What Having it all Means in Context
In the last few weeks I have followed the conversation inspired by Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” (http://bit.ly/Mfbb09) published online by the Atlantic Magazine (http://www.theatlantic.com/). Reading Slaughter’s article, the message appears to be that the drive or aspiration for women to have it all is stressful, unrealistic and guilt-inducing.
Clare Winterton in reply to Slaughter’s piece tried to give it an international focus by distancing it from the American society point of view which Slaughter’s piece focuses on. By acknowledging that ‘having it all’ means different things in other cultural environments, she aimed to put the discussion in context. (See Clare Winterton,“’Having it All?' A Global Manifesto for Working Moms” post: http://huff.to/Mfbnww)
As a married woman and mother of 2 children, working full-time in a position that involves travelling regularly, I can relate to the issues, fears and experiences of working mothers whether in America or Zimbabwe. Slaughter is honest to say that she has been critical of other women who choose to stay at home to look after children. She recognised from her experience that why she was able to ‘cope’ better as a law professor than as a director of policy planning at the US State Department was largely due to the flexibility of planning her schedules while at the university compared to the bureaucracy in a high level policy role in government. She also identified entrepreneurs, the wealthy and super-women as those lucky enough to have it all.
Her argument that the situation for women would improve if we had more women in leadership, and governance positions was criticised by Cathy Schreiber, ‘Changing the Conversation from Having it All to Creating a Values-Rich Life’ (http://bit.ly/L2yzLT) as being too simplistic. She emphasises that the focus should be on “Creating the life I want…” This means defining what ‘having it all’ means to the individual and not what society and inevitably some of our feminists’ sisters have set for all of us.
The demand for work and scarcity of decent work arising from the global economic meltdown means that women whether in high income or low income, paid or unpaid work, are carrying more burdens than ever before including domestic work.
Schreiber’s position on resolving the issue of women having it all in context, can be likened to the attitude of the author of the ‘Serenity Prayer’ that prays:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Working mothers work because they want a career or for survival or a break from routine. Every day we face the challenge of meeting our family and employer obligations. It is particularly difficult when the children are very young and getting quality childcare (informal or formal) is difficult or expensive. At the same time, we just get on with daily life, doing what we can and leaving the rest.
There is also the underlying notion that having it all includes a husband. Does it mean financially independent single women (with or without children) do not yet ‘have it all’? What is also the parameter for success? Can a happy street sweeper with 5 children and a husband be considered as failing to have it all while an unhappy female banker in a job she hates is considered to have it all?
Such distinctions tries to stereotype how we define success and removes from the discussion the affirmative decision taken by women to accept the situation where they are right now. This situation may change in the future in which case women need the courage and support to take those opportunities when they arrive or create them.
There are two (2) Key issues needed to urgently improve or maximise women’s work opportunities and increase their peace of mind:
1. Affordable Child Care – Many families in Africa rely on the extended family and maids to help with child care. Having child care can expand the possibilities for women to work outside the home and remain in child care. The government may have to create a scheme and private organisation should be flexible to accommodate or provide child-friendly access for staff that needs such services.
2. Equal Pay for equal work – It’s been said that women work twice as hard to convince people that they can do the job. Despite this, men still earn more than women for the same job in many companies. Enacting laws to enforce this form of discrimination would ensure compliance by authorities leading to greater recognition of women in the community.
Our aim for excellence drives us to attain the best in whatever situation we find ourselves in and motivates us to take new challenges. Therefore ‘having it all’ is really an unending process to achieve excellence; once one stage is accomplished we move on to the next. Keeping things in perspective eases stress and strengthens our resolve to be better persons every day in our families, in our work and in our community. It also means that we remember to look after ourselves and find time to refresh so that we do not burn out, become resentful or lose focus. My conclusion...live your best life.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” the Atlantic July/August magazine http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-can-...
Clare Winterton, “’Having it All?' A Global Manifesto for Working Moms” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/clare-winterton/global-working-mothers_b_1...
IMOW – MAMA (Motherhood around the world exhibition): http://mama.imow.org/mamaswork
Leanne Italie - Working Moms: Have It All Or Want What You Have? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/28/working-moms-have-it-all-_n_163...
Cathy Schreiber, ‘Changing the Conversation from Having it All to Creating a Values-Rich Life’ http://womensfoundationofcalifornia.org/2012/06/27/changing-the-conversa...
If you haven’t watched it, I’ll recommend watching the movie: “Made in Dagenham.” For information about the film check: (http://www.paramountpicturesintl.com/intl/uk/madeindagenham/)