Joanna Coles, Marie Claire USA editor-in-chief, in the magazine’s latest issue devoted entirely to career, wrote, “Of all CEOs among Fortune 500 companies, only 18 are women”. the unexpected thought that crossed my mind as I was reading this was, “Thank God there’re only 18 of them, not more, because being CEO is so freaking tough for a woman”, something hardcore or even moderate feminists would definitely want to kill me for. Then, of course, I immediately felt remorse for exercising such retrograde ideas. Of course, I’ve got tremendous, awe-like respect for over-achieving women who manage to combine a stellar career and family, and everything else a 21st century woman might dream of. In fact, I view the females who epitomise the celebrated concept of “having it all” as modern-day heroines, no less.
In my twenties, this notion lured me, too. Nevertheless, whilst I did succeed in becoming a rather productive multi-tasker and multi-projector in work and social life, it didn’t seem feasible to fit a family into that “living on the run” lifestyle. I was super-busy and restless, pursuing my professional passions and feeding on the adrenaline the achievements and new exciting experiences supplied. However, deep down, it didn’t totally fulfil me. Now, in my thirties, I’m trying to prioritise for good, and compromise certain things in my professional life to make room for other stuff which seems more meaningful to me now, I find myself pondering more and more about how unrealistic, if not merely utopian, the “have it all” pursuit has proved itself to be.
The leaders of the women’s movement promoted this concept as one of the last century’s most progressive and empowering messages. Yet, in reality, as alluring as “having it all” might appear to a woman, does getting there, if ever, make us sane and happy? It doesn’t feel that way to me. With the incredible pressure to perform that the female liberation era imposed on us, we often lose focus and, sometimes, direction, and, even, eventually, drive. More frustratingly, if we vehemently go after what we “must have” or “should do”, we may lose touch with who we really are and what we really want.
In Russia, feminist ideas don’t have a significant influence, or so we like to believe. Still, I see women chasing this “having it all” pursuit even more rigorously here than in the West, perhaps without even realising it. Whilst a Western career woman might be quick to delegate a good portion of the home chores to her partner, most Russian women strive to be perfect in all areas, no matter what… professional, domestic, physical, etc. The mythical image of a super-potent Russian female capable of nearly-Herculean exploits prevails in our classical literature. In Soviet times, it pervaded daily life… women performed physically-demanding jobs alongside men in factories and at construction sites on a regular basis, with a second work shift waiting for them at home… kids and husbands to tend to.
Speaking about men, especially the more successful ones, most of them seem to be remarkably focused and consistent with their choices. If they choose to invest in their work, they don’t feel guilty if they drag behind on other fronts. As far as the “home dads”, guys who’ve chosen to take a long-term paternity leave or permanently stay home, these fellows also seemed to me more relaxed or at least way less perfectionist than many housewives. Moreover, truth be told, I’ve never met a guy who claimed he aspired to “have it all”. As for the female over-performers who’ve seemingly made it… I’ve met quite a few of them in Russia, too… a new generation of extraordinary businesswomen has emerged here lately. Some appear to be male-energy-dominated machines, overburdened by the stress of the responsibilities and decision-making they’ve taken up, like the high-profile partner in an American law firm in Moscow who complained in a recent Forbes/Russia interview that she saw her two kids mostly at night, when they were asleep. Others seem more elated, although still full of stress and dissatisfied as they’re constantly racing the clock, just like Sarah Jessica Parker’s frenzied character in the recent comedy about a woman juggling a career in finance and raising two small children in I Don’t Know How She Does It.
The happier women, I’ve noticed, are capable of making more unconventional choices, when necessary, like becoming self-employed, or going after a more flexible schedule and just succumbing to not managing to have it all… at least, all together. The happiest ones I’ve met don’t even try to engage in the “have it all” utopia whatsoever. They do everything their own unique way, following their gut preferences and talents. They don’t try to be like Angelina Jolie (a female apotheosis of perfect everything) and are at peace with the fact that they might never accomplish what they could have (or maybe not yet) with all the opportunities available. I myself, a perfectionist by nature, recently discovered a surprisingly joyful alternative to accomplishing things… letting them go.
25 April 2012
I don’t like “overachievers” at all. They strike me like Miranda in The Devil Wears Prada (Meryl Streep was smashing in the role, by the way). What they “sell” in order to “achieve” is mind-boggling. However, that’s what post-1981 Reaganomics America rewards… it rewards the unscrupulous, the inhumane, the cruel, the brutal, the cold, and the calculating. Full stop. That’s why I despise the Freddie M-Gs of this world. They’re saccharine, smarmy, and pietistic, yet, they’ve internalised “Miranda”… far more than Miranda did (I find them all incredibly and morbidly self-centred). Trust me, they’re more materialistic and anthropocentric than the “Mirandas” out there… I kid you not. That’s scary, kids. We’ve reached a nadir point as a society… not only are women rebelling against it, so are men. We’re at the logical end-point of “Greed is Good” Vulture Capitalism. Here’s a point to ponder… many of these overachievers call themselves “Christians” and cloak their greed, hubris, and nastiness in religious vesture. Our Lord Christ would disown such sorts… and so should we. Can we “have it all?” No, emphatically not… that was never meant to be… for both men and women.
Don’t vote for the Republicans this fall… they DO “wear Prada” (especially those who spout populist rhetoric, interestingly enough).