Can Women Have It All? No. But Neither Can Men.

Can Women Have It All? No. But Neither Can Men.
You may remember Lori Gottlieb – author of the bestseller, Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. I was Lori’s dating coach while she wrote her book and I remain a fan of her writing, which is generally funny, self-aware, and accessible. Her latest article, in The Atlantic, is no different: Why There’s No Such Thing as ‘Having It All’—and There Never Will Be. This piece is a reaction to this week’s Atlantic cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter, titled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.

I was inclined to write a long response, adding fuel to the fire, but this series of articles has gone so viral that there’s now an entire page dedicated to women’s work/life balance on the Atlantic website.

The one that best describes my thoughts, apart from the Gottlieb piece, was the one written by James Joyner, entitled “Men Can’t Have It All Either”.

To sum up, in short, people do what they want. Not men. Not women. People. If you want to work 70 hours a week, your relationships will suffer. If you want to be there for your children, you have to work less. If you want to achieve great things in your career, you better have a supportive spouse who is willing to somewhat sacrifice his/her career OR have a lot of money to pay for a full-time nanny. As others have already pointed out, these are simply rich people problems. The vast majority of the world doesn’t even have the illusion of “having it all”.

If you want to achieve great things in your career, you better have a supportive spouse who is willing to somewhat sacrifice his/her career OR have a lot of money to pay for a full-time nanny.

As a driven, successful man, I’m thrilled to have a wife who, by her own accord, decided to become a full-time mom after 17 years at her company. She found the calling of motherhood to be more important than her satisfying career and was surprised that she doesn’t even feel the pull for part-time work right now.

She’s equally entitled to her career. This was her choice. If she decided to work again, these would be our choices:

If she went back part time, we’d need a nanny for the 2 days a week she would work.
If she went back full-time, we’d need a full-time nanny/daycare.
And if she were really ambitious, it would fall upon me to work part-time in order to accommodate her travel and 70 hour work weeks.

You either need a ton of money or one partner has to give.

Unfortunately for smart, strong, successful women, there are fewer men who are willing to give up their careers to stay home with the kids. In fact, 78% of men prefer full time work after marriage, while 58% of women prefer part-time work. Not to mention that the men who are content being house-husbands often don’t inspire the attraction of most smart, strong, successful women. At least this is what I’ve heard, ad nauseum, as a coach for successful women.

Which brings us to the reason that these type of articles are still being written: feminists feel they’re getting a raw deal. Because there are fewer men who are willing to work part-time to be more available parents, women feel that they are the ones who have to compromise. This is true – but only if you insist on choosing a man who puts his career first.

Because there are fewer men who are willing to work part-time to be more available parents, women feel that they are the ones who have to compromise. This is true – but only if you insist on choosing a man who puts his career first.

If you – like me – choose a partner who isn’t as ambitious, then you can work full-time and be an available parent. But if you work 70 hours a week and so does your husband, what kind of marriage do you have? What kind of relationship will you have with your kids? That’s right: if NEITHER of you is going to compromise on work, then NEITHER of you is going to have much time with each other and your family.

That’s not the patriarchy speaking. That’s life. Most men want to work full-time. Most women don’t. Ultimately, we’re all equals and you can do whatever you want, as long as you are conscious of your goals, your tradeoffs, and finding a partner who enables your dreams.

What I find interesting is that everyone is focusing solely on the fact that certain ambitious women need to compromise. How about the 58% of women who don’t see working part-time as a compromise – they see it as a luxury. For they have the ability to either work part-time or be a stay-at-home parent without having to support the family – an option that virtually no men have. And you don’t see many men writing articles about how unfair it is that they have to work, do you?

I don’t have a horse in this race; I’m just not a fan of hypocrisy and blind spots. And I think Lori Gottlieb and James Joyner did a good job in punching holes in Slaughter’s original, smart and measured piece.

Read the full article here.

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  1. 31

    Goldie 29: not surprisingly, I agree with all your points. Especially the point that many women ARE driven to follow challenges and passions, just as men are (just as humans are, really); and forcing her to stay at home will only make her turn her energies onto her children, with possible negative results.
    Mia 25: I think it would do you (and the author of the book you mention) good to be a little easier on other people. People can plan all they want in their 20s, yet that still won’t guarantee them everything they want or expect. LIFE HAPPENS. I’m sure you know the saying “Sh_t happens.” It’s so true, despite the best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men. Of course, not just sh_t happens in life; many good things happen as well.  The point is that we can’t control them, most of the time. Personally I’ve seen no evidence that those who carefully plan in their 20s have better outcomes a decade or two later than those who take their 20s to explore and allow serendipity.
    And I wouldn’t call those who aren’t married in their mid-30s “unbelievably foolish.” Relationships are one of those areas in which you really can’t plan and organize down to the last letter, I’m afraid to say. You can improve your odds, as Evan tries to teach others to do, but in the end, so much of it boils down to sheer dumb luck. Understanding these things – and living a little longer – may help you to go a little easier on others.

  2. 32

    @ Helene:

    Being a childless divorced woman myself, I get that often.  People think (or assume) that I want a high pressure, hot career and nothing else.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  I’ve dated men who were always so busy with work, or were gone alot because of being military contractors sent overseas to war zones, and I learned that all that money, wasn’t worth it to me.  I didn’t like not having a guy around.

    Also, having worked in the healthcare field for most of my adult life, I often get, “Oh man, you should marry a doctor!”  Ummmmm….no.  People don’t realize that doctors work INSANE hours and often sacrifice family, couple, and alone time to take care of patients, and work.  Sure, doctors here in the US make a good deal of money, but to me, the other drawbacks aren’t worth it to me.

    Like EMK said, people will do what they want to do.  And I don’t want to marry some workaholic who won’t pay attention to me.  Heck, I used to even just bypass a guy’s profile when he’d mention that he was “very busy and didn’t have a whole lot of free time.”  Next!  If he doesn’t have much time now, he won’t have much time for me in a relationship, so why bother.  People can want to work crazy hours, have a crazy career, etc. etc.  That’s fine.  And I can want to not date them, and date someone who will make time for me.

  3. 33

    Helen, I didn’t mean to sound harsh and judgmental – and trust me, I’m just as hard on myself as I am on others at times. There is nothing wrong with being mid30s and unmarried at 35 and I could very well be in that position. I only meant that if a WOman knows she wants kids but spends her 20s chasing alphas, ditching good men, and being “too busy” for a relationship,there’s a real failure to plan ahead that will catch up to her. I know all too many guys and gals 30 and under who still look at these decisions as something to be made way off in the future , and they don’t even TRY to understand how their current decision making will play out in the 39s/40s. 

  4. 34

    Mia: this isn’t meant to be an argument with you, but again, I see no evidence that women who “try” harder to get a man so that she can have babies are more successful in landing men than women who are more laid-back about it. It doesn’t matter if she’s in her 20s or 30s; a woman trying too hard to find a baby-daddy gives off an air of desperation that fails to attract men. 

    That is the funny thing about relationships – they’re different from other things we might strive for. If you strive to do well in your job, you’re more likely to succeed than someone who slacks more. If you strive to learn calculus or physics or a sport or musical instrument, you’ll do better than someone who puts in less effort. But relationships require two people, and no one likes to be the focused object of another person’s striving or attentions. It feels very uncomfortable.

    That’s why, paradoxically, the best thing to do in relationships is to relax and not strive too hard. Relaxing also allows you to become more open to what the other person is thinking and feeling, which gives you useful cues about how to interact with them.

  5. 35

    You’re right Helen that luck plays a huge part in it but Mia has a point; many women waste years chasing men out of their league. I find it usually happens to women who are successful in most things in life such as college, career etc, but aren’t quite attractive enough to get the man they really want. Some of them use their feminine wiles to catch him for a while, but it never lasts. I know a few of these women and they just keep getting hurt again and again!

  6. 36
    Two of Us Dating Service

    Wow, I have to agree.  Growing up I always wanted to be a highly successful career woman, but after I saw how hard it was for my friends to raise children and work, my aspirations have changed a bit.  I am all about equality but I’m also very realistic.  Definitely can’t have it all. 

  7. 37

    I had aspirations of this big radio career in a major market.  When I cried after having to go back to work when my oldest child was born, that nipped that in the bud real quick.  I’ve HAD to work; I will have to continue working.  I accept that and don’t complain.  But my heart has ALWAYS been with my kids.

  8. 38

    @ Tom: many men also waste years chasing women out of their league!

  9. 39

    @ Joe

    Many men also waste years chasing women out of their league!”

    I fully agree. My friends and I are absolutely guilty of this; we’re ordinary blokes but we want spectacular women and we will ‘waste’ as many years as necessary to get them (I know this is unreasonable / unrealistic). I don’t think men mind taking their time as much though?

  10. 40

    How on earth does working 70 hours a week qualify as “having it all”???
    To me that means having extremely little.

  11. 41

    Mostly from an earlier post

    Isn’t the high octane career the punishment for a woman?  Men need to display achievement to get a mate.  Attractive women don’t generally marry the janitor.  Why do woman need to push so hard?  What, a few exceptionally gifted creative talents apart, is the point?  Vanity?
    In the 1970′s the banks forced women into the workforce by giving loans based on the incomes of both members of a marriage.  Enough couples got greedy about a bigger house that all women had to go out to work to afford the about same housing as a single earner could once afford. The same changes in finance happened in Europe too. There is US based research (a lady professor at Harvard) demonstrating that after the increase in house prices generated by dual income mortgates, the need for two cars, the need for child care and various strange insurances Americans need for health care, dual income US families are worse off in terms of disposable income (although their houses are bigger) and more vulnerable to bankruptcy through unemployment than single income US families in the early 1970′s. By observation, similar things happened in the UK.  The finance industry has been the main gainer from women entering the workforce.

  12. 42

    A lot of men nowadays expect women to balance work and child care. Women are seen as lazy spongers if they want to take time out to look after children.

  13. 43

    Peter, if you think careers are about something as basic as trying to get a mate, you’ve essentially reduced us to animals. Humans are the most complex species on earth, we don’t do things merely to reproduce. So why would a woman want a challenging career? Well if she is exceptionally talented and intelligent, nothing else would challenge her. Believe it or not women have both brains and needs outside of child rearing.

  14. 44

    Julia 45: Exactly. Sometimes people work hard because they love it, and because it gives them endless energy and satisfaction. Not because they are trying to impress anyone else. This is true of both women and men.

  15. 45

    Debt drives most people of the middle sort in Western societies to work.  It’s hard to keep workers on Russian farms.  They have their own small plots given to them when the Soviet Union broke up.  So, once they’ve built up a year or two’s cash wages, they quit.  They have food and some small cash generation (usually a dozen or so pigs) on hand.  The saved wages are a lump sum for emergencies. Double the pay and they still won’t come back. Most countries without a system of debt have this problem in rural areas.  Where I live in the UK, there are huge numbers of families on the 3rd generation of benefits.  The husband is the state’; the sperm donor is the very good looking one man in 20.  I remember, in a barbers shop being riveted as one of these studs described his 9 children with 5 women by the age of 24.  Without economic status worth more than the UK’s generous benefits system, the missing 4 men get to be very proficient with PlayStations in their mothers’ back bedrooms.  Without the opportunity to out earn the stud, the missing 4 have no merit in female eyes.  America’s better for men.  Less competition from welfare .
    However, I completely agree with Julia that a woman of exceptional intelligence and/or talent should not face barriers to her career progress but to excel, she should expect to call herself “Miss” like most (4 out of 6) of the women I dated at University 40 years ago.  Nevertheless, the core case remains.  Men seek status to improve their mating chances and the mating chances of their children.  Status is not a female need so far as dating and mating are concerned.  Self fulfilment for the exceptionally able – maybe. For the ordinary and career stressed, absolutely not.
    I personally want (have got) a woman with the economic independence to walk out.  Then, If I keep her it means she wants to stay.  An interesting job is a plus too, although intelligence or talent is better.  I’m at the high end of brainy.  I walk away from women who don’t have the brains or the dancing skills or the artistic talent however hot they look.  (Education is no substitute.  Mugwump in British English means people educated beyond their intellect.  I prefer the uneducated clever to mugwumps.  If a woman “gets” me after two sentences, she’s hot).  Add good looks and that’s enough for a sex partner to pass a decade with (not actually my MO, I sometimes think that I am the last church going puritan of my generation in the UK but I do see it happen.  I warn my daughter against it).  However, a focus on children and home is far more critical for a wife.
    I’ve suggested in another thread on here that many careers are driven by parents’ ambitions rather the the person pursing the career.  There is very often no limit to the demands of imposed ambition.  Neither man nor woman can have it all in such a respect.  But, if a woman “fails” at her career, she still has a valid life as a mother, even as a wife without children.  A man who fails at his career also fails at fatherhood and probably marriage in this age of divorce.  The choice of women for an also ran male is rather limited.  Not many CEO’s or successful small businessmen  marry 250 lb check out operators from Tesco/Walmart.  Men have fewer options than women.  “All” isn’t on the agenda.  Being denied “All” isn’t oppression by the patriarchy (I am getting quite old.  I haven’t been offered membership yet?), being denied “All” is a consequence of the luxury of choice.  Men are denied “All”; they have to chase “It”.  One shot.  
    So, if wanting it all to the point of disappointment is driven by ambition without limit (and by what else?) no one who wants it all will be happy.
    I can ramble on for ever.

  16. 46

    @Julia.  I’m with the late Stephen Jay Gould on the (non) hierarchy of species.  Species are leaves at an equal distance from the centre of a bush not bricks in a pyramid.  I understand your point but I am such a mega Liberal (in the US sense) that I don’t agree with it.  Evolution has acted on everything in one huge ecological bundle.

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