Why women can have it all

“You can’t have it all.”

That’s something I’ve heard over and over again. I can hear one of my best friends saying it to me, almost scoldingly, when we were in high school and I wanted to study yet another language, and swim, and travel, and change the world, and be happy.

But why not? Would my trying to “have it all” offend some of the gods out there, who would strike me down as punishment? Would me getting it all prevent others from getting at least the bare minimum?!

I hated the idea that I could not pursue all my dreams, all at once, and hold my standards very high. So I pursued my goal of getting it all in ways that made me very happy and excited — but often exhausted and ill.

When illness struck, the scolding came back. I was being punished, I thought. Maybe it is wrong to have it all, I thought to myself. Something has to go. Maybe I cannot be a professional woman, travelling for work, as well as being a breastfeeding mother at the same time. I have a partner who has always supported me when I chased my dreams. When I talk to him, I feel reassured. I feel that I am not being unreasonable. But that voice, that deeply superstitious voice of my childhood, is always somewhat present.

Things only women can do

Maybe that voice protected me a little last year, when I burnt out and had to take a break from this newsletter. Maybe I needed to be told that it was OK not to always want more. That it was OK to walk a little more slowly, at least from time to time.

But then, as I was translating this op-ed from Portuguese for online magazine Worldcrunch, the idea of having it all hit me again. Women cannot be equated to housewives, says researcher Dora Santos Silva in Mensagem de Lisboa. Her words are in reaction to a proposal by a right-wing group of a “statute” and an allowance for housewives. One of its proponents argued that women are “more likely” to be at home, since they carry out “irreplaceable activities” and “motherhood is reserved for women… There are things that only women can do.”

“History is full of examples of things that only women have been able to do,” writes Santos Silva in response. “To be able to vote, raise their voices, work, love other women, divorce or be free. But you see, it’s not these things that these men want: they want, above all, female peace and quiet.” .

Rethinking society

So, as I read, I realise I do want it all, and I want to make sure that nobody tells me what is reserved to me and what is not. We want to have children but also want to keep our other identities — as friends, as workers, as creators, as sexual beings. And yes, we welcome any legislation that can support women and create support for families of young children — but only when it is really inclusive of all types of families, and it has a real idea of support behind it.

Let’s aim for the sky. Who, in the end, will really come down to smite us? It is not about being a superwoman, but it is about being ourselves, wishing it all for ourselves and for others — with no boundaries. It is about radically rethinking what we wish for as a society. It is about wishing that a group of men can present a project to make sure that caregivers are recognised for their otherwise unpaid labour. Not because they are women and a woman’s place is at home, but because as a society we see children as public goods and we recognise that caregiving should be remunerated.

As I was writing these words, I remembered the ending of “You Can’t Have it All”, a poem by U.S. poet and translator Barbara Ras. Boryana, a friend and member of The First 1,000 Days community, sent it to me a few months ago.

There is the voice you can still summon at will, like your mother’s,
it will always whisper, you can’t have it all,
but there is this.

What I’ve been reading

This piece in The Nation by Puerto Rican journalist Coral Murphy Marcos looks at how neglected paediatric care has been in Puerto Rico, “thanks to a combination of colonial neglect, a disastrous legacy of privatization that has given health insurance companies outsize control, and a series of devastating austerity measures in recent years”. A mass exodus of doctors from the island (the number of paediatricians has dropped more than 25% over the past decade) has left families of young children with little care and very difficult choices to make.

What I’ve been listening to

This episode of The Ezra Klein Show looks at how experiments of communal living can make us think differently about how we care for each other, especially for the youngest children. In an interview with U.S. ethnographer Kristen Ghodsee, who authored the book Everyday Utopia: What 2,000 Years of Wild Experiments Can Teach Us About the Good Life, Klein asks provocative questions about monogamous relationships, and nuclear families. How can we create a society where we can fulfill our individual dreams but also have enough affection and community around us? It is an issue I think about almost every day, and this show made me question once again my current priorities living-wise.

What I’ve been watching

I watched the trailer of this Brazilian documentary by journalist Nathália Braga, who is investigating the business behind child influencers on social networks. She speaks to three families of child influencers and looks at which laws in Brazil are trying to protect children from being overexposed to publicity and exploited on social networks. Nathália Braga is crowdfunding to finish the editing of the documentary, so if you are interested in the topic, you can contribute here.

What’s been inspiring me

The United Nations (UN) passed a resolution to recognise the International Day of Play to be celebrated annually on 11 June. The right to play was recognised as a fundamental right for children — with equal status to others such as the right to live with a family, healthcare, nutrition, education, and freedom of religion — only in 1989, when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Yet, play is usually considered less important as other rights, even though it is fundamental in the development of our brains, especially in the first 1,000 days of life. This is why a coalition of organisations started a campaign to put play higher on the policy agenda. I will be writing more about this, so stay tuned!

With love and care, 

📣 The First 1,000 Days is edited by community member and friend, Shaun Lavelle.

Photo credits and alt-text: Annie Spratt on Unsplash, little girl holding a doll.

This is not a space to simply comment. This is where you take part in the community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *