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?