As a mom of two young children juggling career and business with family life the very idea of women having it all seems like the joke of the year. I often can not even have the whole 24 hours in a day to myself successfully let alone having ‘it’ all. But it does matter that we discuss this idea of ‘having it all’ and society’s expectations from women in order to break down gender stereotypes.
The question can women have it all is not a new question, from the suffrage movement in the 19th and 20thcentury to the subsequent waves of feminism women all over the globe have been pressing the boundaries of what ‘women can have’ and fighting to create a fairer world where all human beings have equal access and opportunities regardless of gender.
But years on, we have now somehow become a victim of our own successes and now carry a burden of perfectionism; the unrealistic idea that women must be excellent in all areas of life at once all the time.
Why do women and often the wider society expect so much from women? Lets explore two of the several causes.
Mainstream portrayal of women
We have become accustomed to images of perfection in relation to women. Media outlets are perpetually filling our senses with depictions that are often not reflections of our collective or individual experiences. Seeing these images over and over again creates false standards that women are then held to account against. And when women are seemingly falling short of these false standards it can translate to ‘not having it all’.
Perceived gender roles
Although significant progress has been made in redefining gender roles, women are still likely to be expected to assume domestic and care giving roles in comparison to men. This in turn creates a ‘primary role’ for women in society and other roles that women assume are deemed as ‘secondary roles’. It is the ability to balance these two roles that is then termed as ‘having it all’.
Do women really want to have it all or have balance? I often feel like my life as a working mom is about compromise most of the time, juggling different moving parts of my life is something that I had to get comfortable with. I have not being able to attend every event at my children’s school and I have not been able to meet every deadline at work. I wish I could do all at once, but I can’t and it’s okay.
For a long time, I carried the guilt of ‘not having it all’, especially at moments when I felt I was dropping the ‘ball’ at work or not being ‘there’ for my family or friends. But in reality it is almost impossible to be 100% at every aspect of life. It is more productive to focus energy on seeking a comfortable balance where you feel productive but not overwhelmed.
To find balance, it is important to understand priorities and set boundaries. I remember speaking with the wonderful Debbie Atkins of the Athena Network some months ago and we were talking about boundaries and limitations and she gave me this very valid piece of advice ‘focus on the priority’ this advice as always been valid and still is, but let me add to it and say ‘focus on the current priority’ because priorities can change from time to time but focusing on current priorities give you a level of clarity that in turn increases your productivity and sense balance.
By focusing on the things that matter and releasing energy from things that don’t there is more productivity and an enhanced level of performance. Whenever an opportunity to feel like ‘you are not having it all’ arises, as women we must re-focus on how we can strike a comfortable balance instead and feel more in control. We should not feel trapped by unrealistic expectations, we should instead take each day as it comes, focusing on what really matters and enjoying our unique journeys.