"Having It All." What does the phrase mean to you? Seriously. Stop a minute and examine what your personal "all" would be.
At this point in my life, my personal "all" would, of course, include many disparate things. I want to love and be loved by my family and I want to have a few close friends whose company is mutually enjoyable and whom I get to see, in person, regularly. I would like to live near enough to my children to see them over a weekend without more than 4 hours of driving, total time, for any of us. I would be slender without too much thought or effort, and I would be "normally" healthy. We would have enough money to live on comfortably without worry, but we wouldn't be trying to buy luxury cars or go on extended cruises, either. We would own our own home without a mortgage, living near a functional, vibrant, and forward-looking community of which we were a part. We would live in a location with rich soil, moderately plentiful rainfall, clean water, and a safe and functional environment around us. I would have a wide variety of books to read and several good friends with whom I was able to regularly discuss the ideas those books sparked and to challenge me to expand my thinking....
Obviously I could go on and on. As I think about my personal "all," I'm struck by the fact that I already have a reasonable number of those facets in my life. (Maybe it's not so self indulgent to think about this sometimes - it could provide a blue print for changes we may want to make in our lives. Hmmm. Further food for thought.)
What my personal "all" wouldn't include (at least now, at the ripe old age of 56) is fame, although I do hope that people generally think well of me, or large fortune, although I do want to live without financial worries. I don't want a large house (any more). I don't want to be fashionable (Yup. Got that one covered without issue!) I don't want a horse any more. I don't expect everyone to like or admire me (although the child in me would still like that!). Again, I could go on and on, but I'll spare you more of my personal navel-gazing.
So, what would your personal "all" look like?
Apparently there has been a recent essay in Atlantic Monthly discussing whether or not it's really possible for women today to actually "have it all." This piece has the opinion makers of the moment buzzing loudly. I haven't read the piece nor have I seen any of the buzz it has caused except.... This morning, in the Wichita Eagle, I read an opinion piece by Daniel Akst, of Newsday, responding to the uproar by saying that society should be first asking about whether the blue collar male can have anything any more, not whether women can or should "have it all."
Wow. He asks an important question, but I'm gob-smacked that he thinks it needs to be asked in conjunction with, or instead of, or before, "Can women actually have it all?"
So, to put my two cents worth into the discussion, first of all it makes me livid that Mr. Akst links, in a not-so-subtle, cause-and-effect sort of way, the problems blue collar men have been facing for many decades now with the increased success of "the best educated women" attempting to reach "the pinnacle of their profession and also raise perfect children." The quoted phrases are from his article, "'Can Women Have It All?' Is Wrong Question" on the editorial page this morning. (And, yes, he puts in a few little asides trying to include blue collar women in his discussion, but it's obvious he's much more concerned about the men.)
Frankly, blue collar workers and best-educated workers, of either sex in either cases, are generally two totally separate segments of the labor force. The problems that the blue collar workers are facing have to do with the outsourcing of jobs to overseas countries where labor can be had for pennies on the dollar and the subsequent decline of manufacturing in this country. Since blue collar labor is now a global resource, American blue collar workers have to compete against foreign blue collar workers - and the companies/corporations are enjoying the race to the bottom in the labor costs. Solutions? Probably some sort of protectionist action on the part of the government to favor companies that keep jobs stateside. Also adoption of national health care so that U.S. companies don't have worker health care expenses in this country, which they don't have it in other countries.
On a personal basis, what's a blue collar worker to do? Well, for starters, in our economy and culture, one option would be to get the best education you can and aim for the white collar work force. Or to choose to work in a segment that is harder to outsource overseas: plumbing, for example, or car repair.
What's not going to help? Blaming women for working outside the home these days, feeling that they're getting "uppity." Yes, white males used to get automatic privilege in our society: they would be selected for jobs over more qualified females or minorities, for example. Even if they weren't very successful at work, though, males could expect to come home each evening to a household where they were The Boss, where what they decided was The Law, where they were waited on, picked up after, fed and coddled. But nowadays both men and women have to work full time jobs to make ends meet. The wife is just as tired from working away from home as her husband is. Why should she have to do all the housework, or cook all the food, or do all the child care? Why shouldn't she have an equal say in household decisions? So there's no cultural respite for blue collar males anywhere now. No place where they can almost automatically be "king." No place where they can "rightfully" feel superior just because they were born male. To have the economic hardships that a switch to a global labor market has created coming at the exact same time as the change in unquestioned household status for blue collar males is unfortunate timing, to say the least, and makes it very easy for many to pin all their troubles on women working away from home, however necessary those jobs have become to support the family.
The second question is also difficult, "Are women actually able to 'have it all'?" In the case of Akst's article, "all" is defined as "a great career and a great family." A couple different thoughts come to mind when I think about this question. First, what is truly "all"? What really does make a person feel happy and fulfilled? Can one person "have it all" without sacrificing the chances of those around them to have a reasonable amount of whatever we're talking about?
The more I think about this question, though, the more I hate the question. How many people seem to "have it all" from the outside, only for outsiders to learn later that they were rich in money and/or public respect, but that their kids and wife didn't know or love or respect them at all? (And for all of the ones the public learns about, how many others live like that, but we don't learn about them?) Or how many "had it all," but they ruined countless other people in their greedy quest to succeed? Or "had it all," but they died from stress at a young age from the strain of trying to keep all those balls in the air? Or had 5 huge houses, but never spent any significant time in any of them because they were always at work, and the beautiful houses always stood empty? Or had nannies raise their children, so they never really played a significant, personal part in their children's lives? Or found that their friends disappeared when they got sick or lost their money?
I'm going to make a very unpopular statement at this point: I don't think it's possible for any one person to "have it all" in our society, with "all" equaling the pinnacle of a profession AND perfect children...unless that person has a partner, at the very least, to help them carry the load. In which case, the individual person hasn't achieved all of this by himself or herself, the partnership of the two has achieved it together and both deserve praise for the results. I'd be willing to further bet that for the most successful people, the ones who REALLY seem to have it all, they not only have a strong partner, but they also have an extended family that has played a very significant role in their achievements as well, through providing educational opportunities, loans or outright gifts of money, property, moral support, contacts in the professional world, and so forth.
Are men more likely than women to have the appearance of or opportunity to "have it all"? Yes, because our overall culture still encourages a large percentage of women to play second fiddle to men and therefore it's easier for a man to find a strong woman to support him than it is for a woman to find a strong man to support her. (And I want to point out that I'm using the term "support" in an emotional and psychological way, not necessarily in a monetary way.)
Having shared my frustration with the juxtaposition of the two disparate problems that Akst put together in his piece, I'm left trying to figure out what I want, in the end, to say in response to Akst's editorial essay this morning. I think my message is this: We, as U.S. citizens who care about our country and our fellow countrymen, need to guard against falling into the trap of pitting segments of the working class against each other when they aren't actually in competition against each other at all. The ancient method of "divide and conquer" is alive and well and being practiced daily within our society. It's time for all of us to start looking for the real reasons behind why we, as a country, aren't doing as well as we think we should be doing. Then - and this is the hardest part of all - it's time for all of us to band together and work for appropriate change.