“Having it all” has always been one of those sayings that has followed women around since they pretty much joined the workforce. Some view it as a great goal, others think it is absolutely unattainable (hello Anne-Marie Slaughter), and some just think it is total BS.
According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll taken in April, 66 percent of women say it’s impossible for women to “have it all,” meaning both a successful professional life and family life. This number was down 11 percent from 1997 and, interestingly enough, there seems to be a divide on this when it comes to age. Among those 65 years old and over, 76 percent said they agree that a woman can “have it all,” the survey authors told The Huffington Post. Only 66 percent of those between 18 and 34 years old agreed.
Now, most of us are not titans of industry (yet!), legendary feminists, or famous actresses/entrepreneurs, but I think it is interesting to get their opinions on this famous saying. Yes, they may be rich and seem to have figured it out (this is pretty much why Marissa Mayer got a beatdown when she went back to work after the world’s shortest maternity leave), but I find their opinions to be very valuable and honest. Tina Fey said she even considered making her wonderful book Bossypants all about this (though it really was, in some ways). “I thought for a minute about calling the book Having It All: Love, Work, Jaw Pain,” she told InStyle recently. Here are some other famous women on the “Having it all” struggle.
Gloria Steinem, Feminist, writer, pacifist
Steinem, the mother of modern feminism, says one of the biggest problems for women today is that there is still this impossible standard that women are expected to live up to, to “have it all.” In March at a talk at the 92Y she said:
“It’s impossible for women to have it all, if they have to do it all. It is ridiculous! We tried to kill [that saying] off for years. It blames the person instead of the structure.”
Sarah Jessica Parker, Actress, producer, designer, mother of three
Back in 2011 when SJP was promoting her film, I Don’t Know How She Does It, which was all about a woman in a high-powered finance job being torn between what she thought was being a great mom and also a great employee, she spoke about the “having it all” struggle a lot. She said in an interview:
“The question is not only how you do it, but why? If you don’t have to juggle career, children, and husband for financial reasons, why choose to? The beauty of the times we live in is that we do have choices. For me, it has been hard to say no. I wanted a family and I was a career person. I tried to marry those two things; sometimes it’s successful and sometimes it’s not.”
Bethenny Frankel, Entrepreneur, Talk Show host, mother of one
In her book, A Place of Yes: 10 Rules for Getting Everything You Want Out of Life, Frankel wrote:
“No matter where you are right now, no matter far along you are on your own path, don’t wait to ‘have it all’ to celebrate. You’re never going to figure it all out. Make being happy your business, all along the way. Life can’t be one long, tough haul, with a little party at the end. What good is that? Life should be punctuated with celebrations and you have to build them into your time because being happy isn’t easy.”
Michelle Obama, First Lady, mother of two
The amazing Michelle Obama told Essence Magazine:
“I think that in order to be successful, women have to figure out what they’re passionate about first. No matter what you aspire to, you’ve got to love what you do in order to be successful at it. I also encourage young women to set high goals for themselves and be confident in their ability to achieve them. There were people who told me Princeton was out of reach and that going to Harvard Law would be too hard. I’m so glad I never listened to them—and it helped me learn to trust in myself above all else.
“The truth is, women can do anything they want. There is absolutely no limit on what we can achieve, and I hope that every young woman approaches life that way. We can become even more successful if we support each other, empower each other, and mentor the next generation so they can stand on our shoulders.”
Nora Ephron, Journalist, author, screenwriter, director, mother of two
Though she has been gone for almost a year, Ephron’s words on women still resonate very strongly with us today. From a 1996 speech:
“Maybe young women don’t wonder whether they can have it all any longer, but in case any of you are wondering, of course you can have it all. What are you going to do? Everything, is my guess. It will be a little messy, but embrace the mess. It will be complicated, but rejoice in the complications. It will not be anything like what you think it will be like, but surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”
Drew Barrymore, Actress, Director, Producer, Winemaker, mother of one
Barrymore, who just gave birth to her first daughter last September, said, when asked if she believes women can have it all at Lucky‘s Fashion and Beauty Blog Conference Thursday in Los Angeles:
“I can’t and I don’t. It sucks when you’ve worked really hard for certain things and you have to give them up because you know that you’re going to miss out on your child’s upbringing, or you realize that your relationship has suffered. I can’t direct right now because I would miss out on my daughter. It was heartbreaking to let it go, but it was a clear choice.”
Hillary Clinton, Former First Lady, Secretary of State, mother of one
“I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices… Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself… Do something!”
Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, Synchronized swimmer, mother of two
In an interview with American television network NBC, Lagarde said:
“I think you cannot have it at the same time. I think you can in a way have it all as long as you can afford to be patient. But you cannot have it all at the same time. You must accept there will be failures.”
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, Author of Lean In, mother of two
Sandberg also believes the whole idea of “having it all” is dangerous for women. She told Oprah:
“Having it all is the worst. No matter how much we all have and how grateful we are for what we have, no one has it all, because we all make tradeoffs every single day, every single minute.”
Gwyneth Paltrow, Actress, Author, Singer, Yogi, Mother of two
Gwyneth said in an interview recently:
“You can’t have it all. I don’t care what it looks like…. I look for an interesting supporting part about once a year. That’s the most I can manage. Some women can do it and that’s fantastic, but I can’t.”
Do you think it’s possible to have it all? Tell us in the comments!
Ask Jane Gotts, International Director at the Scottish Council for Development and Industry, if she thinks its possible to have it all!