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. 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”²s 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”²s. By observation, similar things happened in the UK.   The finance industry has been the main gainer from women entering the workforce.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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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