Sheryl Sandberg, CEO of Facebook, career It-Girl and author of the newly released book “Lean In,” has been popping up in glossies nationwide over the past month. The successful career woman and working mother is quickly becoming the face of the modern do-it-all female role model, controlling board rooms by day and feeding her family at night.
The concept isn’t strange or new, but every year there is a woman who makes the idea fresh and rephrases the question for the modern woman: Can we have it all?
Or must we choose?
Young women like Catherine Hatfield, a third-year writing major, question and ultimately disagree with the long-lived assumption that women have to choose between having a family, or having a successful career.
“By even making the assumption that we would have to choose between a career or a family, or waiting until we wanted to be at a certain place in our career before starting a family, gives the impression that we can’t have a personal life with a career. You will need to take time off for a family, that is unavoidable, but having a career just doesn’t end when you have a child. In most cases, like with my mother and many of my aunts, their perspectives changed so drastically after having a child they were able to view things in ways that no one else at [their] office could.”
Hatfield states that the question is not whether you will have a career or family, but how you will handle a career when you have a family. Women who are already balancing their lives, career intact, tend to agree.
“You can have them both,” says Nikki Kunkle-Dill, an elementary school teacher. “Although I don’t have children, I have a career and a part-time career with dance and performances with my team, and have horses and dogs at home. Many friends I teach with have careers and multiple children.”
For Sandberg the answer is similar. Of course we can have it all. By sharing her tips on how to speak properly in business settings, what to wear to work and how to confidently climb the ladder in any male-dominated field, Sandberg lays her cards on the table and asks young women to pick them up and run.
Sure, the information is inspiring, but is it really as easy as choosing the right neutral shift and pumps and insisting that your partner treat you as an equal?
My mother is a master’s educated mental health specialist who spent 15 years working her ass off in the public school system while raising three children and running a farm. In my eyes, she is the most reliable and competent woman I know. How is it though, that a woman who has been a champion for so many causes, who has barreled through so many obstacles, still struggles to keep it all together?
She chalks it up to choosing the wrong partners in the past, to failed marriages and the excess baggage that accrues when things fall apart.
Sandberg believes that my mother’s issue is not atypical. For generations women have been raised to choose between having a career and having a family, and those women who weren’t raised to expect the very best are not going to get it. It’s a cycle that has yet to be broken, because those women who are housewives teach their daughters to expect the same, and those women who choose careers are taught that men are the devil incarnate and want nothing more than to keep them down.
Nearing my twenty-fifth year, I have been weighing my options more often than ever. Being raised by a strong woman who has succeeded in both her career and the rearing of other human beings, I wonder if I too am capable of that kind of success, or if my own psychology will stand in my way.
I’ve considered what my professors have said, “New York, L.A., DC, you could go anywhere!” But I’ve also considered what I wanted, which was to be a very average person with a very average life. The prospect doesn’t bowl people over and often leaves them urging me to not sell myself short.
But that ushers in another difficult question: Is choosing not to take over a board room, being a boss bitch in an awesome office, now considered “selling yourself short”?
From what I can see in my magazine subscriptions, from Cosmopolitan to The Ladies Home Journal, the answer I’m getting is yes.
There are real women though, who tend to disagree.
“I don’t think that having children and not having a career is selling yourself short,” says Elizabeth White Morgan, a student at Pensacola State College and newlywed. “I feel there are many women out there that don’t have the opportunity financially to stay home and be a full-time mother – a ‘career’ all on its own.”
However, many women are taking the moderate route when thinking about balancing the two.
“I think women should try to wait until they are where they want to be with their career before they consider having children. That way they have no regrets,” says Autumn Smith, a graduate from the University of Central Florida who is currently working as an insurance agent. “Then I think there should be a balance between their work and family – make it possible to do both. Do what makes you happy whether it’s a stay at home mom, career woman or balance between the two.”
And those who do choose to balance both appear to be very happy with the choice they have made.
“I handle them both just fine, and started my family before my career was established,” says Kayla Jette, a graduate of the University of Central Florida’s Nursing School and current registered nurse at Florida Hospital Memorial Medical Center, who has made her love of motherhood into her career. Jette even takes the time to share her knowledge with new mothers on her blog, The Womb Service.
To me, what seems more accurate is that women don’t sell themselves short unless they stop listening to what they want, and start listening to what others want for them. From the advice of top CEO’s in women’s magazines, to the wants of mothers and grandmothers; neither should be as important as what you want for yourself, regardless of how average or extravagant it may be.
So can we have it all? We can if what “it all” is, is up to you.
“Modern Woes of Modern Women” is a weekly column striving to answer the questions of young women in today’s society. To pose a question for next week’s column, please email Shannon Craig at firstname.lastname@example.org.