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