Can Women “Have It All”?

There’s been a lot of chat on the Internet right now about whether or not Marissa Mayer “can have it all” after announcing she was pregnant AND taking the reigns at Yahoo.

What a ridiculous question. Of course she can have it all. She will have a great team at work and she will have a huge village at home. Because that’s what you do to “have it all” as a woman in America – you have to assemble the village at home. Folks to cook, clean, co-raise your child, do laundry, shop etc.

“Can we have it all?” isn’t the right question anymore, because it’s a question developed in reaction to how challenging it is for women to maintain meaningful work, childrearing and relationships in a world that has never valued these things to begin with. For lack of a better way to put it (and I mean no disrespect to men in general) it’s a “man’s world” question that women are asking. We are assuming by that question that women and mothers want to play the same game that got us all here in the first place – with just a slight variation that includes better maternity leave and childcare. Maybe for a romanticized few moments post-WW2, Mad Men of a certain race and class “could have it all”: the wife, the kids, the house, the car, the household help, the mistress, and the vacations. But do people today – men included – really want that model? A model that tells me I can take 2 weeks maternity leave and that even then I will probably have to work during it, in order to have it all? (By the way, I know many men that would be euphoric with two weeks of paternity leave – is anyone asking Mr. Mayer how much paternity leave he is taking? We would not want him to miss out on the glory that is postpartum.)

At a certain economic level, a woman can make her choice to emulate that global market drive and far be it for anyone to say she can’t. Marissa Mayer is on the threshold of two once in a lifetime experiences, and I’m thinking that’s enough on her plate right now. How she does this is really none of our business as this conversation – prompted by her textbook life moment of “I’m a working woman and I’m a pregnant”- is really about all of us.

For me, I’m interested in who decided that “having it all” was a good thing, because it seems only a few get to have “it”. And in fact, what does “having it all” even mean in the first place?

For most of us, the idea of having it all looks something like those commercials where Kelly Ripa is selling us yet another kitchen appliance. Kids happy, career great, party saved by our amazing ability to cook something fabulous in 5 minutes, probably ending with a wink at our husband, with our size four cuteness and great hair. By the way, all my days look like that, really.

Recognize this image? It’s a female version of the Leave It To Beaver Dad – provider, father, words of wisdom, quality husband, still had a martini everyday and good abs.

It’s a nice intention, to sell us a dream (as well as an appliance) that our life can be like that – but what is it they say about good intentions…?

The challenge with the question of “can I have it all” is that it leads me, as a woman, to still define myself by my outside production: did I attract a husband, did I produce a child, did I have a career? A world that defines us by our external accomplishments is still a world that doesn’t value us enough to take care of its people: healthcare, education, support, transportation, jobs, childcare-all things healthy sane people and families need.

It’s not about us having it all; it’s about our world catching up what our hearts and minds know is possible. It’s about us redefining what it means to have equal value, worldwide say and recognition beyond these labels - mother, career woman, and wife. The whole world has to change for women, and their families to have what they need.

Don’t define me by what “I have” whether it is all or some, define me –and value me-by who I am.

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