No one can have it all. Not Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi, not the mid-level manager who just missed his daughter’s first school play, not the avid backpacker who’s stuck behind a desk, pushing papers for a living.
To make this an issue of gender is to replace ancient restrictive stereotypes with slightly newer ones. And to be quite, quite disingenuous. Because in most cases, it’s not about having it all. All too often, for the working woman, it’s about doing it all.
That’s what this new-age question should really ask. Can women — whether rich and powerful like Nooyi or middle-class and anonymous like the rest of us — do it all?
If we said it right, we might even arrive at the right answer.
Why can’t women do it all? Because they shouldn’t.
I can’t say, obviously, what Nooyi should have done when she arrived home and her news of the day — news that would make headlines around the world — was eclipsed by the fact that no one had bought milk for the family. I can only say what I would do. What I hope my sisters and my daughters would do.
Start early. Lay boundaries. Put yourself first, at least occasionally (because, apparently, the world would stop turning and the species would end if women started to put themselves first too often).
Rather than trying to juggle it all — that’s another phrase that could replace ‘having it all’ — encourage those around you to reorder their priorities too. After all, children, family, the continuation of the species — these are not just women’s goals. Presumably they are the goals of the species.
So let’s stop assuming all the burden. Let’s delegate and then let everyone do their job.
Yes, job. It is hard work. Labour. A labour of love, much of the time — raising a family, running a house — but labour nonetheless.
Let’s stop pretending that it is its own reward. If it were its own reward, women would have been having it all for centuries. The homemaker’s would be the lifestyle to aspire to. It isn’t. It is lonely, hard, often thankless work that must be done and so the person most willing to do it ends up doing it.
Scratch that. The person most unwilling to see it left undone.
We don’t scrub dishes, change nappies and unclog drains because these are the tasks of our dreams. We do it because, like Nooyi, too many of us can’t bear the thought of the family going without milk. So it has fallen to us to provide — time, labour, mindspace.
But we cannot do it all. Because we shouldn’t.