“Having it all” is one of those press lady narratives that never fails to get a headline — or perhaps an Atlantic cover story, entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The “having it all” or “having it all but not all at once” song and dance is one of those obligatory annual lifestyle commentaries that usually ends on the whole “women need to think bigger” and “develop more confidence” conclusions that circulate through the feminist blogosphere — not because anything necessarily wise was articulated — but because modern privileged women see the phrase and instantly click.
This isn’t to discredit author Anne-Marie Slaughter, who goes beyond the superficial having it all script and gets to the real cornerstones — like choosing a partner who doesn’t view managing the kiddies as “babysitting” and isn’t going to chide you for not making it to every damn ballet recital. But along with developing flexible work schedules and acknowledging your own personal priorities, Anne-Marie only alludes to a pretty prominent factor in fielding questions from 20-somethings eager to learn about balancing an enviable career with family. That is that biology is not going to accommodate our societal changes.
I am such a young woman who Anne-Marie freely cites in her piece: mid-20s, currently childless, feminist, and flocking to panels to hear some of the most renowned and accomplished women of my time speak about their way in the world. I must have spent the better part of my undergraduate women’s college education and early adulthood waiting outside auditoriums and standing in the back of book stores to get a glimpse of ladies like Rebecca Traister, Gail Collins, and Jessica Valenti. When I was 20, I elbowed my way through my entire college to get –what I saw — as my rightful seat during a Q&A with Gloria Steinem. And no matter whether I’m sitting cross-legged on the floor of a reading in New York City or squinting to see Gloria’s graying streaks on a college stage, the subject of “work life balance” always emerges — whether from the predictable interviewer or a very impassioned audience member.
But while Anne-Marie suspects that she has led younger feminists astray with mythologies about how to effectively race to the top, a baby on their metaphoric — or sometimes literal — hip, I would add that misconceptions about fertility can be added to that list. The New York Times may be all about mocking older women who are startled to discover that they have trouble starting their families at 45, but gawking and pointing isn’t really going to better anyone — especially young women.