On The Gender and Feminism Debate: What does “Having It All” Really Mean?


After reading todays’ today’s Sociology of Style blog on the active gender debate and female self-sabotage before I even had my first cup of coffee, I had a lot of opinions and questions swirling around in my brain.  But I had a full day of work to do that required said brain so decided to leave a comment per the request in the blog for female readers to  to share a story about how we “style” our own lives and let it go.

As I wrapped up my work for the day I realized I still had my blog on the agenda before I could hit the gym for some much needed (according to my wife) cardio.  I didn’t want yet another day to pass with a re-blog, so I made myself think about what issues of the day were hitting home enough to provide a sociocultural perspective.  So, I decided to read one of the links in the SOS article to an Atlantic.com piece by the now vilified-by-feminists Anne-Marie Slaughter on Why Women Still Can’t Have It All .

While reading it I was trying to be objective and really take in her points on the gender debate and how Women really are in double jeopardy if they think they can “have it all”.   I thought about my gender studies classes and the debates I would have with other women in college and grad school about the realities of gender inequality in our culture.  Believe it or not, I had to spend a lot of time convincing even some super-educated women that there was actually still basic problems like a lack of equal pay for equal work out there (and had data to prove it)!  I started reeling about gender roles and the social construction of gender and the responsibilities of both men and women to be “feminists” and so forth down the rabbit hole.

Then I took a step back for a minute.  I realized that the idea of “having it all” was one concept I was probably having the most trouble with.  If you ask anyone engaged in the feminist debate, they will define that as the ability to climb the corporate ladder and have a successful career (with all the monetary and status trappings) while still having a fulfilling home and family life, including raising well-rounded children.

Perhaps the issue isn’t so much that women can or can’t “have it all”, but rather that our concept of what constitutes a fulfilling life is a bit out of date and maladaptive to the way we live today and the ways we will need to adjust our lifestyle in order to sustain our human existence in the future.  Maybe the goal shouldn’t be “high-powered career” / full-time job and kids at home?  Maybe we create a new system to deal with the demands and aspirations of modern life that involves placing more value on flexibility of lifestyles and reciprocity (e.g. “it takes a village”) and less on climbing the socio-economic ladder.  Perhaps we will evolve into a culture where work ethic and “life” ethic are equally important and we don’t create corporate cultures that place an excessive burden on our time and energy.

Maybe we will empower the next generation to follow their passions and find ways to make careers out of them rather than encouraging them to “go to school and study business  / law” so they can have a “real job” or “backup plan”, presuming it will be too tough to earn a living or lead a satisfying life by immersing in the things you are truly interested in, which for many is the arts or humanitarian endeavors or sports or the outdoors, etc.

In any case, I encourage us to take a momentary step back from the myopia of the gender debate and consider the bigger picture of what makes for a life well lived.  I think then the gender issue might become irrelevant as we stop seeing the world through an outdated purview.

4 thoughts on “On The Gender and Feminism Debate: What does “Having It All” Really Mean?

  1. Good point(s).

    I personally dislike all isms, generally. If you look at the stats, sure, women aren’t treated equally in a lot of areas; there’s no denying this. But if you look closer, this point’s true, not just for women, but for anyone who doesn’t fit into a particular mould. If you’re a guy, but under 6’0 – same goes, don’t expect to become a CEO any time soon. Black, yep. Long hair, slightly more disadvantaged. Bald, even more so. A fatter women, also skewed more heavily. Blonde, throw you in as well. Fake boobs, you’re only going to be taken seriously in a suit if you’re on set for a porno.

    It’s not just women who are disadvantaged, it’s everyone who doesn’t fit into the particular mould that’s been cut out by society. And the only way this mould will cave in on itself is when, like you (kinda) said, we start digging at the issues that are actually important, rather than the unimaginative, surface level (debaucheries) ones that draw in our attention most forcefully.

  2. Really love this post. I tried to do this topic some justice in a post, but you nailed it here. What I’m learning is there is a lot to read between the lines of “having it all”. I hope too that we can get to the point in our culture, and especially w/ Millennals, where we leave room for each person to figure out what “it” and “all means.

    “Maybe we will empower the next generation to follow their passions and find ways to make careers out of them.” Yes please! Especially with internet/social media, this shouldn’t be so much of a pipe dream.

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