Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Not it all, at all

I was tempted to join a conversation on a message board about women "having it all". Can women "have it all"? After giving some responses, I decided it was worthy of a blog post.

The posing of the question itself is interesting. The idea of women wanting to "have it all" has been a bit of a strawman argument. Few women expect to be able to have "it all". Most women know that if you make decision A, it might have some negative implications about decision B. If you choose to have a baby, you're going to need to take some time off work, for a little bit, or a longer bit, depending. Most women know that if they go back to work, they aren't going to have as much time with their kids, and they are going to have to forego some of their income in childcare costs if they don't have a partner who can be at home to care for the child. The question is loaded - it implies selfishness, a desire to have something more than the average common-sense filled individual might aspire to. It speaks of unattainable acquisitiveness, a greed-is-good mentality.

So what is this "all" that women want? I don't think that women want it "all" if "all" means being able to stay at home with their children and simultaneously work. What human being realistically expects that? By "having it all", when you look at it a little bit deeper, what we are actually saying is, "the opportunity to make a choice to partition one's life between work and raising children in a way that doesn't disproportionately discriminate against me just because I'm the person who birthed them." Why is it asking such a huge thing, why is it asking to "have it all" to expect a reasonable opportunity to raise children and maintain a career? Women are stereotypically lauded for being great multi-taskers - surely we're more than fit for that?

To a certain extent I see men being victimised by the idea that parenting falls rightly to the woman. Beloved has been actively discriminated against in his workplace because he puts a great emphasis on being a parent as well as being a worker. Were he to buy into the stereotype of being a workaholic, he would bypass that, of course and no-one would raise an eyebrow, apart fro his wife and children. I don't get that luxury. I have encountered negative attitudes in the workplace from both sides: both from sides. I have encountered negativity on the instances where I have tried to accommodate the needs of my family, perhaps working from home while a child is sick or leaving early for a school appointment. I have also encountered negative attitudes that I am at work at all - that my children are in daycare, that Beloved and I take turns in caring for the children when they are ill. My virtue as a human being is somehow suspect because I want "it all" - that is, I want only to not have roadblocks put in my way of doing what I do quite well already, working at a job whilst raising children.

These are the roadblocks I want removed:

  • Being overlooked for projects or assignments because it "wouldn't be fair on your family".
  • Being asked in job interviews whether I'd be able to manage balancing my family and work life.
  • The lack of paid parental leave for whichever parent wishes to spend some time with a very young child.
  • Having eyebrows raised at "unrealistic" expectations of "having it all" by people in senior positions who will make decisions about your employment.
  • The assumption that making a workplace friendly for working parents who might need flexibility or space for expressing breastmilk is a huge imposition on that workplace.

  • Much of the developed world has caught up with this, of course. Australia and America remain the two countries in the developed world who have failed to come to grips with paid parental leave. Most Australians at least support the idea, but it isn't likely to happen any time soon. To some extent the market will take care of some of the needs of parents, particularly for highly skilled employees, but this is small comfort for those in jobs where there is little bargaining power and they are more or less easily replaced. Given the preponderance of women in roles that are typically casual - hospitality, retail - the provision of these opportunities will remain slim.

    When all women are asking for is the opportunity to determine how they will run their families while they decide to continue a career (or not), it seems like wanting to have "it all" isn't asking for very much at all, really.


    Quilting Mama said...

    I look forward to hearing your thoughts on other subjects. I "know" you from the message board and have always enjoyed your posting.

    jane said...

    Sue! Hello!