Posted by: Laura Gross Smith | September 15, 2012

Having it All

ImageI recently came across an article, Having it All. In France. 100 Years Ago. in the online journal, Slate.com. Seems that we women of the 21st century aren’t the only ones who wish to have it all. In the early 20th century two rival French magazines introduced the concept of the femme moderne. The author Rachel Mesch states, “All of a sudden, women’s progress was not about making demands but about performance and possibility, evidenced by an array of photographs that repeatedly demonstrated the elegant and graceful ways that women were embracing modern roles. This offered women a pleasing, affirming, and celebratory new way to see themselves— both a great feminist strategy and a fabulous way to sell more magazines.” Covers featured female athletes, professionals and mothers, smiling while they work.  Today women’s magazines inform us that we can drop two dress sizes, decorate for fall, raise healthy toddlers and have glowing skin, while we start our own companies and create the perfect outfit for only $19.99, all without breaking a sweat (much like the women of the 20th century magazines.) Can we have it all? I would like to think so, but it is a bit more of a sweaty proposition than the covers of these magazines portray. Image


Responses

  1. Thanks for sharing this! It seems especially relevant given the recent media attention to debates about women “having it all,” in particular the article in the Atlantic Monthly —
    http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

  2. Great article, thank you for the link. It is such a difficult issue. What isn’t stressed in today’s culture is that parenting is a valuable “career,” and it is hard. I know when my son was little and even into adolescence, I had to make tough choices, I had to take the dead end waitressing job so that I could work opposite my husband’s shift so that we could split the childcare responsibilities. Now that my son is safely tucked into his college dorm room, I am able to pursue the degree and the career. But I am behind everyone, and my social security statement reflects this. Who knows what the answer is, and how women will be able to move forward, to participate in government, so that we aren’t in the minority. A lot has to change though, and the author of The Atlantic article had many good points, she couldn’t have the career and be the type of parent she wanted to be.

  3. First, Laura, thanks for this post. And thank you, Professor Martin, for the link. Sometimes, through circumstance, we are forced to “have it all” or nearly all whether we want it or not. I speak from my own experience as a single mother of two who had to work at responsible, career-ladder-climbing jobs (not always jobs I loved), care for a home and children, be part of the community, be actively involved in school activities,chauffeur children around on the few off-days I had, etc. etc. etc. What was missing for me was the college education, which oddly enough, did not hurt me at all as I continued to prove myself at work. Now that my girls are ages 35 and 30, I find myself with the time to pursue the college education I wanted. I could have done this years ago when the second child went off to college, but I felt the need to work, to continue to prove myself on a professional level at a job that required constant travel, all the while taking one or two community college classes at a time (when people tell me I am smart, I say, “Well, I didn’t spend 15 years in community college for nothing.”) but still not giving up the work that I thought defined me. Finally, two years ago, my partner told me to just quit working. Go to school full-time, get the degree. It was a wrench to come untethered from an identity to which I had clung for so long, that of a contributing member of a workforce, but I finally did it. I found that it was not all that difficult for my former employers to replace me, which hurt. But now that I am in school full-time, I am content. In the end, I will have had it all. Maybe just not all at the same time. That’s okay with me.

  4. I love this —
    “In the end, I will have had it all. Maybe just not all at the same time.”

    Also, I just wanted to clarify that I posted that Atlantic Monthly not because I endorse its views, but because it was at the center of a number of online and print debates about work and family for women. There are many possible critiques of it, especially that, as Cyn points out above, “having it all” is for many women not a choice and that framing the question in certain ways is a function of privilege. This makes the examples in the original post from Laura even more compelling and instructive because the question of “having it all” is formulated through leisure activities and pursuits as well as through professional roles that are not associated with the working class. We’ll be talking about women’s labor (domestic and otherwise) over the course of the semester. This is a great start.

  5. This is Cyn again. True, Professor Martin. When I think of the women who ask, “Why can’t I have it all?” I feel that I am conditioned to imagine corporate movers & shakers in their fabulous homes or apartments with fabulous children and only slightly less fabulous husbands who somehow manage to be supportive and not at the same time. I recently watched the Sarah Jessica Parker film, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” (though, after seeing it, I was pondering, “I don’t know how I watched that”), and sure enough, there is the harried, beautifully dressed SJP racing between NYC and Boston, oh-so-fabulously busy. But then I think about the women who have children at home, perhaps husbands who work and contribute, but still, they working at hard jobs, maybe even two, and they certainly “have it all.” Okay, I am belaboring my point here. But that is a point some women should be looking at when this particular question comes up. Just my opinion.


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