August 7, 2012
The Famous Question: Can We or Can’t We Have It All?
I have received several emails and comments on this topic since I started this blog a few weeks ago. They all say the same thing: “Maya, I understand what you’re saying and I respect it, but I can’t call myself a feminist.” A few people sent me the infamous article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. First of all, I love that we’re having a real conversation about this! That’s the whole point, right?
The gist of the Slaughter article is that she had based her very successful career on her feminist beliefs, and had felt superior to other women who had children but were choosing to slow down or take time off from their careers to spend time with their kids. She later realized that she herself was neglecting her family and, in reality, could not have it all. So she resigned from her position as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department. Slaughter’s thesis: “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”
We have issues.
I have to agree with Slaughter on the flaws of our current society. Look, I have an intense appreciation for the United States. We have the freedom to write, say, read whatever we want, the freedom to practice any religion we desire, the right to an education, the right to vote in democratic elections, etc. What I don’t appreciate, however, is the downward spiral of depression, dissatisfaction, and burnout we face as Americans because of the overvaluing of work and money-making. I agree with Slaughter—the state of our country today is less than supportive of a happy, warm and fuzzy, family-friendly life. Women in my generation are burning out by age 30 for crying out loud!!!
Back to our favorite word
Here’s where I digress from the comments and emails I’ve been receiving. While I agree that our country has headed in the wrong direction, I don’t agree with Slaughter’s perspective on feminism. Here again is my definition of feminism:
I see feminism as a quest for equal rights for women. But I also include the following in my definition:
•accepting that each woman has the capacity and the right to choose and determine the correct path for her
• accepting all people who define themselves as feminists including male allies, transgender individuals, sex workers, and others into the feminist community
I underlined the part that I think is most crucial to this conversation. The concept of feminism has gone through many changes over the years. Definitions can be malleable over time similar to how words like Republican and queer have changed tremendously over the decades. My goal is to reclaim the word feminist so that those of us who grew up with certain automatic images of feminists can conquer that stereotype and create a new, dynamic, open-minded, and accepting type of feminism that works for us. Choosing to slow down in your career to take care of your children does not make you an anti-feminist.
Hating on women who do so does.
Yes we have issues, so let’s fix them.
If anything, the most important piece for me is that we need to change the world we live in. Our society’s structure is problematic and lacks conscience. We value the wrong things and shun the right things. Feminism reminds us of all of this. It reminds us that gender still plays a major role in why our country continues to run the way it does. If men saw and accepted themselves as co-parents the way women are seen as parents, they would appreciate and support more flexible types of work, more vacation time to spend with families, and healthier work-life balance models both for women and for themselves. As long as we continue to view men as the bread-winners who need to be out making money all day long and perpetuating a level of competitiveness in our society, we will not have the changes we want. We as women cannot work a million hours a week and raise our children with love and care becauseno one can do it like that
. It’s not the economy—it’s our values.
The point is that we’re still living in a world in which the rules of social acceptance, values, and laws are created by and for men. If we want to have it all, let us stand together and say so.
Side note: This post is being written from a heteronormative frame of reference. I do, however, think that queer women can also relate because many are raising children and trying to succeed professionally in a man’s world. Slaughter reminds us that she is writing from the perspective of a white, privileged woman. I think that feminism, reclaimed to accept and include all people who want to change the rigid value system we live in, can speak to anyone regardless of race, sex, gender, ethnicity, level of education, level of income, sexuality, or religion.