Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Having It All?

Can you have it all? I’m still not sure. But what I do know is that it’s not easy to achieve and getting to “all” is extremely difficult.

I took the easy way out: I left my well-paying, exciting job as an editor at a large publishing house to stay home and freelance, which gave me flexibility and the opportunity to be with my children day and night. I had tired of the travel, the commute, and a host of other things related to the job. And I could see that I was suffering mentally because I felt tremendous guilt that I had left my child at home with a nanny, Tracy, who was paid a handsome sum every week.

The first day that I stayed home and imposed some discipline on my four-and-a-half year old, she proclaimed, “I miss Tracy!”

So much for putting your dreams on hold.

But I’ve been thinking about this concept of having it all what with the nomination of Sarah Palin for vice president on the Republican ticket. It seems like for as far as we’ve come, we haven’t gotten anywhere, because people are still talking about how this mother of five children—the youngest just several months old with special needs—will attend to the second largest job in the world, in terms of scope. One part of me is offended that we’re even having this conversation. The other? Totally gets it.

I’m a proud third-wave feminist. Our mothers, aunts, sisters, grandmothers, and friends gave up a lot to give us what we have today. My grandmother, for one, worked full-time while my mother was a child—and as you know, did an admirable job—and she was in the minority, but she paved the way for me to go to college, to delay marriage if I wanted, to delay having children if I wanted, to have a career. To have it all.

So why did I decide to give it up just when it seemed like I had snared the brass ring? And why do I feel like Sarah Palin, if she is indeed our next vice-president, will be allowing something in her life to suffer by having it all, be it her family, her job, or a little bit of both?

I’m feeling disloyal to the team, girls, and I don’t like it. And I feel like I’m tossing out more questions than I’m answering, but I feel truly conflicted. What part of the conversation that we’re currently having should focus on the fact that Sarah Palin has a large brood and is running for office? Should it be part of the conversation at all? It certainly isn’t when it comes to our male candidates, obviously.

I know a lot of people have little affection for Hillary Clinton, but in terms of this debate, I have to say that she is someone that the right (with a capital R) should embrace whole-heartedly. After all, she put her life on hold for first, her husband’s career, and second, seemingly, for her daughter’s well being. Yet, during the nomination process, she was portrayed as all sorts of bad—bad wife, bad mother, bad feminist, bad Democrat, bad woman. To my mind, she made the decision that you can have it all—just not all at the same time. And I think that’s the conclusion I’m finally coming to.

Ok, Stiletto readers: weigh in. Is it possible to have it all and if so, what, if any, are the costs?

Maggie Barbieri

1 comment:

  1. While, like Maggie and others, I am indebted and grateful to the women who went before, I cannot adopt all of their feelings and positions on such issues. Example: women who were Hillary Clinton supporters in this election who are so angry and disappointed that she didn’t get the nomination that they might not vote or might vote for McCain just seem blindly spiteful. I KNOW they are not at core, but for a woman at my age and having my benefits of the struggle, I can’t feel what they feel about this. To me it was a case of be careful what you wish, and work, for because now you got it! You wanted a gender doesn’t matter world and here you go! People like me didn’t care that she was a woman or put that above any other “qualification”. As a matter of fact, her being a woman was a non-factor, it was not a qualification at all for me. I asked myself who is the best person for the job to me and I picked Obama. Now, some of this was in part due to other aspects of Hillary, namely that I think it sucked for her, but that we just have to stop the cycle of Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton in the White House. It’s too bad she is caught up in that history, because I think she has lots to offer—and by the way will no doubt continue to offer—but that’s what I feel.

    Now, with Palin’s case, other things factor in for me, like reality. No, we don’t question the ability of men to focus on careers of any kind juxtaposed with the size and type of families they have. And, that’s obviously because we all know that women, no matter what toil, luck, success, and failure they achieve outside the home still do most of the work within the home. I’m very tired of people who won’t speak openly about this and act like doing so weakens somebody. It’s not because we’re trying to diminish women that they get these questions. It’s because we know full well what their responsibilities are every day.

    I am not male-bashing. But, the most unbroken string of thoughts and actions in any day that take care of the home and spouse and kids and pets come from the femmes. Think about it. Yes, your husband may work hard and deserve to relax after dinner. So do you. And, there may not be much to do after dinner around the house. But, whatever there is, be it just putting the last four plates into the dishwasher and remembering to check the cat dish for kibble and turning on the back porch light and taking that last small load of dish towels out of the dryer and grabbing the dry-cleaning you picked up today from the hook in the back hall to bring it upstairs to the closet—all that and more, tiny things though they are, just tends to fall to the woman. And those little things are AFTER a full day of work involving bigger things, many of them directly with the kids. We multi-task that way a lot and we’re very good at it. Men pick up a few of these tasks with their radar and will generally do anything put on their radar by asking. But, see, even that you have to ask still amounts to handling the task. Bottom line, when my husband is done for the day, he is DONE FOR THE DAY. I’m generally done for the day LATER than he is.

    I’ll fess up that this Palin woman is not my cup of tea. I love calling her Caribou Barbie! But, snarkyness aside, I don’t think she or anyone being put through the question grinder has a grievance, regardless of the silliness of some of those questions. Why should she be treated any better than any other candidate? With only about 60 days to get to know her? Equal is as equal does. And, to me, feminism is very much about all the women who don’t whine and turn having a uterus into a reason they should be handled more delicately—it’s about the way most of us get up and put our big girl panties and sports bras and get to it every day. Let’s not kid ourselves: if she were veep she would no doubt have PLENTY of resources and help to manage the most mundane pieces child-rearing and home-making and she does have a spouse who should be able to jump in and take up slack. I bet she’s had plenty of help already as she’s gone from citizen to governor. Which is good and maybe she should just make that her answer: “well, I have and will have tons of invaluable help—next?”. Her trick is not going to be “how will I manage it all?” but “okay, what is really scut work that anyone trustworthy can handle with my kids and what are the things I need to do myself to keep up with them and let them know they have a loving mom?”. And, in real life everyone, children included, pays prices all the time for all sorts of things. So, like any parent, she needs to figure out how to be sure her kids get something good for the times they pay a price that isn’t so good, you know? Yeah, it may stink that your mom can’t come to your recital, but maybe you get to experience Christmas carols in the halls of the White House, etc.

    Palin isn’t the kind of mom who struggles as much as some might worry—talk to your poorer mothers who often have no one and no money to get someone to assist. And, I still say it is not wrong to say look, we know that as the mom in that house you are very, very involved and invested in raising five kids, including an infant who needs more attention than the average, so tell us how you balance that with the demands of being a leader of a world power. If Obama were a single father, without benefit of a mom for his kids, I really believe the same questions would and should be raised. We question infirmities and health this way—hey, Ms. Candidate, you’re in a wheelchair, how do you think that affects your ability to lead and do the job? My gut feeling is that this woman is used to playing both sides of the fence: the don’t-tread-on-me side and the gee-this-box-of-files-is-so-darn-heavy-and-confusing side. No one should get the pass on that.

    Mags is right—you can have it all, just not always all at once and each item has its cost. And, as we go through life, I think we change our list of what “all” is, too. And that makes a big difference in how you find happiness and contentment in a life that is always filled with good and bad, easy and tough. You do your own balance sheet and figure out the budget for getting your own “all”. I can’t find anything wrong with asking Sarah Palin what prices she’ll be paying to get the things on her list since an item near the top reads “be Vice-President of the United States”.

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