Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Having it all

from here
The phrase “having it all” makes me feel ranty, and I plan to get to the bottom of why it makes me feel this way by ranting about it. Part of it is most certainly because I thought it’d died off a while ago – didn’t someone in the 80s realise women couldn’t “have it all”? Why are people still shocked to find that women can’t “have it all,” or that they can, and “it sucks”? I thought we were done with that conversation! Are we not done with that conversation? Have I missed something?!

Another reason for the ranty urges stems from the phrase itself: what does “having it all” even mean? It seems to mean having both career and kids, but who decided that was “it all”? Why are they the two particular things that make up “all” instead of, say, having an overseas trip per year plus a dog? (Not enough people write whingey articles about not being able to have amazing travel experiences annually AS WELL AS a puppy, IMHO.) Seriously, who were the mysterious folk who decided that working plus progeny = “it all”? Like, ALL of IT.” Thats a big call, man. I dont quite understand why people get upset over not having these two very specific things that someone once told them were the two things that they should specifically want... Did the people who get cranky about not “having it all” really want those things, or did they aim for them purely because someone once said they should aim for them in order to “have it all,” and now that they do have it all and theyre finding it hard and sucky, they feel deceived (are the tenses in this sentence all correct? I cant tell)? Because I thought you were supposed to ask the questions waaaaaay before it got to that point. And if they actually did want both, and were shocked to find that one became harder after introducing the other…

(I think this analogy will work… bear with me.) Biscuits are good, right? I don’t need to argue this point further because everyone knows that biscuits are crunchy slabs of deliciousness. And salt is awesome, right? Popcorn is teeth-jarring nothingness without salt. Caramel is just caramel without salt. Salt makes things the opposite of boring, whatever that is in flavour terms. We seem to understand, though, that just because salt tastes delicious doesn’t mean we should add it to everything we cook – do you remember the time I added salt to my milkshake and nearly threw up? RIIIIIIIGHT. So salt is good, but you only add a pinch when making biscuits. You see? Just because two awesome things exist doesn’t mean you should throw them together and expect the result to make your life worth living. AND: There are so many delectable ingredients in this crazy, amazing world, as well as a bajillion ways of combining said ingredients to make a mouth-watering meal – why stick to salt and biscuits?!

ALSO: If you heard from someone who heard from someone else who heard from someone many decades ago that dumping salt in your biscuit mix would lead to a culinary treat of fairy tale proportions, you would probably really think about salt, and then you would really think about biscuits, and then you would scan biscuit packets to see how much salt other people put in their biscuits, and finally you would conclude that the person who originally decided that large amounts of salt in biscuits a) probably lived in a different era to you, when “biscuit” and “salt” meant different things, b) didn’t know what they were talking about, and/or c) enjoyed saying outrageous things in order to sell magazines. What you wouldn’t do is dump a stack of salt in your bickie batter and then write surprised articles saying, “Someone said this should be good! But it’s NOT!” 

Kids make careers hard, and careers make kids hard; this is as obvious to me as not putting salt in a milkshake (admittedly it took some experimentation before I came to this point of clarity, but I put it to you that most people would have arrived far earlier than I did). Yes, you can do both, but it will probably mean you sleep less and dont paint your toenails regularly: this is how time works. Choosing to do one thing means you will have fewer hours in your day to do other things; there is very little that can be done about this. 

And getting upset over an unfair ideal that people have been refuting for yonks is weird, and also old. Can we therefore start talking about something far more interesting and relevant than “having it all” or not? For example: Why do mothers do so much more housework than fathers (for statistics, see The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb; I cant be bothered looking them up)? What practical changes could be made in our culture to address the struggle many women feel trying to find a satisfying balance between working and motherhood? Blaming the having it all myth for this struggle may help some to feel better about their plight (it may be vague, but it’s at least something at which to point and say, “This is all your fault!), but its ultimately unproductive, and an unhelpful distraction from conversations that should be had. Lets talk about housework! Lets talk about paternity leave and dads working part-time to share the parenting load equally! Lets talk about childcare and supportive communities and annihilating the dichotomous view of parenthood which allows no space for anything between good mum/dad and bad mum/dad. Theyre interesting conversations! Theyre change-making conversations!

Other related topics we should discuss instead of whether women can have it all: Do men worry about what having it all” means? What does that tell us, if anything? What does “career” even mean? Does it mean work, or does it mean fulfilling work? Does it mean making more money, or is money not a factor? Are any of these things worthy of being counted as half of “it all”? (They may be! I’m just pointing out that the term “having it all” needs to be operationalised so that it’s clear what exactly you’re aiming for/feeling like you’re missing out on/ignoring completely.) Also: is anyone concerned about their inability to juggle canine care and international travel? 

We cant talk about having it all in an intelligent way without answering at least some of these questions about it first, so can we move on? Please?

Ive been listening to the Magic Lessons podcast (its gold), so Ill finish with a benediction, Liz Gilbert-style: May you have it all, whatever your (realistic) definition of all is, and may your all be beautiful and colourful and flavour-filled and completely yours.


  1. so Liz Gilbert has split with the Brazilian. this made me sad. xx

    1. but you probs already knew this.

  2. I didn't know that! That makes me sad too.