality everywhere.’ Oh wow! Now that puts a whole new perspective on what ‘having it all’ means. That quote has challenged me to the core and made me ask myself the question: ‘if I’m wanting to have it all – how and where am I fighting to ensure that others get it (all) too?’ I’m an ethical shopper.
The fact that I refuse to buy from certain shops draws a wry smile from some of my friends and complaints from my daughters. But I refuse to give my money to corporations who don’t take their corporate responsibility seriously and won’t bow to consumer pressure to change their work practices. And continue to exploit women and children who have no voice to complain. I’m often asked by younger women leaders how I make my life work.
My answer is pretty much always the same: decide what’s important to you, be prepared to compromise (none of us ever gets everything we want), do the best you can, be determined to make life work for you instead you for it. And, really importantly, realize that you’re making up your own story so there aren’t less right or wrong answers than you think.
Following these recent discussions I’ll be adding to that list. When the next person asks me, I’ll add that making life work for you must also include making life work for others who don’t yet have the privileges we take for granted. Unfortunately, women aren’t equal in many spheres of life in the UK – the fact that so few women are in politics, in the boardroom or represented in culture is an outrage. However, the fact that basic human rights are not even a dream let alone a reality for hundreds of thousands of women across the globe is actual a travesty.
Women are routinely exploited, tortured, denied their rights and persecuted just because of their gender in many places throughout the world. I was utterly outraged when I heard that Saudi Arabia has only just bowed to pressure and allowed women to compete in the Olympics. Currently they only have two female competitors who both live outside Saudi and apparently have no influence there. It’s a start and hopefully a signal to Saudi women and needs to be celebrated as such but there is so much more to be done. Because, as a friend of mine says, until all of us are free none of us are free.
Stuff to think about…
What do you think ‘is it possible to ‘have it all’?
Do you think we have a responsibility to speak for women who face gender injustice? If you do, how do you go about doing that?
Thanks for this, Wendy. There’s so much to say on this topic! I too am careful about which shops I use, having been exposed to factories used by many high street names and learning who cares and who doesn’t about workers’ rights. We can choose a wilful blindness in deciding which are ‘our causes’ and what we can fight for when, as you say, equality is still rife in so many areas. Standing up for each other against injustices might be the only way there is ever enough collective energy for change. The idea of ‘Having it all’ requires a strongly defined sense of self which prompts us to believe we’re entitled to ‘all’, with energy needed to pursue that. If we’re not careful I suspect it can pull us away from the bigger picture of those who can’t fight for themselves, maybe even speak for themselves and who possibly have nothing.
Thanks so much for your comment. Interesting to hear that you’ve seen the lack of equality first hand. Like you, I think it is crucial that we raise the issues of equality for ourselves and others with equal volume. Look forward to seeing how our passion for this develops. Wendy
What a thought provoking post! I felt humbled as I read it because it reminded me of all those things I take for granted. Everyone struggles to juggle their priorities but I do have so much choice and freedom in how I live my life.
Thank you Wendy for highlighting the plight of other women who don’t have choice or freedom in their lives.
Thanks so much for your comment.
I just think we all need reminding every so often that there are people worse off than us…
I love your tweets BTW.
Loved this wendy. It’s turning our ‘poor me, martyr working mum’ on the head, bringing a fresh otherness of perspective. I know i can get so caught up in the stress & negatives wrapped up in ‘having it all’ and its so essential to look up and outwards… We can so easily become blind to whats really going in the oppressed lives of so many…
Preach it sister!
I think we slip into the ‘poor me’ thing because we feel so pressured by spinning plates, rather than being a deliberate thing.
I think work life balance is a difficult thing to maintain. After all we all want to do the best we can which sometimes means we’re forever working… whether that’s work, laundry etc. Trouble is it can be that everything becomes work to us…
Anyway, when we getting together to chat about this stuff? W xx
Great blog…you are good at this. The way “having it all” is defined bugs me. What do they mean? What is all? And, for women, the answer is, of course, “never enough.”
There seems to be no recognition that raising children is not a one person job, or that houses must be cleaned or that we need to actually relate to our small children and teh other adults in our family.
I will say it’s better for me today in my career than it was when I was a young woman. People accept women executives easity and don’t wonder why a man isn’t doing my job.
My children are grown, and I have all I want…put it that way.
Yes completely, it is no use just the privileged few in the Western world ‘having it all’. When we stand together as the average people and demand that Govenments and business’ take notice then we are making progress towards everyone having a chance.
Being a blogger is a priviledged position I feel and I can’t wait to take 2 trips with charities later this year to experience the land of those who barely have anything, let alone ‘it all’ and it will then be my duty to share their stories and be their voice.
Thanks, Mich x
I’m so glad that this resonated with you. And I totally agree we should use our voice to spread the word on how life is for others less privileged than us.
Looking forward to hearing about your trips. I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time.
No-one can have it all – inevitably there are points where you have to say “if you do this you can’t do that”. But we should all be free to make those choices for ourselves, not have others make them for us based on gender or other criteria, either by overt pressure or social conditioning.
I myself am a bloke working in a male-dominated profession, namely, software. It’s a career that few women seem to consider, and I would love to help break down that kind of subtle conditioning as well. I’m also a worship leader, and as such try to encourage women who want to play instruments in the band, aware that the paucity of women that I’ve seen playing instruments at major Christian conferences is nothing short of scandalous.
Tom. Thanks so much for your comment.
It’s so great to hear that you are so thought through on this. And you’re totally right none of us can have it all.
It’s great that you’ve recognised that there is a lack of women in worship both in bands and leading. I’m totally committed to seeing what I can do to change this. I’d love to continue chatting about this. Wendy
Looking forward to seeing more of your posts Wendy, spoken with evident passion, which is what makes things interesting! I took a pledge at church several years ago to try & buy fair trade, etc. where possible – as a non tea/coffee drinker – which was about all there was at the time, it was hard! I went on retreat with Brian Draper the other week, and he was showing me a book where the entire thesis was that every small choice that we make adds up to make lots of different choices.
As a farmer’s daughter, fair trade includes trying to buy the right goods. For Lent this year I gave up going to supermarkets – partly because I had so much food stuffed into the cupboards, but also to open my eyes to more local opportunities.
As you say, it depends what ‘having it all’ means. I’ve had to make decisions on this over the past few weeks – less money for a more fulfilling job, which will also allow time to develop my writing/consultancy, purchasing my small house – and choosing to go for something that is manageable so I won’t have to go chasing money. All choices can be tough, and over the past few years I’ve learned to take a lot more responsibility for mine!
Always interested in giving people who don’t have voices an opportunity to speak – whether that’s in the classroom, or my particular project (Big Bible) – allowing voices who may not usually be heard, encouraging people to experiment in ‘finding their voices’. We are all called to different causes to fight for … know what they are, and be open to being challenged by others causes.
Glad that this resonated with you.
If I think it is about the choices we make whether they are big or small ones. Really praying that your new job is amazing.
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Wow – awesome and challenging post. A big fat amen to all that you say here… I think the ‘having it all’ is most often an illusory dream, based on unrealistic expectations. I think your approach to accept compromise and prioritise what’s important is much more realistic.
And these days I find myself a nouveau feminist, realising that it is an increasingly important issue, particualrly when you consider the global impact, as you say. I’m really challenged by your stance on shopping boycotts; will think that over.
Looking forward to more of your posts! Xx
Really like this – good writing & real food for thought. Hope you write more, not less!
Help your blog into Wall Street !!!