I am a feminist. I was raised by a feminist, who inadvertently taught me that women could do it all, mostly because she did. My mom instilled in me the notion that I didn’t need anyone doing anything for me; I could do it myself. Because of how I was raised, I’ve always believed this, but was intrigued by the title of Ann-Marie Slaughter’s article in the July/August 2012 of Atlantic Magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. If you haven’t read it, you should.
My first reaction after reading the article was, “what do you mean… I don’t already have it??” And much to my chagrin, it’s true, I don’t. Yes, I live in a free country, I vote, I wear what I want, make my own money and pay the bills, but still don’t understand why I was the “co-borrower” for my mortgage.
I am firmly in the Generation Y. Anything I do, I prefer to do it at 100 miles per hour. If someone tells me I can’t do something, my response is, “WATCH ME”. No matter what I do, I strive to do it 100%. I aim to be present in all aspects of my life, and much to my dismay, I will either give it my all or I prefer to not even show up. Choosing to become a mom is no exception. I don’t want to bring a child into this world until I’m sure that I can give it 100%. If you asked me 5 years ago if I wanted to have kids, my answer would have been an emphatic “yes!”; today, I waiver. Each year I advance in age and in my career, the more I love every minute of it and thus allowing my work to take over every aspect of my life. It was only a matter of time before I began desiring the increase in responsibility, the corner office, and the bigger paycheck. I am not afraid to admit that I equate my self-worth with the work I do, and I am lucky that I have chosen an industry (higher education) that mostly enables and rewards me for that. That means that I often care too much about the work that I do, work too long hours, and find it incredibly difficult to separate from my work on any given occasion. I have a problem leaving work, at work.
The reason why I chose to write about this article is because it got me to thinking about something that I, and many women my age can’t ignore: I am at a place in my life where I am figuring out whether or not to have kids. If it’s a day when the answer is yes, the subsequent thought is “but when?” And if it’s a day when the answer is no, I wonder if I will I regret it later. My internal struggle is weighing out the importance of my career versus being a mom. It’s true; I am oppressed by the societal impositions that have made be wonder if I can do both successfully. Realistically, why couldn’t I? The answer, on most days, is an issue of whether there is truly enough of me to go around.
Let me explain. I’ve arguably chosen a division of higher education that doesn’t attract too many women, but – I like it. I think I bring a unique vantage point to the field, and truly appreciate process, policy and systems. I work largely with men, most of whom work longer hours than I do; and are not, or would not be the primary caregivers in their households. It’s hard for me to not want to keep up, and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize any edge or advantage I might have. I can’t help but thinking that taking time out to be a mom, even in a minimal way, would communicate that my career is not as important. Who wants to be a mom in a “minimal way”?
Ann-Marie left her high-ranking position as the Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, a “foreign-policy dream job”, to be with her kids. We can all agree, government is a far more rigid industry than higher education to try and find an acceptable work-life balance, with or without kids. Having a glimpse into her life and schedule, I don’t know how she does it. I am in awe. Although higher education is alike our government in it is largely conservative and male-dominated in the highest rungs, I am fortunate to work for an institution that has a number of women in executive positions. But, most, if not all, are un-married and childless.
Where does that leave me? Ms. Slaughter confirmed what I didn’t actualize – society is preventing me from doing both. What if she’s right, that I can’t have it all? Sometimes I think I’ve already made my choice, and sometimes I think it’s been made for me. And really, after all of this, it makes me wonder: am I truly a feminist? I’m afraid to say that it doesn’t seem like I’ve done much to help break down the inequality amongst men and women – or have I? I’ve put my nose to the grindstone, been a good employee, and tried not to rock the boat too much if I was the only woman sitting at the table. I figured these things were going to get me where I wanted to go – in all aspects of my life. I’ve learned that there is so much more to it than that.
Ms. Slaughter has given me a lot to think about, and hopefully you too. Here’s to hoping that in the near future, we won’t live in a society where a woman will have to pick between being a mom and having a career in the industry she wants; and that a woman like me can do both and not feel like she is making a sacrifice.
Jana R. Hain is currently the Associate Director for Business Operations and Outreach at Portland State University. Email her at email@example.com.