Lost in the debate about having it all, wanting it real bad, reaching for the brass ring and living a life mired in the anxiety of striver-driven perfection that comes with it are all the women who just don't give a fuck. True, we are not that loud and not that pissed. Sure, we care about stuff, but only up to a point one might describe as a low simmer of concern that never quite bubbles over.
You know the story about How Things Are Now. Women have broken through so many barriers only to find the gilded door still bolted and padlocked, the real power still elusive, the money just out of reach. As we work toward success and achievement in unprecedented levels, there are warnings and advice: We have more than ever but are less happy, we thought career satisfaction was our ticket only to find out it had its own steep price. We must be feminine but not too feminine to broker power among men. We wanted families and careers, only to discover the trade-offs we'd have to make would put us in an inescapable bind, a catch-22 that would leave us pulled in numerous directions and ultimately miserable.
But what of all the women who faced down this rising tidal wave of work-life disappointment in the quest for their best life ever, bracing themselves for the worst, only to realize it was not so bad? This piece over at Salon, "I'm Not Ambitious, and That's OK," explores just such a sweet spot, if you can call it that:
Most women, and men, for that matter, long for much less. And yet our story, our version of “having it all,” is nowhere to be found. Instead, we hear again and again about the inherent toxicity of life as a high-powered working woman in the age of helicopter moms. Or cautionary tales about the harried opt-inners and the despondent opt-outers, narratives that trade in extremes and make some of us cry in airports even if they don’t quite represent our lives.
I am not a perfectionist. I wouldn’t consider myself highly ambitious. I am content only writing about the stuff that interests me and have no interest in scoring a job that would land me on the top of a masthead at a prestige publication. I didn’t try to lose my baby weight in 10 months. I have nothing planned for my son’s first birthday. I let him fall sometimes, and supplemented my breast milk with formula, and am not kept awake at night by my guilt. I accept that these next five or so years ahead will not be the most professionally fruitful or glass-ceiling-breaking for me because I only work 30 hours a week and often without a good night’s sleep. I love the time I get to spend with my son, and love it when I do get the chance to sit down and work. It bothers me that my husband’s career is progressing faster than mine right now, but I am able to accept it because our arrangement makes the most sense for our family.
The author, Elissa Strauss, notes that she is not offering herself up as a model, nor is she unaware of the particular privilege she enjoys to neither opt in or out, but to straddle both like an easy-to-ride mechanical bull of medium-sized achievement. This is not without its cost — she won't run a company, and she won't win a Mary Poppins award for mothering.
Her story is not that exciting, either — nothing about the porridge that Goldilocks chose ever is. Not too hot, not too cold, committing to both work and motherhood while dodging the tension of either as much as possible means you get a little bit of both worlds, but none of the glory of throwing all in in either direction.
Beta ladies. Opt-in-betweeners. We want to do well. We'd like some power. Some money, too. But we'd also like to live lives outside of work, be it with children, partners, volunteering, rock shows, knitting groups, matinees, museums, beers, gardening, rock climbing, welding, nonprofits.
When it comes to raising children, we are invested and engaged, but we are not up at 3 a.m. on Pinterest in a cold sweat, nor are we fretting over every play date, or laboring over every school project.
To some people, this could be call utter mediocrity, low standards, an oatmeal existence. Where is the glory in concern so ordinary?
To be sure, it's all in the details. This is purely about priorities and individual women's goals. The woman aching to run a company will never be happy here. The woman who feels called to full-time motherhood, yet who has to work to support her family, won't be thrilled when it's time to drop the kid off at daycare.
But for women who like working and like mothering, and have figured out how to do both pretty well, but neither to award-winning levels, well, perhaps that is having it pretty good, and that is as good as it gets.
But what of the many women who don’t ache to be marquee names at financial firms, newspapers or Hollywood studios? What are we missing by largely leaving them, us, out of the conversation?
I think what we are missing is the idea, of which we always need to be reminded, that there is no one story for all women, that we are not a monolithic group, that like everyone on earth, our lives are a complicated jumble of the arbitrary and the deliberate. And that many of us often have no idea what we really want until we arrive at the choice of it, and even then, we are not so sure.
The high-achieving, perfectionist women who kick the corporate and political doors down are to be applauded as much as the women who keep the hearth fires magnificently, spectacularly burning. Though our trials and tribulations are vastly different, the things that unite as women and people ought to be that we want these options to be truly viable for everyone, should we so desire them. We don't all have to want the same thing to want the best version of all the things for whoever wants them. So for this, I ask: Can I get an amen, or at least some muffled applause?