Lean in. Work-life balance. An integrated life. Having it all.
These are just a few of the phrases shoved down our throats in an effort to make us feel more empowered or less stressed or…whatever.
They’re also total bullshit.
What was meant to be a rallying cry for modern feminism and a call for gender equality has morphed into a plea for women to strive for excellence in allthethings. And in that, phrases like “having it all” have failed miserably to resemble anything even close to feminism.
Let me be clear: I am, without qualification, a feminist and a proponent of systemic changes that make it possible for women — and men — to have fulfilling careers while raising a family, but this theory that anyone could potentially “have it all” is absolutely ridiculous.
Seriously, let’s all just shut the fuck up about “having it all.” Because — surprise! — no one can have it all. I repeat: No one can have it all.
But even if we get rid of this phrase entirely, the concept has become so embedded in our collective psyche that, like a whiny toddler clinging to our legs, we just can’t seem to shake it. We see it in the ways women bust their asses at work in a effort to “lean in” and still feel the need to apologize for a messy house or the fact that we don’t volunteer for a gazillion PTA committees. We see it in the ways women who leave their careers to care for young children say that they are “just” a stay-at-home mom. And we see it in the way women feel the constant weight of guilt because they can’t do and be allthethings.
The implication that “having it all” is desirable means that we are holding women to higher standards than we expect of men. Simply asking whether women can or can’t have it all is fairly sexist in and of itself. We don’t ask whether men can or can’t have it all, and we never have expected them to have it all or do it all. In fact, just take one look at the hilarious, satirical Twitter feed and Facebook page of the “Man Who Has It All” to see all the absurd double-standards between men and women.
Why should women be expected to jump through higher hoops by achieving career, family, and personal success in order to have a full, valued, and accomplished life? And what about all the women who, due to any number of circumstances, don’t have the option to have it all or just don’t want to have it all? Feminism is about equality for all women, not just certain groups of women, and the idea implies a sense of lacking if a woman’s life doesn’t include children, career, marriage, and allthethings.
Of course, there are plenty of systemic and cultural reasons it’s impossible for women to have it all (salary gaps, inadequate family leave policies, etc.), and we need to work on fixing those societal problems stat, but we also put pressure on ourselves to do everything and be everything to everyone. Simply put, life is filled with choices. We all have a finite amount of time and energy, and our plates can only get so full. When we add more of something — whether it falls into the work, family, self, friend, or community food group — we have to remove something else from our plate. If we don’t, it won’t be long before our plate is too damn heavy, and we’ll drop it faster than a toddler drops a cup of purple juice on a white rug.
So let’s just shut the fuck up about having it all. News flash: NO ONE CAN HAVE IT ALL! Men can’t have it all and neither can women, so let’s stop holding ourselves up to this unattainable standard that is designed to make us feel inadequate for this or that and ends up causing us to binge-eat on Oreos in the middle of the night because we feel like we are somehow falling short.
Let’s stop holding ourselves to this unattainable standard, this holy grail of what it means to live a full life. Instead of debating whether women can or can’t have it all, let’s place a higher value on the caretakers in our society. Let’s focus on making sure that mothers get the postpartum care they need, and that parents — mothers and fathers — are able to stay home from work for more than a hot minute after bringing a baby into the family. Let’s practice saying “nope” a little more often and cut ourselves some slack when we can’t do allthethings and do them perfectly. Let’s stop using words like “just” when talking about being a stay-at-home mom, and while we’re at it, let’s stop categorizing moms as working moms or SAHMs or WAHMs or what-have-you.
We are moms and dads, regardless of what we choose to fill our plates with. The buffet line of what it means to live a “full life” has endless options, and it is impossible for any of us to have it all. Besides, even if we could fill our plates with everything and “have it all,” we all know what happens when you get back to the table with your heaping plate of everything.
That’s right, you spend the entire meal cutting pancakes into tiny pieces, bouncing a baby on your knee, and pleading with your toddler to “take one more bite” before paying an exorbitant bill for all that food you never got a chance to enjoy.