I've finally opened Pandora's box: I bought a television and signed up for Netflix. Subsequently, I'm now addicted to the AMC series "Mad Men." It wonderfully illustrates how different life was for my mother and grandmother's generation; I realize how much of my freedoms and opportunities I owe to such pioneering women who faced overt sexism.
One obvious example is motherhood... it's just what women did. The idea of giving that up in pursuit of a career was scorned. Men made money, women raised children. Period. Paragraph.
That is quickly changing for my generation. With something that is moving toward equality in the workplace, an increasing number of men are less successful than their wives in terms of income or job title. But this has begun to pose a whole new set of obstacles for women. Namely with trying to have it all: a career and children.
In the July/August Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote a column titled, "Why Women Still Can't Have It All." The piece explores the epiphany Slaughter had while holding her dream job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department. After years of building a successful academic career and raising two sons, she realized in Washington that she did not, in fact, have it all. By holding her governmental job, she was sacrificing time with her kids at critical stages in their lives.
Female peers viewed her with pity and/or condescension when she left her job and returned to the more flexible schedule of academia. Initially incensed by their reaction, Slaughter realized that she, too, had reacted in a similar fashion to younger women who put their careers on hold in favor of family.
It needs to be pointed out that many women don't have a choice - many are single mothers, or struggling just to have a job. Very few women actually reach leadership positions; most are trying to hold on to what they've got rather than having it all.
But for women who can be and are career-driven, it's obvious that they have unique pressures - a double-edged sword, really - when compared to men:
1. Biology puts the burden of childbirth on women - women are often pressured to make sacrifices at critical points in their careers due to that ever-ticking clock.
2. The small pool of female candidates for any top job will only grow smaller if women drop out. For example, there are 190 heads of state and only nine are women; of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women.
A few days after Slaughter's article was published, managing editor of the Atlantic Council, James Joyner, voiced his opinion: "Men Can't Have It All, Either."
After his career-wife unexpectedly died last year, he was left alone with two daughters under 3. Not long after his wife's passing, he was offered a promotion. It made sense financially and professionally, but he would have to clock in many more hours at the office. He ultimately declined the offer because his daughters needed him.
He agrees with Slaughter that a change in the American workplace culture needs to happen, primarily flexibility for workers. But "all things equal," as he puts it, "those willing to work 90 hours a week are going to get ahead of those willing to put in 60, much less 40." Unfortunately that's probably never going to change.
Slaughter concludes her article saying that, given longer lifespans and the tendency to postpone marriage and childbirth, it no longer makes sense for women to get on the career treadmill and keep going. Rather, she writes, they should achieve plateaus, take a break for parenthood, and then continue their climb. Joyner argues that it makes sense for men to have the same mentality - there's no reason why men can't take breaks in their careers while their wives get back into career mode, and visa versa.
Slaughter appeared on "The Colbert Report" on Tuesday night to discuss the "Having it all" dilemma. In his usual comical manner, the host offered advice to women who feel they handle too much housework and childcare: "Don't do that! I don't!" Slaughter laughed. In his usual way, I think Colbert made a good point.
The crux of the matter is: no one can have it all - women or men. Choices need to be made, things given up by both partners. That's life. Or, in an equal society, that's the way life should be.
Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to
or view her Web site at www.SarahTSchwab.com