'Having It All' Means Having All the Shitty Stuff Too

Illustration for article titled 'Having It All' Means Having All the Shitty Stuff Too

I know we've all already weighed in ad nauseum on "having it all" (which, in my original weigh-in, I posited is total bullshit), but let's just talk about it one more time, shall we? Because this part is important: the discussion is super-gendered, and we're never going to get past it without involving the manfolk.


Jessica Valenti at the Nation makes a cogent point today about the destructively gendered nature of "having it all"—the fact that the entire concept is predicated on the idea that caring for a family is the woman's responsibility, and it's our responsibility because we are naturally suited to it. It's a concept you learn on the first day of Women's Studies—that women with jobs work all day, then come home to a "second shift" of cooking, housework, and childcare. Makes you think that "having it all" might just mean "having ALL THE STUFF to do."

Valenti writes:

This isn't news to most; statistics (and feminists!) have long showed that women work a second shift at home. But despite the glaring inequality on our doorstep – and in our kitchens – the recent debates do little to address tangible ways men can be held accountable. Sure, they're mentioned as an aside every once in a while – It's good to have a supportive partner! When men "help out" life it easier! – but men's participation in the domestic sphere is largely discussed as optional while women's is assumed to be mandatory.

It's a basic, old-timey problem, and one that seems to be making disproportionately slow progress compared to other longstanding battles of the women's movement. Like, oh, great. So we're allowed to have jobs now—we can sort of almost be CEOs kind of!—but without renegotiating any of our domestic responsibilities. If you doubt that that's true—just look at the debate we're having right now, in this post, about "having it all." Can women have all the power and money and jobs that men have, while still having all the shitty responsibilities at home that they've always had? I don't know, "having it all" sounds pretty hard! Yeah, that's because it's fucking unfair.

Some of the most thoughtful, liberal, egalitarian men I know have trouble swallowing this issue—they get defensive, tabulate how many dishes they've washed, frame the argument as a hacky, divisive, "men suck/women rock" feminist caricature. Which it isn't, of course. Men work hard. Women work hard. But women, even in the most progressive households, are tacitly expected to be in charge of the household, even if we don't personally wash every dish. Because it's our domain. We're just good at it. And when women ask for help—"Ugggh, my wife wants me to CLEAN OUT the GARAGE"—we're branded as bitchy, naggy, sitcom wives. (To be fair, among the good ones, I think that push-back stems from a genuine crestfallen disappointment in their own gender, and their own unconscious participation in patriarchal shittiness. I think.)


I've lived in houses with men where it's been abundantly clear that if I do not put the new toilet paper roll on the roller-thingy, it will literally never be done. And the roll of toilet paper will sit on the dirty tile forever, collecting pubes and butt-dust. There are a million tiny, covert pressures like that. None of this means that women work "harder" than men (or that men work "harder" than women)—it just means that the nature of our work is perceived differently. To everyone's detriment.

Valenti again:

Dismissing socialization and gender roles as piddling compared to this amorphous idea of "maternal imperative" is part of the reason progress is stalled for family-friendly policies. I don't believe we must ignore how much we love our kids and want to be with them in order to effectively fight for better parenting policies – but the assumption that women want to be mothers above all other callings in their life directly impacts the way we talk and work on these issues.


Here's the thing you have to understand, dudes. "Having it all"** is shitty. Because it means having all the shitty stuff too. So what I'm going to need you to do, if you really want to help women "have it all," is to hulk-smash out of this stupid patriarchy and help us carry some of "it." Because "it" is heavy.

*Nevermind the fact that it also leaves out poor women, unemployed women, single women, childless women, old women, immigrant women, trans women, gay women, and any other woman who isn't an upper-middle-class white-collar career woman in a "traditional" marriage.


**Which I still don't really think is a thing, BTW.

Image by prodakszyn/Shutterstock


Lindy West

Obviously I'm speaking in generalities and there are exceptions to every rule—I'd say my current household/relationship is pretty firmly outside this paradigm—but I still see it everywhere. Mostly it's this feeling that "if I don't clean this thing it will literally never be cleaned." And my parents were super liberal, but my mom still cooked dinner every night (after working all day as a nurse) and my dad, though he was happy to do it, only cleaned when she told him to. Do you guys know what I'm talking about? Examples? Am I beating an extinct horse?