Sunday, February 10, 2013

Let's Have It All

Remember when Freddie Mercury sang "I want it all"? It wasn't very good, was it? Killer Queen was a much better song. Luckily, though, Freddie Mercury wasn't a woman, or else he might have been "tying himself in knots" over the question of having it all, apparently, according to the Daily Telegraph which opened its interview piece with Julie Bishop with the assertion that this is what women do when considering the matter of all, re: having it.

OK, so first of all I am going to question the truth of this knot-tying claim. I know quite a few woman - in fact some of my best sisters are women - and I've never seen them tie themselves in knots. In fact I've never seen them tie anything in knots: is that weird? I wonder if they know how to tie knots. But I digress.

First of all, I want to see some cold hard figures on how much time women spend worrying about whether they can "have it all". In my experience, if there's one area in which women are a lot like men, it's in the area of not spending vast swathes of their lives fretting over what percentage of all they can have, instead choosing to get the fuck on with life. And if there's another area in which women are a lot like men, it's in almost every other area there is, so maybe we, as a species, can ease back the throttle on this wacky battle-of-the-sexes bullshit we've been punching ourselves in the face with for the last ten thousand years.

Secondly, tell me what "it all" means. Some have told me it means having a great career and a nice family and a good place to live and a bunch of nice stuff; in other words, "it all" just means "being happy". In which case, yeah I guess women CAN have it all. I think there are happy women out there.

But no, I don't think that's what it DOES mean, when someone in the so-called media refers to "having it all". Let's not spend too much time interrogating ourselves over the exact meaning of our idiom when we all have a basic shared understanding of what we're talking about.

Essentially, when we talk about women having it all, we're asking whether the mum who's waiting after school every day with a tray of cookies can be Julia Gillard, and whether Julia Gillard can be the cookie-mum. We're asking whether Gail Kelly can run a multi-billion dollar financial behemoth and still never miss her kids' soccer games. We're asking whether Nicole Kidman can win Oscars and be back from the ceremony in time for school drop-off.

We are asking, in essence, can a woman scale professional peaks without giving up their natural, Jesus-assigned roles as primary caregiver and lactating nurture-queen?

Or to put it perhaps more cynically, can a woman avoid our disapproval for abandoning her traditional role, while simultaneously absolving us of any blame for stopping us from living the life she wants to?

Can, in the end, a woman, so to speak, have, when you get right down to it, it all?


Look I don't want to make you pull out your hair and throw yourselves into bonfires, but Julie Bishop is right. Women can't have it all.

Know why?

Because nobody can.

You know men? You've probably met some. They're those women who sweat more than usual, and for some reason never ask whether they can have it all. People often think men don't ask that because they already know they CAN have it all.


Men don't ask whether they can have it all, because they already know they can't. Or at least they should. They probably don't because they're morons, but if they thought for a second they'd know I'm right. So, guys - think, OK?

Nicola Roxon recently announced she was quitting politics, because she didn't want to sacrifice time with her children for the sake of her career. She found it impossible to "have it all", so she had to make a choice: miss out on some of the benefits of parenting, or miss out on some of the benefits of politicking.

She didn't have to make that choice because she's a woman, she had to make that choice because she's a human being. Every man in politics makes that choice too. Yes, indeed - when a man decides to head to Canberra, he's deciding to absent himself from his family for big chunks of time, just as a woman is.

When a man decides to put in 16-hour working days to make his business grow, he's slicing those hours off the time he has to be with his kids, or off the time he has to HAVE kids, or a decent relationship, or any other trappings of domesticity he might want.

When I decide to write article after article and book after book, and go out to tell jokes to strangers, I'm choosing to pursue my career instead of play with my kids. And when I decide to turn down those opportunities because I want to play with my kids, I'm handicapping my career for the sake of my family. And when I decide to work three or more jobs at once, I'm desperately trying to strike the right balance so I can have a little bit of both worlds, instead of throwing in the towel on one front and storming full-bore at the other.

What I'm NOT doing is committing myself 100% to my career AND committing myself 100% to my family, because that would involve a denial of basic mathematics, and I would consider that a gesture of unforgivable rudeness towards the numerical community.

I can't have it all. You can't have it all. None of us can have it all. Our lives are about chasing happiness, not some insane regretless Shangri-La of personal fulfilment.

And that's why "can women have it all?" is a dumb question, based on a moronic premise and infused with the half-witted artificial gender divisions that have been making us miserable throughout history. And I object strongly to the question's existence in our public discourse, let alone the myriad attempts, both by those propping up their own vested interest in keeping the question current, and by those gullible enough to be fooled into believing it's in their own interests to keep trying to answer it. And here's why.

Firstly, as I briefly alluded to above, it's a question with an ulterior motive. The question is asked in order to position "having it all" as a desirable goal for a woman, and it positions it thusly to achieve the twin goals of making women feel ashamed if they don't behave the way a nice girl should, and to make society feel better about standing in the way of women with ambition. We're talling you that you SHOULD be trying to have it all, and so if you're a less-than-perfect mother, you've let us all down, lady; and at the same time if you're finding you can't make your way up the greasy pole, it was nothing to with us - we WANTED you to have it all.

So Julia Gillard and Julie Bishop are unnatural for not having kids, and Nicola Roxon just couldn't hack the pressure.

But here's the other side of that: as I said, nobody is asking whether men can have it all. It's assumed that a failure to achieve total contentment in every facet of life is a uniquely female problem. But as I also said, that is patently not true. Yet every time the subject comes up, it's only women who are apparently struggling with this.

And why is that? It's because it's assumed that it's easy for men to have it all, because it's assumed that men don't care about the things they have to give up. It's assumed there's no tension between family and career for a man, because family is something men don't care about. You're working non-stop and your kids are in bed by the time you get home every night? You're always away from home on business and only see your family a few days every month? Your wife is practically a single parent because you just can't afford to stop? As a MAN, that must be exactly what you want!

And so, we are told, men breezily go about having it all to their heart's content, because whatever bit of "all" they don't have won't matter to them. They'll leave the domestic guff to the ladies, because that's what "having it all" is to a man. The ladies, of course, won't be able to have it all, and shame on them.

If this situation is reversed, of course, the woman jetsetting off to a high-flying career while the man keeps the home fires burning, nobody's having it all. The woman was supposed to be able to do both, because of her magic vagina, and the man might as well have a vagina of his own if he's going to go about acting like a woman.

And there you have it. Women can't have it all because they're not good enough: men can have it all because they don't give a shit about their families.

And so know this, social commentators and cultural pundits, armchair philosophers and tabloid sexperts: every time you push the question "Can women have it all" out into the public consciousness, you're being sexist in two directions at once and letting us all, men and women, know that our hunch was right: we should all be hating ourselves as hard as possible all the time.

So for fuck's sake, you guys, stop doing it.

1 comment:

IppyHooray said...

Absolutely. My husband and I have discussed this issue numerous times. This is why feminism is a good thing for men too - if society can let go of gender expectations of ingrained male and female behaviour and goals then we would have more real access to things like paternity leave which in turn gives more choices and opportunity to women. It's a beautiful circle of freedom peeps...