Society loves selling the idea of the ‘perfect and very generously gives the tag that modern women have it all who balance personal life, work, and health at the same time. You will find her all over motivational billboards: a woman with a smiling face, dressed in a sophisticated suit, looking completely content with herself.
Often, she will have her proud family around her — a partner and a child — emphasizing the fact that she is a champion at home, too. There will be inspirational quotes all around her, encouraging bystanders to hope and work hard to be like her. But is that really possible?
Of course, a woman can have a healthy personal and professional life. It isn’t wrong to try and motivate people through such messages either. It does work in the case of some. However, the true harm occurs when such messages create a universal concept of success for women, without acknowledging all the little nuances of individual identities. They can make you feel ‘less’, for either not having the same ‘ambition’ or the same kind of ‘success’.
Society has indeed progressed a lot in terms of women’s rights. There are many more resources and opportunities accessible to them as compared to before. However, does this mean that women have it easier now?
Does it mean that all troubles have now been erased and a woman can achieve the perfect life if she only puts her mind to it? More importantly, do all women have the same access to this life? Today, let us dive deep into this modern myth and find an answer to this much-discussed question: can women have it all?
First of all, we must question what we call ‘easy’. We are certainly not living in prehistoric times (even though the gender roles back might have been much more diverse than today’s). There has been a lot of development in the various sectors of life and identity rights are talked about much openly.
Feminism is given a much bigger space now. There is a lot more awareness about the different oppression and discrimination that marginalized genders go through. A lot more doors are open for non-cis-male genders in schools and workplaces. Women’s representation in particular has been focused on within many organizations.
However, all this doesn’t mean that women have it easy now. The erasure of certain past oppressive practices in certain spaces doesn’t negate present discrimination. Society is still deeply patriarchal. Sure, child marriage, wage gaps, female infanticide, etc. may be openly condemned now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t happen at all.
Even apart from such violent practices, there is still a lot of other oppression — lack of abortion rights, lack of information about women’s healthcare, not enough representation in academics, etc. Most importantly, external condemnation doesn’t erase the internal prejudice that we inherit from generation to generation.
This internal prejudice often leads to women erasing their own experiences. When society is so persuasive about all these new possibilities of women, their daily encounters with misogyny are dismissed in the process. They feel pressured to be ‘perfect’ in all realms of life. We don’t realize that these are also societally enforced expectations.
Also, within these expectations, society usually has an upper or middle-class cishet woman in mind. It doesn’t acknowledge the intersectionality within feminism, the intertwining's of caste, religion, sexuality, class, etc. with gender. It also erases women’s own desires in their life. It creates a faceless idea of success without considering how this fits into diverse individual lives. Hence, it is unfair to state that women have it easier without acknowledging these nuances.
So, can a woman in current society give equal time and attention to personal, professional, and self-care realms? Is it really possible to ‘excel’ in everything without any compromise or mistakes? Is this really the ideal happiness for all women with multiple experiences?
Here is why assuming that women have it all can be harmful:
Of course, a woman can manage work and personal relationships well. However, there will always be a need to give up some things. For example, if you want to focus extra on a work-related project, you might have to give up little elements of your personal life. Maybe this will mean fewer outings or stay-at-home weekend plans because you are too exhausted to do anything else.
Women shouldn’t have to stretch themselves thin to give equal time to everything. If they do that, when will they give time for themselves? In some phases of your life, the balance might come easy. Other times, it might come with constant juggling and changing plans. This doesn’t mean you aren’t doing well. It only means that you are human and sometimes choosing one thing means giving up another.
In a capitalistic system, a human’s worth is often measured in terms of their productivity. Furthermore, patriarchy also intersects with this capitalism which creates expectations for women to make the most of every good chance that comes their way. For example, if you have the chance to go abroad for a good job, but choose to forego it because you want to stay close to your loved ones, it is often called ‘missing out’. But why is it missing out if you are content with your decision? Why is it necessary to give full energy to every opportunity?
This also shrinks the space for health and self-care. Women should be allowed to rest without having to suffer for it. It is okay if they want to take gap years, or cancel a few meetings to look after themselves. It doesn’t mean they aren’t working hard. It only means that they prioritize their own wellbeing first and foremost.
The major issue with this ‘perfect woman’ myth is that it gives no room for intersectionality. Within the identity of women, there are a billion nuanced experiences. Access to resources is very much governed by privilege, such as race, caste, class sexuality, religion, etc. If we consider the workplace, then are trans women given the same safety and opportunities as ciswomen? Do they navigate the same experiences or do they have their own nuanced discomforts that we must acknowledge?
If we consider personal life, then does a queer woman have the same freedom as a cis-heterosexual woman? Does she have the same space for love and family? Is she able to enjoy all the elements of personal relationships with no discrimination? It is unfair to assume that resources are equally accessible to all women. There is still so much rampant casteism, homophobia, islamophobia, etc. that threaten the basic security of women. It is time to acknowledge all this in our idea of a woman.
The world is not a safe place for women even today. There is still workplace discrimination and sexual harassment, gender-based crimes, lack of health-related rights such as menstruation and abortion rights, housework gap, etc. All these affect women’s experiences in the professional and personal realm. Their performance at the office and their comfort at home are compromised due to these circumstances.
When we say that women have it all, we assume that a woman is walking into a safe office and coming back to a safe home. We don’t acknowledge the various abusive and harmful practices that still happen in these settings daily.
How can a woman be expected to balance all things perfectly when she also has to battle misogyny at the same time? Confronting gender prejudice is an exhausting process, both mentally and physically. Add in other intersecting prejudices and things get even more complicated. We mustn’t dismiss that.
Some women want to focus completely on their careers. Some women don’t want romantic relationships. Some women want to focus completely on their personal lives. And some women might have different priorities in different realms of life.
Self-fulfillment is diverse. There are different ways of being content with yourself. It is always okay to do what makes you happy. Some things might be for you while others might not interest you at all. You don’t owe society any explanation. The perfect balance is the one you have within yourself. Thus, a single statement declaring that women have it all does not convey the true depth of identity.
We still live inside a patriarchal society. This means that the administrative, economic, socio-political, and personal realms still cater to upper-class, upper-caste cishet men. Men who do not fall into this category — such as men within the LGBTQ+ community — don’t enjoy all the privileges of hegemonic masculine identity but are still complicit beneficiaries. Hence, a woman’ in this world is affected by all the little discriminations interwoven with the systems around us.
However, we can’t say that all men have it easier than all women. This is where intersectionality comes in. For example, an upper-caste woman will still have caste privilege over a man from a marginalized caste. Her gender will not erase that oppression. Thus, we cannot deny the gender privilege that men have over women, but we also have to consider all little aspects of identity in singular cases.
It is important to recognize that being a woman is a unique experience for each. It consists of everyone who identifies with the term ‘woman’ in any capacity. This also means that everyone’s self-care needs are different. It is important to make different resources available for nuanced self-care needs. It is important to remember that self-care is not a weakness but the basic right of every person that must be accessed without any shame.
The most important discussion is not about if women have it all. Rather, it is about whether or not women know that it is okay to not have it all. It is okay to give up on things, choose one thing over another, make mistakes, be confused, and stumble through this extraordinary miracle called life. It is okay to just be you. That is all the reason you need to take care of yourself with your head held high.
Also Read: Myths About Working Women