Friday, September 16, 2011

You Can't Have It All

A few days ago, a supposedly progressive and liberal acquaintance posted a little rant on Facebook about feminism. The gist of it was that feminists are hypocritical and judgmental because they want all women to be doctors or lawyers and look down on those who choose instead to be mothers and nurturers. She went on to say that feminism has fed us a pack of lies by trying to tell us we can “have it all” – be mothers AND career women, have families AND a life outside the home – but that in reality, one side of your life will suffer. Mostly the family side.

Obviously, there’s a lot to critique in this kind of blanket statement. For example, I know plenty of feminist ladies who find a balance between being a mother and being an independent person; that not all mothers have a choice between staying at home and having a job; that feminists regularly rally for the rights of mothers (better maternity leave, equal pay for equal work, and breastfeeding laws, to name just a few); and that encouraging women to pursue a career that can support themselves and their families is just plain logical (marriage isn’t always forever).

But I’m going to ignore all of that for a moment and talk instead about this idea of “having it all.” I actually agree with my acquaintance on this point. I don’t think it’s possible to have it all. I do not, however, blame feminism for fooling me into thinking I could have everything I ever wanted.The fact is that every choice we, men and women, make in life means there is another choice we turned down; that every path we take leads, in some sense, to regret for the road not taken.

This is the whole point of growing up – making hard choices and living with both the rewards and the consequences. 99% of the time you cannot be both a stay-at-home mother andthe CEO of a giant corporation. You can’t commit to a monogamous relationship and sleep with whomever you want. You can’t eat vegan cupcakes for breakfast every day and PR at every race. You can’t adopt two giant dogs and live in the best apartment or house. I can’t stay in Nacogdoches with all my friends and pursue an MFA from the program of my dreams. Such is the nature of life.

Every choice comes with regret. It’s natural, it’s normal and it doesn’t make sense to hem and haw about how somebody lied to you. The solution isn’t to have less choices, but to take responsibility for the ones you make. To celebrate the things that your choices have brought you and come to terms with whatever it is you have lost or missed along the way. We can’t have it all, but we can choose what we have. That, to me, is the joy of being an independent and fulfilled human being, and that’s the gift that feminism gave to women who didn’t have those choices before.

This was the gist of my response on Facebook, but obviously it was much shorter and less eloquent. Still, I think I got my point across. What would you have said in this situation? I usually avoid political confrontations on Facebook, as they often lead to me unfriending people in fits of rage, but when it’s someone bad mouthing feminists I can’t help but jump in.