Thursday, December 07, 2006

Having It All

Don’t worry, I’m not going to suddenly shift gears and become a feminist blog (there are plenty of great ones already out there) and I will get back to the politics soon, but my own personal struggle with trying to organize my life in a way that satisfies my needs while simultaneously allowing me to contribute financially to my family and be there for my kids, has brought up a lot of issues that are worth exploring so I’m going to toss it out there today, just for fun.  

I am a feminist and while my generation has benefited greatly from the movement, it is far from over and we have to find a way to provide further benefits to the generation behind us.  Choice is a huge part of the feminist agenda, choice of school, choice of career, choice of partner and of course, choice in whether or not we continue a pregnancy, but one thing that is less discussed, is the means to put our choices in a context that empowers us rather than simply leaves us feeling as if we must justify our choices.

One of the problems is that, as young women, we are taught that we can do anything in this country, but we are rarely given the whole picture much less the tools necessary to order our lives in a way that makes room for the things we must do, along with the things we choose to do.  Even if we believe in our ability to pursue any career we want, we are constantly reminded of the barriers we face.  There are aspects of women’s lives that are unique to our gender and while we have made great strides in transferring some of those responsibilities to the men in our lives, more men are taking on the day to day tasks of parenthood for example, we may never be able to transfer all of them, so instead, we must find a way to adjust our expectations of ourselves and accept that we simply start out with a lot on our plates.  We are important as mothers and caregivers and we cannot be replaced, so that leaves us trying to find a way to deal with the reality that we can only have it all, if we are willing and able to do it all.

Striking the right balance is the constant struggle of the American woman, but as I mentioned in a previous post, it's a high-class problem compared to what other women around the world face, but that fact makes it all the more difficult to discuss openly and honestly without feeling like we're whining.  I think many of us that grew up with feminist parents and influences have a difficult time ever feeling like we’re doing enough.  It was instilled in me that I could be anything I wanted to be if I simply worked hard, so I thought I’d be a lawyer (of course for the ACLU or The Southern Poverty Law Center) but I never contemplated how that would work with a family.  The reality is, I could become a lawyer, but at what cost to my family?  Obviously there are many women lawyers that are also fantastic wives and mothers, but that can’t be an easy life to manage and I’ve come to the conclusion that my own personal limitations prevent me from being able to do both well.

Choosing to be a stay at home mom in the post-feminist world, is a tricky bitch, and it took me years to be okay with being financially dependent on a man.  In fact, now that I’m finally making my own money, I’ve realized that I was never really that okay with it, I just learned to deal with the anger, frustration and powerlessness that came along with being in that situation.  In a country where our value is determined by our paychecks, it is difficult to feel valued without one, especially when you do it by choice.  I felt like I had to start from scratch in finding a way to reconcile my feminist ideals with my choice to be, essentially, a 50s housewife, the most reviled example of the oppressed female.  Nobody made me feel inferior for choosing not to return to work and instead staying home to raise my children, but I felt that way nonetheless.  We can tell women until we’re blue in the face that raising children is the most important job they will ever do and that we value their choice, but until we can help them find a way to believe it and provide an environment that proves we value motherhood through action rather than simply paying lip service to the idea, the compulsion to do too much, to be too much, to spread ourselves too thin, will continue to consume us.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the problems is that, as young women, we are taught that we can do anything in this country, but we are rarely given the whole picture much less the tools necessary to order our lives in a way that makes room for the things we must do, along with the things we choose to do. Even if we believe in our ability to pursue any career we want, we are constantly reminded of the barriers we face.

Generally speaking, I'd say that both genders face this problem. Furthermore, I think there are benefits to this problem (I'm not saying it's all roses either). You are not pidgeonholed for your entire life. I've heard that in other countries where the educational system is much more rigid/structured (mostly in Asia) that men and women have their entire lives defined by their adolescent academic performance.

I'm interested in hearing about the specific barriers you, as a woman, face? (seriously).

I love this country (particularly our beloved state) and perhaps love most the freedom it affords us. I feel that some aspects of that are slipping away (e.g. shrinking middle class and no universal healthcare), but it's still a great thing that many people don't truly talk about in terms of specifics (I'm not talking about GWB using the word to justify whatever factless assertion he is peddling at the moment).

I love your blog and always enjoy reading your thoughtful posts. (I need to make this clear, as I didn't write a clear post a few months ago, and you understandably thought I was a troll).


4:33 PM  
Anonymous david said...

The seeds of America's undoing were there at the Founding. The noble idea of Liberty for All was side-by-side with desired Freedom to rob, cheat, and steal. (That Ohio Valley drove those Yankees mad with greed.)

And now Southern Asia is the new Ohio Valley. And the carpetbaggers of capitalism are willing to sell out their neighbours for an increased Return on Investment.

BTW, anonymous is wrong. There is far greater mobility in Asia than there is in America. It is not unusual to find an Asian with one or two degrees doing something totally unrelated. It reminds me of America of 100 years ago when all that mattered was intelligence and a willingness to try something new.

Today, Americans are pigeon-holed with idiotic diploma certificates and thousands of America's best & brightest languish in unemployment because a university grad in Bombay/Mumbai comes cheaper than one in Seattle.

The American people have been tricked. They'be been sold on the false notion that Capital should be Free and Citizens should be property. The Wealth of the American Nation, like a modern Benedict Arnold, freely floats across the globe aiding and comforting whomever comes cheapest.

100 years ago Britain was the big Free Trade booster. Free Trade fell out of favour after the Great War, but Britain clung to the ideology. And Britain's economy was in ruins by the time it raised tariffs in the Depression.

Women in particular are vulnerable to Free Trade. So many of the jobs women held in the 20th century are now being done by women in Southern Asia for $2 or $3 a day. And no new jobs have replaced them. For with the slavish ideology of Free Trade has come the belief that Income Redistribution is a sin against Private Property.

Well, the first Americans had no problem stealing the land from the American Indians, now it's time the People stole it from the Robber Barons and did something useful with it. Before it's too late.

6:23 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Anonymous--Yes, I was musing in sweeping generalizations and yes, working men and women in this country face very similar barriers to success (I think David has summed it up quite nicely actually), but what I was thinking about this morning is how unprepared I was for the consequences of choosing to stay at home and raise my children. Everyone told me how important it was and how great it was that I had the option (and I agree on both points) but now that my youngest is in school, I'm left to try and figure out what I do now.

I removed myself (yes voluntarily) from the workforce for 10 years, and now I'm not qualified to do what I was doing before and there aren't many jobs out there anyway, especially ones that pay a living wage. I am also constantly reminded of what my choice cost me (financially speaking) when I get my Social Security statement every quarter. I think you can probably imagine how bleak my retirement looks with no income for over 10 years. My husband, on the other hand, had the benefit of having his children taken care of by their mother, a home taken care of for him, all the while racking up quite a resume and retirement package. As much as I was financially dependent on him while the kids were young, I am even more dependent on him to provide an income for me when we're old. Not exactly what I had in mind as a young feminist woman.

What I want is for us to stop being a band-aid society. It requires two incomes to sustain a family and as a country, all we do to make life easier for parents is put parental controls on the TV and a warning stickers on CDs (and if Senator Clinton has her way, on games as well). Sure, those things help, but how about providing birth to college education so that it doesn't require two full time incomes to raise a family and provide a future for our children. How about finally providing universal healthcare so that we don't feel trapped in our jobs simply because they provide healthcare. These are all issues that affect men as well, but women tend to be disproportionately affected, for example, most single head of households are women, and we're up to earning what now, .70 cents on the dollar, all while we make up more that 50% of the workforce.

It's not always women who choose to stay at home with the kids, in fact I know several men who do it now, but the decision is usually based on who has the greatest earning potential, and in this country, for the most part, that is usually the man. Plus, there is the whole, giving birth and breastfeeding thing that makes it more logical in many cases for the woman to stay home. I just wish it didn't cost so much to make the right choice for our families and I think there is a role for government to play in offsetting some of those costs. We should value hard work, in all its forms, and currently we don't. I'd like to see that change and I think women have an opportunity to shift the feminist agenda in a way that could provide direct benefits to both men and women. The structure we work within was designed for men with women at home to take care of the family, not enough adjustments have been made to accommodate women as well as families that have both parents working outside the home. Band-aids won’t fix these problems, we need real dialogue and real social change.

10:22 PM  
Anonymous Roberta Kelly said...


Once you dance in the memories of being a mother, turning from your 50s decade into your 60s, you will look in your rear view mirror and know that you drove your children in a safe vehicle during important years.

It may not seem like it at this time because the world has truly turned upside down.

But I promise on my life that one of these days you'll know that you were the anchor for your children during the time when America had its second revolution. No greater gift can a mother give, to children of the future, than the promise of liberty!

Every American must figure out how to be a global entrepreneur. This is a tough one but I'm reading a good book about it and I'll soon share it.

Unfortunately ready or not ~ globalization isn't going away - not until the cycle evolves into another energy of the future which is always a mystery and mostly we humans bumble along trying to understand ourselves.

What we do to embrace this new frontier is our true dilemma.

You have creative genius and the passion to live it as well as share it with the world. You have also chosen to honor one of the, if not THE, most important job on the planet - teaching children the concept of balance - motherhood.

This is the formula for "enlightenment" - yesterday, today and tomorrow.

I bow to your light within!

8:02 AM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Roberta--Thank you. You always say just the right thing to make me feel better AND make me want to keep plugging away at making this world a better place for my children.

11:38 AM  
Blogger amphimacer said...

I'm in a unique and odd position, from the perspective of a male, to comment on this. When I got married, and we had a daughter soon after, my wife was at home, and did all that home stuff. But not because that was her plan; rather, because she had MS, and couldn't take the ongoing stresses of a job any more. She had also had to quit university, where she was going part time while working, and was just a few credits away from her degree.

But I was working, and she had a small disability package, and we managed without two full incomes because she was at home. Still, I had to take on some of the child rearing tasks in order to help her maintain her health, and did some of the housework and cooking, though not as much as she did. But then, inevitably, her condition started to deteriorate, and more and more of the household tasks became mine. She is now in a wheelchair (though working hard to maintain the ability to walk a few steps), and has suffered some mental deficits as well -- in particular, some memory difficulties. It means she needs help at home when I'm at work, and can't do a lot of things she would like to do.

So I saw our daughter through the second half of her teen years, and into her twenties. She, unlike you, is in law school, in her final year now, and one of the hardest things I've had to try to impress on her is that a woman -- like a man -- has to make choices, and that those choices have costs.

Your choice to raise your kids was not unlike my own mother's; she went on to go back to work, and ended up a professor at a university medical faculty -- even though she is not a doctor. That involved some support from my father, but she also supported him (he went back to school at age 40, to do graduate work, and also became a university professor).

These are all success stories, even my wife, with her difficulties, who was able to join me on a trip to Europe last year, visiting Spain, France, and Italy (where she admired the shoes, and it was all I could do to keep her from buying extremely nice leather goods in Florence, Toulouse, and Paris; she would like to go back to Paris, but we're planning a trip next year to Scandinavia, so it'll have to wait). But that has involved some choices along the way for me, too.

I wanted to be an editor (I have a Ph.D. in English Literature), but no publisher would hire me -- and one person at Prentice-Hall actually took the time to explain that it was a "pink collar ghetto" (her term): they only hired women. And I had to earn a living; Even when applying for those jobs, I was already earning more proofreading than those editors were being paid. So although I do some freelance editorial work, I've had to satisfy myself with that. That, and the love of these terrific women.

The point is that for women to succeed in changing their situation, you're going to have to change men's situation, and society's constraints, and it's going to take several generations, if we're lucky. I'd like to believe that my daughter will have it easier, career-wise, than my mother and my wife -- or me -- but there are no guarantees. There's only the effort we all make to change the world for the better.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a matter of perception, LG. Being home and taking care of kids is not depending on a man's income if you figure in how much you would pay in childcare,which if course you already know. He wanted kids, too, I'm sure, and I bet he has appreciated your efforts with them. I think we may have talked about this a bit at Drinking Liberally, but I was home with our kid for the first five years of his life; I had a BFA in a studio art that of course brought in no significant amount of money; I was able to gradually get into teaching, which, while not lucrative, worked for our kid's life schedule. Despite your thoughts that you're not qualified for your previous line of work, you are smart, energetic, and I bet you'll be able to get into some kind of work that pays something.
I also strongly do not think ANYBODY'S innate worth should be based on their career; I think the concept of a career is way too overrated. You have to be valued for your essential person. It is so boring to go places and listen to people do nothing but talk about their jobs.
Now I'm involved in another form of caretaking with an elderly parent, and can say that, though I'm not earning money for it, I'm doing invaluable work. Just like rearing children.
Did you see the article on the front page of the PI this morning? Something about a motherhood movement. Has a website, I'm a bit suspicious since a GOP wife is involved, but she's made a documentary about working moms' issues.

12:33 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isabelita -

I think the dependence on her spousal income is still a good point.

Now, I'm speaking generally here, but divorce and death happen within a marriage. And the spouse that is better suited for the departure of the other spouse, is often the one employed.

Thanks TLGND for your clarification response to my request.

7:29 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Isabelita--I agree with you and one of the things I was alluding to in my post was that women often take on the role of caregiver, first with children and then with aging parents, maybe because we are better suited to it or perhaps because, in our society, it is women that are viewed as more flexible in what we can shelve in our lives in order to take care of those around us that need taking care of. It's what I meant by saying we are not replaceable in many of the roles that we take on as women. Caring for children and aging parents is, as you said, invaluable work, but somehow, in our society, we don't show women how valued that work is. Instead we constantly punish women, financially speaking, for choosing to do the most important work of all.

This post was not meant to be a whine session for the choices I've made in my life. I'm very happy with my choices and I feel that I've made the right ones for myself and my family, but like Roberta pointed out, I haven't yet had the opportunity to dance in my memories of motherhood, so all I can see is how the scales seem to be tipped against motherhood and how easy it would be for that not to be the case.

Government has a role to play in our lives and it is possible for it to function in a way that makes our lives easier, and rewards the things we claim to hold in high esteem, rather than reducing us to hamsters on a wheel, expending all our energy in just trying not to lose ground. Quite simply, I want more bang for my buck. I want a level playing field, I want true cooperation in building a better country and I want, as you alluded to, for all people to be judged by who we are and what we do, not by how much money we make or how we bring that money in. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, we’ve just been trained to have low expectations of government and that is what must change.

8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on. Well, this society here in the US of A is still too primitive and/or conservative, i.e., backward, for our ideals to be effected. Look at France - shit, they don't get their knickers twisted over relationships where people aren't married! One of their major political candidates, a woman, is in an unmarried relationship, with children, and no one's having fits over it.
We aren't as far behind as women in Afghanistan, for example, but things could br much better.
And I sure hope you don't think I was implying you were whining. You know I wouldn't do that...

8:49 PM  
Blogger The (liberal)Girl Next Door said...

Isabelita--Rest assured, I in no way took your comments as suggesting I was whining!

9:44 PM  
Anonymous drm said...

The big feminist lie was that women could have it all and have it all at the same time.

Women can have it all but have you once considered that the "all" may come at different times of your life?

I can honestly say I disagree with just about everything you post but I am guessing you are intelligent and educated. You are in your mid 30's and your youngest is starting school. Why not consider that you are coming to the end of a 10 year chapter in your life and starting a new one. This country affords you endless oportunity if you are willing to grab it. If you are expecting Mrs. Government to knock on your door and say, "thanks for staying home with your kids, here's a nice hefty check and go ahead and go on cruise control, I will take care of you".

There has never been more small business owners than there is now and even more impressive, there has never been more women owned businesses than there is now so all this crap about no opportunity or jobs is total BS. There is unlimited opportunity staring you in the face have the courage and take it.

10:29 PM  

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