Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to ban employees from working at home and comments about how having a baby was “way easier” than she thought has some working mothers and feminists up in arms. In her recent article “Get Off of Your Cloud,” New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd said Mayer’s moves look “retro and politically incorrect” and suggests that Mayer may have set an impossible standard for women – especially those who’ve “consigned ‘having it all’ to unicorn status.” In her opinion, Mayer is oblivious to the plight of lessprivileged women.
The debate has heated up, not just for the fem-blogosphere, but for conservative hacks as well. Conservative columnist and subscriber to “individualist feminism,” Sabrina Schaeffer opined in a recent Forbes article that “feminists today are pretending to fight wars that were won long ago.” Schaeffer is wrong. The fact that we’re still asking the question “can women have it all” shows that we have a long way to go as a society. The truth is no one can have it all — not even Marissa Mayer.
Albert Einstein described time a “stubbornly persistent illusion.” Illusion or not, time dictates that we prioritize. Sure, things like wealth and privilege give us a leg up in life but nothing will give us more time. This is why whenever I hear the pointed question “can women have it all,” I find myself straining to resist an eye-roll. What does “having it all” mean anyway? Can anyone have it all? Why aren’t we asking if men can have it all?
While countless articles, books, and even polls have obsessed over the gendered-question, almost no one seems concerned whether or not men can have it all. Why are we so fixated on Marissa Mayer and her challenges as a mother and privileges as a wealthy CEO? Why has no one ever asked the question, “Can Bill Gates can have it all?” Or what about Donald Trump? Surely being a real estate shark and owning one of the world’s most lucrative hotel chains places heavy burdens on fatherhood.
The problem is that we still aren’t quite comfortable with women outside of a domesticated role — fems and anti-fems alike. Even in today’s seemingly egalitarian society, successful women face public scrutiny in ways that men don’t and never have. How often do we hear female politicians cornered with questions like, “How will you balance motherhood and a political career?” And why is it especially important for female politicians to prove they’re good-parents by pulling media stunts like holding their babies on stage, talking about the challenges of children rearing and letting cameras into their homes to film their homemade family dinners?
Marissa Mayer is not the problem. From the most privileged to the poorest of us, no one escapes time. Is Yahoo’s CEO a super-privileged superwoman? Yes, and good for her. But like you and me, Mayer still has to prioritize everything in her life. It’s time we stop asking whether or not women “can have it all” and start asking “what’s important?” Both men and women have a finite amount of resources and time, how they choose to use them determines everything from family income to family closeness. The question is not one of gender roles, it’s of family values.