Uuuuuuuuugh, "having it all." Enough already, right? I'm so goddamn sick of talking about "having it all" and who can "have it all" and what "it all" even means and whether wanting "it all" is the ultimate feminist goalpost or if it's just a reductive construct meant to keep women dissatisfied, unfulfilled, and cheerfully night-vacuuming for their entire lives. Yawn/barf. But a recent survey—which found that men and women have very different visions of what "having it all" means—actually got me intrigued. This is a concept that's discussed almost exclusively within a feminine framework, so what would it look like for a dude to "have it all"?
According to the survey—published last week by Citi and LinkedIn—79% of men think that "a strong, loving marriage" is essential to the concept of "having it all," while only 66% of women feel the same way. And over just the past 15 months, the number of women who don't factor any form of relationship or romance into their definition of success has doubled. All of that indicates, in the Atlantic Wire's estimation, that "men have a more specific and simpler definition of success, while women have more fluid goals (and, not coincidentally, far more hurdles to climbing the career ladder)."
It got me thinking, why would a disproportionate number of men value a strong family structure in their conception of an ideal, balanced life? My suspicion is this: For a lot of men, a traditional family includes a "wife," which is a kind of sexy butler that you also love. Even if wives aren't performing every single domestic duty with their own hands (like, maybe you're the kind of landed gentry with a nanny and a housekeeper or whatever), in the traditional model women are at the very least expected to be the stewards of the domestic sphere. They're manning the calendar. They're getting everyone out the door. There's a whole lot of invisible mental work that goes into keeping a family running, and I have a feeling that (even in the most egalitarian couples!) those tasks don't make their way into very many men's visions of the "perfect" life.
But, by virtue of that very same expectation, women have no choice but to factor that domestic sidework into their pursuit of "having it all," unless they want to abandon the family structure altogether (hence, perhaps, that 66% figure). It is built right into the question: "Having it all" for women means having a career and running a family. That's why, as has been said so many times, what women really need if they want to "have it all" is a wife—which, by extension, would make "having it all" for women more like "doing it all." A daunting and exhausting impossibility, not a fun and glamorous eventuality. With that in mind, "having it all" for men means...what, exactly? I decided to ask a few dudes and see what I could find out.
(I want to make it clear that this isn't a judgment—it's merely speculation about the way that our societal structure impacts people's implicit biases and expectations. As a product of the same society, I'm not exempt from these forces myself. I happen to be the primary breadwinner in my family at the moment—it's called "being in love with an experimental artist"—and it's a role I'm happy to play, but I can't say that's how 10-year-old Lindy assumed her future family structure would turn out. And I also can't say that the idea of being a stay-at-home mom doesn't have some sparkling appeal when it's 4 am and I'm grinding away against a morning deadline and I'm down to my novelty underwear because I haven't had time to do laundry in a month. So anyway, dudes, no blame here.)
I chatted with four male friends about what "having it all" looks like to them. In case anyone cares about demographics: Two are married, two are in longterm relationships, two are black, two are white, two have kids, two don't, and all are in their 30s or 40s. What I'm trying to figure out, I told them, is whether "having it all" for men usually implies having a wife who takes care of the lion's share of the domestic stuff, whether they factor those practical concerns into their pipe dreams about the future, and whether the thought of "having it all" fills them with excitement or dread.
Here are their answers.
Man #1: Charles