Can Women have it All (or some)?
This is an issue of enduring concern for me and I have written about it previously. Not because I think by any stretch of the imagination that women can have it all, or even have it all at different stages of our lives (as the new catch phrase goes – “you can have it all, just not all at the same time”).
All is a lot. How do we define “all” anyway? A successful demanding career, well-adjusted children, the opportunity to exercise, a clean house, social time, volunteer time in the community, a garden, home-cooked meals, hobbies, time spent recycling or walking instead of driving, time to spend with aging or ill parents? That level of all is pretty much unattainable by any human.
A new article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter is generating a lot of discussion on this topic. It is an excellent article. But the “all” that Slaughter focuses on is really limited to two main elements – a high profile time intensive career and well-adjusted children and the inevitable conflicts between them. Slaughter makes many valid points and proposes changes in the workplace to allow all people, men and women, to achieve a better work-family balance.
But what about the other elements of “all”? The home-cooked meals, volunteer time in the community, a garden? It seems sometimes that in our career driven world, we no longer value these things. Volunteer organizations are desperate for membership and many service organizations are being forced to shut down as an older generation dies and younger people do not replace them. These volunteer organizations once played a major role in our communities. According to the OECD, Americans spend on average 30 minutes a day preparing food and have the highest obesity rates in the OECD. Many people do not know where their food comes from and would not have the time or skills to start growing it. Our environment is suffering because we are all in too much of a hurry to take transit or walk or fix something instead of replacing it.
What about just cleaning out a closet or a junk drawer or pulling dandelions? I am not arguing for impeccably organized houses or yards, but there is some level of maintenance required to avoid being awash in stuff, paper and dandelions. I devote a certain portion of my time to keeping our house and yard clutter free, but we still have many storage rooms and closets that border on frightening, and I only work part time. Who cleans Anne-Marie Slaughter’s closets? I am not asking this to criticize her but more out of curiosity. I can't imagine working 10 to 11 hour days including weekends and still finding the time to clean my closets.
The more time we all spend on our careers, the less these other things get done and the more our health, environment and communities are affected as we depend on governments, fast food companies and cleaning ladies to provide the services that households once did. I understand the need for two incomes in most families and I support the desire for women to have a career, but I am concerned that many of us are seriously undervaluing these other critical elements of our lives. Moreover, the people that do focus on these things are penalized by lower lifetime earnings and a dependency on their spouses.
What about even the time to just dream or think? In response to my blog about finding four-leaf clovers, two friends commented that I must have too much time on my hands. I spent five minutes looking for four-leaf clovers as I walked home from dropping my children at school. What values are we promulgating where a five-minute time out from a busy day is seen as unproductive?
Rather than just trying to balance career and family, and offering women more flexible time at work, which are important, we need to start trying to value all of the unpaid parts of the economy whether they are done by women or men. It is also important to recognize that it is often women that undertake this unpaid work and that has to be considered in terms of lifetime earning equity and poverty rates among women after divorce. Statistics Canada estimates that unpaid work is worth between 30.6% and 41.4% of the GDP depending on whether the replacement or opportunity method of calculation is utilized. That is a lot of unpaid work. We may be inclined to dismiss that work as unskilled or unimportant, but it is work that adds significantly to the quality of our lives and communities.
The longer we continue to send the message that these activities are not valued, the fewer women or men there will be that will do them. And then none of us will have it all, or even some.
Photo Credit: procsilas via Compfight http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/