Or “How Even Asking if Women Can ‘Have it All’ Perpetuates the Patriarchy.”
by Kat Kelley
“But is that really more important? Is a career really more important than love?”
I sat straight up in my chair, unnerved by his simple, rational inquiry. It was the most unassuming and yet jarring question I had ever been asked.
An ambitious seventeen-year-old, I sat in the front row of my Introduction to Sociology course, hand always poised, ready to rise, as I dreamed of east coast colleges. I craved to be cultured, to use my SAT vocabulary lackadaisically over coffee, and to leave my sleepy beach town to “see the world.”
I craved success, and I was quite certain that men were merely obstacles.
After endless exposure to cinema (romantic comedies), veritable love advice (from Seventeen or Cosmo), distinguished literature (Twilight), and insightful melodies (Taylor Swift), I was under the impression that I was my own arch-nemesis. My feminine, irrational emotions made me vulnerable. Men, I had been told, were the ultimate fatal flaw of all (heterosexual) women.
Yet, in all my musings, I had never asked myself such a question. I spent my life internalizing the belief in the total necessity of my independence as a woman, that I never stopped to ask myself if a career is really more important than family or love. I mean, I wanted to have, to be, everything, but I assumed love would come naturally, in due time, and that foremost, I had to be vigilant to ensure I did not compromise my career.
Which is quite reasonable, given the persistence of the patriarchy and dominance of gender roles. However, understanding “success” merely in the context of a career, and valuing such success over all else, is absolute bullshit.
Our notions of success have been warped by our assessment of masculine roles as superior to feminine roles. Thus when we speak of “having it all,” we demand redress for the women who have not been able to achieve their professional pursuits, but spare no sympathy for men who have not been able to attend their child’s little league game or debut in the school play. When we speak of “having it all,” we speak of the capability to pursue roles and achieve success in ways that are characterized as masculine. And as “having it all” has become the holy grail of feminists, we have forgotten that relationships aren’t about personal attainment or achievement, but rather compromise.
Sheryl Sandberg, feminist extraordinaire, author of Lean In and C.O.O. of Facebook, asserts that “the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is.” She gets it, in a way that Anne-Marie Slaughter fails to. The conversation should not be reserved for the feminist blogosphere or book clubs, but rather we need to define what “it all” means for us as individuals, and engage in active, evolving communication within our relationships to ensure that we can live with the inevitable comprises we will make.