Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Does "having it all" cause emotional anorexia?

I recently read an article in the online version of Salon that asked “Can modern women have it all?", and then argued that we drop the notion of “having it all” altogether.  The idea is that the term “having it all” is indefinable, and therefore meaningless.   

This got me thinking, so I posted a link to a related, but milder, article in the New York Times Sunday Review, in on my personal Facebook news feed to get my friends' thoughts.

You can have it all, just not all at the same time

Jenni Lazarus, a childhood friend now living in Australia, commented:  "You can have it all, just not all at the same time." This is a phrase I've heard many times. Clearly trying to have it all is hard  and perhaps even impossible.

It also highlights how different most women's experience is from most men's.  Gail McMeekin, in her book "The Twelve Secrets of Highly Creative Women" notes that even in the 21st century, men who have achieved any form of success rarely, if ever, hear comments like "...and you achieved all that while taking care of a family?"

A woman's world

As McMeekin points out, historically men have often achieved what they have with the background support of the women in their lives.“Women…tiptoed around these men, left meals outside their doors, critiqued, edited and managed their business needs”. While this is changing as men become more involved with domestic duties and child rearing, most household work is still done by women - even women working outside the home as well. The truth is that adult women don't generally HAVE wives, they ARE wives.
Of course, we are far better off than our mothers were.My mom was a successful, self-employed career woman throughout my childhood and teenage years, and she recently told me how my Dad  was once struck speechless in the middle of an argument about his lack of help around the house when her response to his"I WORK all day!" was a vehement "SO DO I!"  He had honestly never thought of it that way before. 

Is it greedy?

Fiona Brennan-Scott, my Irish cousin now living in England, says: "Having or wanting it all, in any context, just sounds like greed." Her thoughts were echoed by Lesley Scott, a school friend living in the Cape, South Africa, who added: "No one person can 'have it all'(otherwise there would be nothing left for the rest of us)."

Although Lesley's comment was made with her tongue firmly in her cheek - she raises an interesting point. The consequence of greed is always depletion of resources. In our quest to "have it all", women tend to try "be it all".  Women's generally more holistic, integrative approach to life means that career success that is at the cost of our partner and children's growth and happiness isn't success at all.

Of course, no person can be all things to all people, and it’s rare that you will find a woman who has not at times found herself stretched too thin in her efforts to be a great mother, supportive yet sexy wife, model employee or boss, and domestic goddess.

The resource we are depleting is ourselves. 

A recipe for Emotional Anorexia

I can't help wondering if we are allowing ourselves to be taken in by a message that is no more real than the airbrushed perfection of a model in a magazine ad for a cellulite cream.  As Cindy Crawford once famously noted:"Not even Cindy Crawford looks like Cindy Crawford".

Is the idea of "having it all" leaving women with a kind of emotional anorexia where we try to be perfect in every respect, while we simply waste away?  I think so.

Perhaps the time has come to relegate the idea of "having it all" to the place where mullets and shoulder pads went to die. After all, it's probably as unattainable as Cindy's thighs.

More about "having it all":

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