written 2012 after reading an essay in the Atlantic
HAVING IT ALL
relationships • 30.06.12
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in The Atlantic started off promisingly enough suggesting that young women needed to rethink their demands about having it all. She spoke of giving lectures to this effect and hearing from sympathetic and relieved students for whom the having-it-all mantra was becoming increasingly tedious.
Unfortunately, Slaughter’s thoughts got more disheartening as the 12,000 word essay went on and her solutions became apparent. She wants more women in power for society to then be more family-friendly. A female president could help too, one who would put the policies into practice. With that, more accommodation could be made for mothers in their child-rearing years.
I’m resistant to all that and offended by people insisting on preferential treatment because they’ve chosen to be parents and live in the traditional family way. And preferential is what these demands are. I think that being in a family and having kids today is a lifestyle choice. It’s not a service to society. It’s a choice rooted in self-interest driven by primal impulses which although perfectly human and natural are drives not always compatible with the structured requirements of society life.
Historically, with fewer options, everyone was required to subscribe to family mores. Those who weren’t properly hitched were virtual outcasts – orphans, bastards, spinsters, loners etc., all terrible terms to describe a brutal kind of social ostracising. Given that things are different now and changing markedly, given that a significant percentage of people live not in a traditional family, not in an exclusive relationship, in same sex unions, as single or unmarried parents, given that there are many lifestyle choices all quite legitimate and vying for place, it is inappropriate to show favour to these same old conventions. Doing so amounts to one faction gaining position over another, believing itself to have some kind of moral supremacy.
Obviously the human race has to procreate. If that’s still what the majority wants to participate in, and assuming the world’s resources can continue to accommodate it, then fine. But not everyone is suited to doing that in the proscribed way. And just as importantly, not everyone is suited to doing it at all, as some feminists have gone to lengths to point out. Their message has been reduced to a parody inciting women to try and have it all, a seriously questionable imperative for any way of life. One woman nailed it with a witty remark: “I wouldn’t want to have it all. I wouldn’t know where to put it!”
Most of the responses to the Atlantic article I read, supportive and critical, were coming at it from a conventional family perspective i.e. from people who are wedded to the norm one way or another. We need alternative voices. No doubt they exist but they don’t seem to penetrate the ordinary discourse. I wondered at first if Anne-Marie’s Slaughter’s might have been one such voice but it wasn’t close.
Read Lori Gottlieb's response for a merciless attack on having-it-all.