The broken promises of feminism have you believing you can have it all.
Many years ago I wrote a thesis paper on the broken promises of feminism. I outlined a case about how the generation of women before me, who only wanted us to have choices, inadvertently took my choices away. They pressed into the workplace, opening doors, making more and more opportunities. Then the economy closed in around them. Before long, the promise of choice became the necessity of a two-income family. The choice to stay home with children became not only outdated, but nearly impossible for many mothers. Women had to succeed in the workplace AND continue to run homes and care for children. The professor who graded that paper was 20 years older than I am and was so offended by my lack of appreciation for her struggle she nearly failed me.
So, I get it. I get the debate. And yet, the debate itself is what feels outdated to me. The recent book, Lean In, written by Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg has caused a firestorm with women. The media is at a fevered pitch with a renewed conversation about feminism. Every woman I know has an opinion about the book and/or the topic of women in the workforce and quality of life. Her words have ignited a spark in boardrooms and bedrooms alike. The fuel for that fire is the familiar reprisal of the question that haunts us.
“Can women have it all?”
Yes. We can. Those of us who really understand that question know we already do have it all, whether we are stay-at-home mothers, clerks at Walmart, or Fortune 500 Executives. We know we have it all whether we chose children or not. Whether we have nannies or not. Whether we work 24-hours-a-day at home or 12-hours-a-day away from home. Enlightened women of today know our successes are all in our heads and cannot be defined by anyone else.
Balance is a myth. The work/life balance is a marketing gimmick. It's a phrase that is intended to make us think we aren't doing things right. Balance is such a finite point or moment in time where everything is perfectly and proportionately weighted that the pursuit of balance is crazy making. Balance isn't even necessarily healthy. It's nearly impossible to be growing and balanced at the same time.
Life is frantic. Kids are demanding. Husbands do not always do their part. We don't live in a world with an eight-hour-work day anymore. 24-hour-a-day cycles are the norm. Women are juggling so many balls in the air that they can rarely take the time to feel fulfilled and when they do it registers as boredom.
A few days ago I took a hike with my family in a deeply wooded rain forest. The group was moving faster down the trail than I would have liked. We got off course and our 1.9 mile loop trail turned into something else. Everyone wanted to get where we were going. On the other hand, I wanted to meander. I wanted to ponder. I wanted in the worst way to just sit. I felt this driving desire to BE somewhere, be in the forest, rather than be going somewhere.
Most of time that secret nugget of wisdom eludes me. That nugget is the knowing that you are somewhere right now, and the pursuit of any other moment is an illusion. The pursuit, the competition, the chase, the battle in the boardroom or the bedroom are all an illusion. Whether I think I like what I've got or not, I've already got everything. The enlightened woman CAN have it all by loving everything she has. I can have everything by loving every load of laundry and every runny nose needing to be wiped. I can have everything by loving my career exactly the way it is. I can have everything by loving my husband who works too much and the marriage we build around that. I stop having everything or even anything worth getting up for when I start thinking what I've got isn’t enough. I can choose to love what I have or not. But when I do love it, that is all there is. That is everything.
The feminism of the 70s and the popular feminism of today both hold a seductive promise. Do more to have more so you can be happier. Enlightened feminism is less seductive, but the promise actually delivers something more tangible and real. It delivers something you can actually have right now. Be more present. Love more deeply. Stay in the moment, do your best, and let your best be good enough. Be willing to be precarious and relinquish the demand for "balance". Then and only then can you love what you have right now. That is what having it all really means.
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