I have been following the deluge of blog posts, tweets, etc…which followed the publication of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article on “Having it All” — I gave my own response on “Having a life” here in my blog, and also tweeted my take, which led her to quote me in her response (http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/07/the-having-it-all-debate-convinced-me-to-stop-saying-having-it-all/259284/#). The overall consensus seems to be that there is no such thing as “having it all” — neither men nor women really have the time to do all that they want to do. However, for those in privileged positions life can be about choices. For those less privileged there often aren’t many options. There are always responsibilities that can’t be ignored.
Those of us who have means also have a responsibility, not just to wait for our turn in power, but to push for change in direct and hopefully effective ways. As a first generation college-goer, I always felt that I had to give something back for everything that I had managed to achieve. I started my career after college in the nonprofit sector, then decided to go back to graduate school. Since then I have been very successful, but I have always kept my eye on what needs to be done — this is one area where I truly know that I can’t do it all. As one who lives a rather privileged life, I do my best to give back to the community, both through my work with organizations like the YWCA, Mayor’s Health and Fitness Council, KLRU, Planned Parenthood and my own company Take Back the Trail. I have chosen to focus on a few areas like health, fitness, mental health, and public affairs where I can contribute. I push for women’s rights and policies that help women and minorities in academia and the public sphere. Getting to change takes all of us who have the means to look at what we can do from the bottom up, as well as the top down, but as in almost all areas of life, there has to be balance. When my personal life has become overwhelming I back off, and I hope that as things settle down I will be able to do more. Sometimes family responsibilities that aren’t expected, like dealing with long term illness and death, have a major impact on my ability to function, let alone do my usual juggling act. I have also learned to choose my battles — there’s no use banging my head against the wall when change isn’t likely to come.
I hope this discussion continues and that we bring men and people of all backgrounds into the debate. I’m not sure what will lead to change in the way we approach work, life, and family for all, but I hope to do my small part that will help lead to the kinds of support systems we all need. I’m skeptical, since we seem to be moving away from providing support structures in an era of cuts to basic programs, but we need to fight this, too. Government needs to play it’s role in developing those structures (e.g., childcare, equal pay) that would allow more women to have the means to play important roles in our democracy. And we all need to do our part to help make it happen.