The former First Lady did not hold back on a recent press tour
Michelle Obama has been on a whirlwind book tour for her best-selling memoir, Becoming, but it’s what she said during a stop in New York over the weekend that got almost as much attention as her book. The former First Lady and mother of two told the crowd of supporters that the notion of “having it all” is not only unrealistic, it’s not a healthy expectation for women.
Talking to a crowd in Brooklyn, Obama was asked about work life balance, and how one finds a way to happily juggle work and marriage. Obama said, “That whole ‘so you can have it all.’ Nope, not at the same time,” CNN reported.
“Marriage still ain’t equal, y’all,” Obama continued. “It ain’t equal. I tell women that whole ‘you can have it all’ — mmm, nope. That’s a lie.” She also challenged the concept of ‘leaning in’ — a phrase Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg made famous which basically said women need to be more assertive in order to achieve success. “It’s not always enough to lean in, because that shit doesn’t work all the time.” The crowd cheered when Obama swore, to which she replied: “I forgot where I was for a moment!”
For her part, Sandberg agrees — to a point. “We are stuck at less than 6 percent of the Fortune 500 CEO jobs and their equivalent in almost every country in the world,” she said in 2017. “There were 19 countries run by women when Lean In was published. Today there are 11.”
Obama isn’t the only one who has noticed. In a 2016 article for Huffpost, Amy Westervelt explained the problem with the concept of ‘leaning in’ — that we’ve changed the narrative for women, but nothing else. “Here’s what we tell women today, ‘You not only can, but should have a career and children — because if you don’t, you’re basically a) lazy, b) weak, c) not a real woman. But also, you should do it without any support,'” she said. “We applaud companies for paying for female employees to freeze their eggs, but don’t push them to give women the space to have children during their actual child-bearing years and come back to work without losing their place in line. Instead of changing the systems, we tell women to lean in. Because of course, it’s our fault for not taking initiative. Fuck you. I’m leaning so far in I’m falling flat on my face.”
Obama’s always been open about the challenge of balancing work, motherhood, and marriage. She told TIME earlier this year, the process involves a whole lot of planning. “Starting every year, before I booked anything, agreed to any meetings or conferences, we’d sit down with my assistant and we looked at our lives first,” she said. “We put potlucks in there, we put date nights in there, I put my workouts, we put our vacations on the calendar first, we put sports things and summers. We planned that out first, and then what was left would be left for work.”
As anyone who constantly adjusts and readjusts knows, the concept of “having it all” is just that — a concept.