I’m an 80s kid; big hair and big shoulder pads were everywhere. In fashion, masculine was the new feminine. Women were taking their equality and running with it. As society was increasingly open to the idea of women being equal to men, a phrase filtered through: you can have it all. Anything a man can do, a woman can do. Anything a man can be, a woman can be too. And just as men didn’t need to choose between having a career and having a family, women didn’t need to make that choice either: they could have it all! Well, guess what? I think that’s a big, stinking, lie.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a feminist. And wholeheartedly believe that women should have equality to men in all aspects of life; if a woman wants a jet set career and raising a family then the opportunity for her to do so should be there. But, I also believe, that the ‘you can have it all’ mentality can be negative and disheartening.
With the increase of the ‘you can have it all’ philosophy, women with children can face judgement and pressure, not least from themselves. I couldn’t possible count the amount of times I have heard the phrase ‘I’m just a stay at home Mum’, like raising the next generation isn’t one of the most important jobs on the planet. Similarly, I have friends who have chosen not to have children; does that mean that they’re not grasping the opportunity to have it all? Does it heck! But as we are told that we can have it all, women can feel that if they don’t have both the successful career and a family – whether through choice or circumstance – then they have failed, or that they should have both of those things. And that’s bollocks.
Flip the focus to the working mum, maybe her children go to nursery, perhaps she has a childminder, whoever it is, the child spends a portion of their day being cared for by someone else allowing the mum to work. Which is obviously brilliant! So, women can work full-time, exactly the same way that men do, right? Well, not in my experience.
I had a successful career in a field I enjoyed and was good at, an awesome childminder, great kids, a happy marriage, and I was fortunate enough to be able to work from home. In that moment it damn well looks like I had it all, but I’ll let you in on s secret: it sure as hell didn’t feel like it. I would constantly find myself giving neither my children or my job undivided attention, the best of me that they deserved; work emails would interrupt bedtime stories, conference calls would fall at tea time. Sure, I could have turned my phone off, but my husband doesn’t and I can have it all, just like him, remember? Meh.
School assemblies, Christmas plays, poorly children, school holidays, all things that I would never have wanted to miss, encroached on my working day. JB was the main breadwinner so, as well as wanting to be there on those occassions, I also felt like I should be there, both as a Mum and as the partner whose wages we were less financially reliant on. But, no matter how much I wanted to be there with my kids, calling my boss, for the third time in two weeks, to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to work that day, gave me a knot in my stomach. And, of course, the work didn’t stop because the school was closed, and my to-do list didn’t magically disappear because my child was poorly.
I constantly felt harrassed, stressed and flusterred, my life was frantic. I know that some women thrive on it, but my disorganised, busy, distracted brain just couldn’t cope. To the world it may have looked like I was living the ‘you can have it all’ dream, but, in my mind, I may well have had it all, but I had it all badly. I may well have had everything, but nothing had the best of me. I couldn’t be the Mother that I wanted to be or the employee that I felt I should be.
When I lived a life that was pretty much the definition of having it all, I just wasn’t happy; no matter how desperately I felt that I should be. After all, isn’t that what being a feminist was all about? Should I embrace the very things that women have fought so hard to get? Well, no. At least not to me. I wrestled a lot with my feelings and thoughts about this and kept on coming back to this: just because we, as women, have it all available to us, doesn’t mean we have to take it all. Just like even though you can eat unlimited food at the Chinese buffet, it doesn’t mean that eating ten plates of chow mein wouldn’t make you vomit.
Perhaps having it all isn’t necessarily how it has been sold. Maybe having it all to choose from is, in itself, the point. We can choose what suits us. We can choose have a kick ass career or work part time. We can decide to have no children or have ten children. We are so lucky that as women living in the 21st century we have so many opportunities available to us.
To me, having the possibility, and ability, to forge a life that is right for us and our families really is having it all. And I am so very, very grateful for that.