Saturday, 23 March 2013

Can we have it all? Well, we can have a big fat blog entry at least.

Fallopian Groove decided to take on this question:
Can women – or men, for that matter – have it all? 
Well, here we go. As a hope-to-one-day-be-a-working-mom, I’m wading into this Internet debate. I just can’t help myself. Aside from my firm conviction that “having it all” is an objectionable phrase that should have been retired almost as soon as it came into fashion, I also find this ongoing conversation to be, well, how can I put this: silly. Not because there’s not a problem here – there is – but because the “solutions” proposed by the parade of working-mothers in glossy magazines are inadequate and incomplete.
Please read her full blog post here.

 I don't think we will ever reach anything close to a consensus on this one. There is just too much variation in people's lives and attitudes and abilities. And that's the way it should be.

"You can have it all!" It sounds so positive and empowering. Whatever is there to question or wonder about??

Here's my position (which I like to think is based on some self-evident truths about the human condition,  but is also affected by my personality and values and experiences)

Everything in life involves some kind of sacrifice or compromise. Even if  (best case scenario) you are choosing between two equally good alternatives, there is always sacrifice involved. For example, marriage involves sacrificing some of the freedom of being single. You (hopefully) love your partner and are thrilled to be marrying them, but everybody gives something up to do that. In my case, I'm much less likely to go off to Europe by myself (for example) because I'm weighing the time/expense/purpose of such an action based not just on my needs, but my husband's and those of our future children, although they are not yet born or conceived. I wouldn't have to do that if I was single and planned on staying that way.

If there's anything dangerous about the "you can have it all" concept for women AND men AND children, it's with the implication that "You can have it all WITHOUT sacrifice." No, you can't. Something is going to have to give. If you can't identify what sacrifice you are making, it only means you haven't thought about your choices long or hard enough (or at all).  We all live with limitations, no matter how talented, fabulous, energetic, omniscient we think we are (and people often exaggerate what they are capable of).

So what do I think is the key to "having it all"? Or at least, "having enough"? (How many people do you hear complaining about not having enough?) The key is to make the sacrifice without BITTERNESS. That is, as much as possible, you live without resenting the sacrifice, and without treating self/others with resentment. Acknowledge the sacrifice, honour it, and then get on with the life path that you chose.  It's not a question about what you have or what you don't have. Nobody has a right to come up with a definition of a happy family or a happy person and then force it on everybody else. It's a question of knowing why you made certain decisions, what the situation was, what you gave up, and what you gained. And also remembering that while there is a limit on our range of choices (depending on our personal position, some things are realistically not attainable), there is NO LIMIT on the number of choices a person can make in their lifetime. Just because I made X choice at one point in time, doesn't mean that I have to make it over and over.

With regards to career and family, I am really only entitled to explain  my position, not to tell anyone else what to do.

1) Yes I expect to make career sacrifices because of children. Children take time, energy, commitment, education, emotional energy, money....uh, am I missing something? Probably about a hundred other things. I'm one small human. I don't have endless reserves of ANY of those capacities. That means I will be taking from some other aspect of my life, such as work. Do I have a problem with that? No, I don't. (see above).

2) I don't expect I will be completely giving up my career. I will take at least one year of maternity leave from teaching. After that? I'll have to see. I don't feel like I can say with certainty what I will or will not do from this perspective. I don't know what kind of a child I'll have or what kind of a mother I'll be. But I do know that the child will be the priority, and that my health and sanity will also need to be a priority, because I'm not going to be a  good mother without them. And let's be honest, I don't even like me when I'm losing my mind with stress. Do I like to think my employer and/or culture will support what I think is the right decision? Yeah, I'd like to think so. Am I counting on, not necessarily. It's up to me to make the right decision for me, not somebody else.

3) I imagine, like any undertaking worth doing, that children will not just take away from my life but will add to it. They  will take energy to raise but will also introduce a loving energy INTO my life that I do not currently have. So who knows, I might feel like I can do MORE when I'm a mother, not less. Also, it's likely I will find myself much more interested in the state of society and world, being as I've brought the next generation into it, than I currently am.  So I may well want to be MORE involved in the larger world, not less. This would entirely fit with what I know about myself. Having attained something resembling The American Dream at this point in life  (The Canadian dream?) complacency is currently an option for Mr. Turtle and I. But as parents? We may have to give up that complacency for being agents of active, passionate change in the world we want for our children.  On the other hand....maybe we will just be one super chilled out family. Hopefully a bit of both, actually.

4)Feminism? Feminists fought the good fight to make sure there weren't (aren't?) INSTITUTIONALIZED barriers to woman making choices about family and career. I know there is still controversy on whether women are "equal" to men in contemporary society. Some of this discussion is valid, some of it is misguided IMO. Personally I have never felt inhibited or discriminated against in any way. No do I see evidence of such in  the lives of the women around me, at the very least.  I have no inferiority complex. Maybe I just somehow missed out on all the discrimination, I don't know. Still, I have to trust my own observations and at this point, I do not accept the blanket statement that women in contemporary Western cultures are systemically discriminated against and have limited opportunities.  Other women may disagree. If you disagree, feel free to give detailed evidence of how and why and I will consider your position. If you quote statistics, give a detailed breakdown of what they mean and who was in the survey  sample.

Now, just an aside. There is one thing about the "Can woman have it all?" debate that makes me NAUSEOUS.  Every now and then, some article is written with this basic thesis: "Feminists told women they can have both career and family (or career instead of family). Women believed this. Now women (well, some women, but these kind of articles don't often bother to make that distinction) are unhappy because they wish they had rather focused on family. Therefore feminism (and by extension, women's choice) is bad for women." Another variation focuses on the "career woman" who chose to be a stay at home mom, and is so happy about her decision. Or the educated women who choose to stay at home. All well and good, but then the argument follows that it's somehow a waste of time for women to be educated or have careers because guess what, they are all  happier at home taking care of kids anyway. WTF? Two short replies to this incredibly stupid and sexist argument:

1) Feminism aimed to give women the same opportunities for choice as men. It did NOT (and should not) promise that they will make the RIGHT choices all the time. Of course some women will make poor choices and neglect family for career. Do some MEN make neglect their families for their careers? (or whatever else) Of course they do! But nobody ever suggests that we made a big mistake by allowing men to go to work. OMFG.

2) There is a HUGE difference between a "career woman" who chooses to stay at home, and a 18 year old (or younger) who becomes a stay at home mom because she thinks that is the only thing she can do.  The two decisions (and their impact on the respective women's lives as well as their children) are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Enough said.

How do I feel about (more) maternity leaves/paternity leaves/ "family friendly" policies? Well, they all sound good in theory. Maternity leaves are pretty much a requirement in the education field because so many teachers are young women who want babies.  Maternity leaves create short term job openings for new teachers, because then schools have to hire a replacement. In general it does seem like there is a moral imperative for employers to work with families rather than against them. Still. You don't get something for nothing.  Does family friendly legislation mean higher taxes? Does it mean that it is much harder for Jane Average to get one of those privileged, benefit-heavy positions while she is still in her child bearing years? Does it lead to women taking advantage of the system, collecting high salaries while taking months or years off their job to raise children? Is that fair to people without children who are actually getting the work done at the company?  I don't have all these answers, and I'd love to hear of practical solutions people have.

Just as an aside. I have two older brothers, both (probably) confirmed bachelors. We have always gotten along great. They have done very well in their careers. Some of their opinions:

Older Brother 1 (information technology, big energy company) There is nothing worse than a woman supervisor with kids, because she has no time to take care of herself and she is stressed to the point of being almost impossible to work with.

Older Brother 2 (aeronautical engineering, government) Women in the office simply don't work as hard as the men. In general, women get the same or better pay and privileges for less work.

Not saying they are right or wrong, just saying that there are other perspectives on this.

Housework? Mr. Turtle and I share well. I have higher standards of cleanliness/organization than he does, true. I knew this when I married him.  It sometimes means I do more around the house than he does. On the other hand, I'm glad Mr. Turtle is more relaxed about order and cleanliness because it balances  out my occasionally  neurotic tendencies. His refusal to prioritize that kind of activity helps me to put it into perspective and just chill out sometimes. Do we envision ourselves both as involved parents? Absolutely. Do we totally understand how that will look right now? No. Are we happy after 3 years of marriage. Absolutely. I tease him about the clothes on the floor. Do I want a life without Mr. Turtle and his pile of clothes on the floor? No. I would never never choose that. My heart would fragment into a million tiny painful shards.

Bottom line on the "war between the sexes" / war over housework, whatever? We choose who we marry. We choose how we treat each other. People are adults and have to figure this out.  You  find what you look for. Women who think men are lazy slobs will find lazy slobs. Men who think women are selfish primping bitches will find selfish primping bitches.  Maybe we're crazy, but Mr. Turtle and I have better things to do that fling venom and shit at each other. Like cook dinner together, cuddle, clean the house (sometimes), work, talk about work, sleep, make love, love our family and friends, and oh yeah, get ready for IVF. Heh.

So how have I done at resolving the question of Can You Have It All? Still unresolved? OOOOh-kay. I kind of thought that's how it would be.  Feel free to leave your opinions.  Thanks again Fallopian Groove for making virtual room for this discussion.

Update: A friend posted this article to her Facebook page. While not about men or women specifically, it makes some good points. How To Do Less and Live More

Signing off, the Turtle.

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