What does having it all really mean? For me the definition of having it all has changed through the years. What I thought I wanted at 15 wasn’t what I have now — and that’s a great thing!
As a child of the 70s I had the pleasure of growing up in a time when feminism shifts started looking real to society. Instead of just talking about feminist beliefs and changing the language to one that included women’s voices, my generation started seeing what it really looked like with policies like Title IX going into effect among other changes. Women were becoming high powered in their fields, they were running corporations, and they were also met with images of very exhausted women in movies like Baby Boom. What sticks with me today from Diane Keaton’s role as an unexpected mother in the midst of her blossoming career was that, by the end, she was writing her own rules and setting her own terms.
That was a powerful statement to me and I took it to heart.
As a 15-year old mom, I struggled mightily with the very demands feminists were talking about because I was doing it on my own. The picture in my mind of the “having it all” movement included a supportive man at the helm (though that’s probably not what Gloria Steinem had in mind). But my daughter’s father had left us to fend for ourselves and he not only moved, he moved out of state to avoid having financial responsibilities for her. My dream of having it all began to crumble even further when my high school counselor suggested that I attend a vocational program like cosmetology so that I could hurry up and provide for my tiny family.
That was an even more powerful statement for me to digest. Luckily, it didn’t go down well and I persisted with a vengeance and graduated high school to attend college in the fall with the rest of my classmates.
Once again, after college, I began to reassess and redefine the “all” that women were supposed to have. Everyone else, it seemed, was grasping for that brass ring and coming up with it. They were getting married, and so was I. That seemed to be the natural progression of life for all those nubile college graduates. At that time I was married to a man whose beliefs were in opposition to the “all” that I was trying to reach. In order to save money, we bought his parents’ home and inherited a lot of their junk along with it. It brought about some terrible arguments when I began to realize that my “all” included having my own house and my own stuff and things that I had worked hard to purchase to bring into a home that was mine. On one visit from his parents to I was reaching out to my mother-in-law and asked if she would go shopping with me. My hope was that it would be a bonding experience for us and the men could handle the children for a while. However, she threw me a curve ball when I said that we didn’t have enough flatware and that I wanted to get a new set. I’ll never forget her words to me.
Oh, you don’t need a new set. There’s some in the garage that we left that will do you just fine.
She probably didn’t mean for it to sound as bad as I took it, but from what she said all I could hear was, “You don’t deserve anything nice. You can make do.”
After that, when I reassessed again what my “all” meant I realized that I wanted a nicer, bigger house. I wanted new flatware. I wanted a bedroom set that I could pick out and fall in love with and enjoy. That makes it sound as if it’s all about the money for those things, but it wasn’t. It was about the freedom, as a working woman with a job that brought in money, to make my own choices.
Today, my “all” is living with a partner who works part-time because we made some serious decisions about what we wanted as a couple and how that would be achieved. My job provides for us financially. We have our own house with its own flatware and a bedroom set that is my sanctuary from the storm. My “all” includes having a man who does the grocery shopping and menu planning and all the cooking. My “all” means that, because I tend to be fussy about the way things are cleaned, I do the dishes more than anyone else.
I have it all because the recursive process of being a working career woman forces me to look at my life and change it when I want to make new choices. My all doesn’t look like anyone else’s and I am as happy as I want to be living with whatever consequences come from that.
That’s my “all” and you can’t have it the exact same way. You have to figure that out for yourself. As a strong supporter of feminism, I’ll be cheering you on the whole way.
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