Anne-Marie Slaughter sparked a national debate recently with the publication of her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the July/August edition of the Atlantic magazine.
Though Slaughter is not the first woman to ponder the implications of having a child while trying to work, her blunt portrayal of the performance of feminist ideals in America caught many women and men off guard.
While some ostracized Slaughter for her intellectual portrait of an “equal opportunity” country that was more opportunity for men than equality for women, others applauded her “hard knock” reality in an institution that doesn’t often present a forum for such opinions to be heard.
Whether your loyalty lies with the conventionality of motherhood or the women who choose and/or must work, the article nevertheless blurred the line between the two distinct conformities of care-taker and bread-maker. In controversy’s true fashion, sides have been taken, opinions have been screamed and chaos has begged the question; Can women have it all?
Jeana Beeland to some may appear to have it all. She’s a mother, the co-owner of CJB Industries and the chairman of the Valdosta Board of Education.
“Many blessings help me juggle,” said Beeland.
Between good health, a great husband, a good family support system and great co-workers, Beeland feels her success comes from the good Lord and surrounding herself with good people.
“The kids occasionally complain about the fact that I rarely cook and am out late a couple of nights a week,” said Beeland. “Teenagers are a good reality check.”
As far as having it all, Beeland feels it all depends on the definition of having it all.
“If having it all means leadership positions and enjoying raising your children, I agree with Slaughter’s point that women can’t have it all in career positions that are not flexible,” said Beeland. “I am fortunate to have flexibility in my career which allows me more time for my children and for the board.”
Like Slaughter, Beeland has recognized the difference in the way her generation, those previous generations and those younger generations of women view the balance of life and work.
“I recognize a difference in how my 18-year-old daughter and her friends are beginning to look at careers,” said Beeland. “These girls have watched their mom’s juggle and realize they have to make choices.”
Beeland also recognizes that a lot of women had to break down barriers for women to get to where they’re at today.
“I have an engineering degree from Georgia Tech,” said Beeland. “The first women entered Georgia Tech 33 years before me.”
While there still is sexism in various industries, Beeland feels that there are good companies out there who want to hire good people regardless of sex.
“Good companies want to hire the very best people they can find,” said Beeland. “They don’t have time to waste on whether it’s a man or woman in a particular position.”
Beeland feels that as more women take leadership roles, there will be more of an understanding about the flexibility required both on the part of the company and the female employee.
“Women who have a choice will choose an employer/manager that allows for some flexibility with regards to their children,” said Beeland.
Summer Clark is pretty close to fitting the category that Slaughter calls “superhuman.” Aside from working at Valdosta Insurance, she also owns The Mix, The Bump and is currently working as a consultant for two businesses.
“We do consulting work for people who want to open frozen yogurt shops,” said Clark. “I kind of want to grow the consulting business with frozen yogurt shops.”
Oh, by the way, Clark also has a 2-year-old daughter named Kennedy and is 9-months pregnant with her son, Asher. But there’s more — last week Clark’s house burnt down.
“My situation is extremely unique,” said Clark. “It’s not fair for me to say, oh I have it all and it’s so easy.”
While Slaughter may say that women can’t have it all, Clark has pretty much worked “having it all” down to a science.
“If you're still going to be involved in your children’s lives, you have to find somewhere that has flexibility,” said Clark. “I don’t do anything if it’s going to compromise flexibility.”
As far as being an insurance agent goes, Clark stays constantly connected because most all of her work can be done on her cell phone.
“Everything is on your cell phone,” said Clark.
While she is present in the office at times, she doesn’t stay there all day or else, she wouldn’t be able to handle her two businesses. As far as The Mix is concerned — which opened August 24, 2011 — her husband manages the day-to-day operations.
“I do all of the business end of it,” said Clark. “I like to joke that I birthed The Mix and he raises it.”
Clark uses that same concept at her other business, The Bump, which she opened at the beginning of June.
“There’s a lot of work being a business owner,” said Clark.
Clark has made conscious decisions as a parent of committing herself to businesses where she doesn’t have to necessarily be there.
“It’s about being very careful in what you commit yourself to,” said Clark. “Don’t over commit yourself.”
While progress in women’s rights has created a new breed of working-class women, it has also spawned a new class of men.
“My husband doesn’t have the most traditional roll, but it works,” said Clark.
According to Clark, the men of yesteryear were not as hands on. It wasn’t the norm for a father to stay at home with a child, take the child to the doctor or anything of the sort.
“A big difference for today’s women are the good men,” said Clark. “If [my husband] wasn’t so helpful, I couldn’t do it.”
However, while Clark is a hard working woman who appears to be doing it all, she knows that if you were to take away the family, the church, the helpful husband and the ability to have flexibility in a job, all that she does would not be possible.
“Things would be much different,” said Clark.
Clark also feels that everyone is a “working mom.”
“We’re all working moms,” said Clark.
While she feels that society has changed and evolved, one thing that she recognizes hasn’t changed is the obstacle of feeling torn between children and employment.
“Every woman feels torn,” said Clark. “But men don’t have that torn obstacle.”
According to Clark, working away from home is incredibly emotional for mothers, but men have not ever been and are not now expected to ever stay at home. However, Clark maintains that she has a good balance.
“I don’t feel like I ever sacrifice anything for motherhood because of work,” said Clark.
However, while every working mother seeks balance, many don’t ever find it. Tracy Woodard-Meyers became interim director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program at Valdosta State University in 2005 and was hired as the director in 2007. In 1997, she had her one and only child Jacob, who is now 14.
“Juggling being a mom and work was very difficult,” said Woodard-Meyers.
After giving birth, Woodard-Meyers got six weeks off because of the newly passed Family Leave Act.
“When I returned to work it was difficult because I felt guilty when I was at work and not at home with Jacob and felt guilty when I was home with Jacob and not at work,” said Woodard-Meyers.
Unfortunately, the University system’s “tenure and promotion” clock didn’t stop while Woodard-Meyers was out with her child.
Adjusting to her new role as mother while trying to remain in line with the same standards and timelines for the rest of the professors in her department was difficult.
“My first promotion was turned down because I did not have enough publications,” said Woodard-Meyers. “Which if you think about it, teaching four classes a semester is taxing in and of itself.”
Once you add the requirements of service to the university and community, research and publication requirements, it doesn’t leave much time to raise a child.
“I didn’t feel I could give either the full attention and energy that they both deserved,” said Woodard-Meyers. “I kept thinking, it would be nice to have a wife.”
According to Woodard-Meyers, traditional gender roles allow for women to stay at home and care for the home and children while male spouses continue to build their careers.
“I think our sexist attitudes and beliefs about gender roles in our society makes it especially difficult for women to have a career and a family,” said Woodard-Meyers.
Woodard-Meyers feels that we live in a society that uses a model that provides advantages to men in the work force and disadvantages women who choose to leave the workforce (even for a short while) to have children.
“If we continue to penalize women for leaving the work force to have children (again, even if for a short time — 6 weeks) then it will always be difficult to achieve the power and status in a career that their males colleagues are privileged with simply because the men do not have to miss work to labor and birth a child,” said Woodard-Meyers.
She stated that our society rewards hard work in the paid work force, but working in the home and raising children is hard work as well that is neither valued nor recognized as work in our society because it is not paid.
“I believe our society’s career model was developed based on the traditional roles of men working out of the home for pay and women as the traditional workers in the home for no pay,” said Woodard-Meyers.
Essentially, nearly every working woman is working in a man’s world.
The media business is certainly a male-dominated world, and the Times managing editor Kay Harris walks in that very world and usually in heels.
“I became the first female editor, ever, here in 2004,” said Harris.
Her response to the question of whether or not a woman can “have it all” lies an issue in itself.
“I have an issue with the basic question, because no one ever asks a man that question, and no one ever truly defines what ‘having it all’ means,” said Harris.
Harris was born in the 1960’s and was the youngest of six children. Her father, a WWII veteran, worked for the same company his entire life as an engineer and her mother “stayed at home.”
“To equate staying at home and not working is the biggest fallacy of all,” said Harris.
She says her mother worked long hours without today’s modern conveniences and “nobody ever asked her if she felt like she had it ‘all’.”
Harris has always been a driven person with the desire to be the best, see it all and learn it all. She is doing today what she decided to do at age 16. After high school, she went straight into college, worked full-time in radio, TV and marketing and still graduated in four years.
At age 21, she started her post-college career, at 25 she got married to an airman and the day she turned 29, she brought home her one and only newborn baby daughter from the hospital.
“I stayed at home until she was a year old, didn’t work full-time again until she was in school, and have been with her whenever and wherever she needs me,” said Harris.
Post-divorced, Harris went back to school full-time in 2005 and graduated with honors with her Masters in Public Administration in 2008. In 2010, she returned for her doctorate in the same field and anticipates graduating in 2013.
“I work full-time, averaging 60 to 70 hours per week, take a full course load of three classes each semester, and yet still have time to do things I need to do, from chairing the library board to volunteering my editing skills to fellow students,” said Harris.
Even with all that Harris has accomplished and continues to do, she still feels as if her work versus life balance is a double-edged sword.
“I cannot sit still and do nothing,” said Harris. “If I didn’t work so much, read so much, travel so much, take so many classes, etc., my house might be a little cleaner but I would be miserable.”
Harris does not consider herself a feminist. She feels she is just a female who had a very strong father who never thought she should do anything less than what she was capable of and obviously, Harris is capable of a lot.
“Does my daughter tease me that her teenage memories of me are with my laptop? Sure,” said Harris. “But she’s proud of me and we’re both happy, full of life, and passionate about things we want to do and be.
I think anyone who can say that absolutely has it all.”
Whether you agree or disagree with Slaughter, one thing that has been equally achieved from the publication of her article is a national conversation and through an open exchange of ideas comes knowledge that feeds improvement. Slaughter says women can’t have it all, but it’s not the answer that is the true issue, it’s the question. Can women have it all? For as long as this question has been asked and will continue to be asked throughout the years, the answers will always vary, the women will always be diverse and no one response or solution will ever completely answer the question.