Media favourites: the 'myth of having it all'

Thursday, 21 July 2011


'Having It All'

1. Phrase coined by former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, Helen Gurley Brown - and the title of her book published in 1982.
2. A lifestyle which involves having a successful, demanding and well-paid career, a stable relationship and a happy, fulfilled experience of motherhood.
3. A concept popularized by feminists, ball-busting 'career girls', women's magazines and television shows.
4. The ultimate falsehood. Unattainable, unwise, leading only to depression, divorce, infertility, misandry, badly-brought up children and low self-esteem.

Common usage:

1. "The myth of - "
2. "The grave consequences of - "

"Of course women can have it all - they just don't want it"
"They have it all...so why is it so hard for some women to be happy?"
"Girls 'can't have it all': Bridget Jones author warns of the perils of mixing family and career"
"The truth is that modern women can't have it all. They may succeed in their careers and they may succeed as mothers, but to do both at the same time? No."

The rules of discussing 'having it all':

1. Context: must be mentioned that the 'pressure' was brought about by 1970s feminists, as opposed to capitalism, 1980s popular culture, the media and an emphasis that women must be perfect in everything they do (although even Gurley Brown's book was condemned by figureheads of the women's movement at the time).
2. Gender: on no account must the concept of men 'having it all' be discussed. The thought of a man combining a career, marriage and fatherhood is never considered impossible, a pressure or a lifestyle doomed to failure. It is expected, praised and seen as the norm.
3. Stock words/phrases: "making it in a man's world"; "comes at a price"; "superwoman"; "trade-off"; "Sex and the City"; "high-flying"; "juggling work and family".
4. Shifting the blame: on no account explore the idea that societal pressure on women to never trip up, falter, have a bad day or appear less than perfect might be partially at fault. Continue to promote fad diets, pushy parenting, unobtainable beauty standards and harsh criticism of women who don't 'measure up'.
5. Equality: refuse to explore idea that increased pressure on women may be due to men and businesses failing to adapt to a changing world. Stay-at-home fathers are 'emasculated', men doing housework is 'demeaning', and 'supposed' workplace inflexibility and sexism is a sign of women just not having what it takes to run with the big boys. Expecting things to change is 'laughable' and 'hopelessly outdated'.
6. Mental illness and unhappiness: a direct result of attempting to 'have it all'. Prevalence would be less great if society made a return to traditional gender roles and hierarchy (nb avoid all mention of 'mother's little helpers').
7. Public figures: bonus points incurred if person denouncing 'having it all' is a celebrity, politician or middle-aged figurehead of feminism. Double bonus points if the story is published in time for International Women's Day.
8. Furthering the debate: under no circumstances attempt to steer discussion of concept in a productive direction.

This post brought to you by a read through today's Daily Mail story, "Successful and childless: The career women from Generation X who have it all... except a family" and the articles a search for 'women+have it all' brings up (istyosty links).

3 comments:

Delilah said...

Very very good! spot on. When I was growing up, I never heard anything about men having it all. That was assumed to be normal. I was warned again and again how hard it would be for me if I wanted a career, and that I had to make careful choices.

The Goldfish said...

This is brilliant! I've always been a bit confused about the definition of the particular "it all" that we're supposed to be mistakenly striving for, but I don't have to look very far for messages about truly unattainable goals of beauty, status, romantic love and cherubs in children's clothing. And that's certainly not coming from feminism.

sianandcrookedrib said...

spot on!

i was on local radio discussing 'having it all' on IWD. With Bel Mooney from the mail! my response was that no-one asks my (male) boss how he manages to have it all. it is ridiculous!

 

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