What is this “IT” that women should want all of?

8 Jul

The other day I tweeted that if I heard one more discussion about women having it all, there would be blood spatter. I take that back because I want to say a thing or two.

There are two quite separate issues here that are being misleadingly conflated. One is the real need for adequate affordable child care for all women, and a non-discriminatory workplace in which we are treated with respect and equality, properly paid and not penalised for creating the next generation who will keep the country going. I wholeheartedly support those aspirations.

But while some of us weren’t looking it seems that a particular strand of feminism has declared that Woman’s highest and most noble aspiration is To Have IT all. This has recently drowned out the real struggle for equality for all women, and focused the debate on a privileged few.

As far as I can ascertain, the IT holy grail involves building and maintaining a highly successful career while shaping your body to fit into designer suits and stilettos that create a complex ambience of sexy yet capable. When you’ve got a sure foothold in your profession you then take time to partner up, get pregnant, gestate, and give birth. Then you get back to work looking as untouched by these experiences as possible.

You then have it all. Career, partner, family, money. You will need the support of other women to enable your lifestyle. Child care workers, nannies, cleaners, the majority of whom are female, are paid far less than you, but that’s all right, you are creating jobs in your efforts to succeed at everything except the boring, unglamorous stuff other women will do for you.

Sustaining and promoting the patriarchal paradigm, the “be born, get everything until you die because you are entitled” ethic so beloved by hegemonic masculinity, is apparently the only way a woman can achieve real power in the Western world. While there may be the occasional inroad into better conditions for women who are caught up in the various levels on which this paradigm operates,  the paradigm itself is not subject to real interrogation and real change. This is still a world that in the West at least, is founded on the principle of entitlement to everything, just because.  That is not feminism as I understand it:

I would like to blame the patriarchy for  the IT women should suddenly want all of. It looks to me like an attempt at counter insurgency operational propaganda, using collaborating women they’ve turned as agents. If ever you wanted to set up a disruptive enemy for a catastrophic fall, this is the way to go about it. Use the media to build unrealistic expectations in the female population and persuade the target audience to introject them. Bombard with images of glamorous women who have brilliant jobs, dishy supportive husbands often with their own high-powered professional lives, and adorable children and pets. Make the audience crave this, for because who wouldn’t want a life like that? If you aren’t having it, there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t want it, there’s something even more wrong with you.


The propaganda won’t work on everybody because not all women are susceptible, but it will probably work on enough of us to redirect anger away from the system where it belongs, and onto the self where it doesn’t. Mission accomplished. Feminism co-opted in the service of capitalism. System safe. Oh yeah.

What surprises me about high achieving women who are given as examples of having IT all, is that despite all their obvious intelligence and talent, they seem universally disinclined to question the IT. This is disappointing. Imagine if they  got in there and started up a ruckus.IT? What is this IT of which you speak? Happiness? Contentment? A lifestyle, as opposed to a life? DEFINE THE IT!

Of course, that would be biting the hand that feeds them, and women who want it all know before they know anything else that if you can’t fight them you join them and once you’ve joined them, that’s IT.

In a bizarre sense, these women do achieve a kind of equality but I have to ask the question, who wants to be equal to that? I mean can’t we aspire to something better than “I want it all?”

There was a time when thinking you could have everything was a sign of immaturity. Adults accepted that choices had to be made. Only the greedy narcissist, frozen in the mindset of a two-year-old, thought they were entitled to everything and everyone else had to help them get it.

What seems important to me is that we keep the complaints of privileged women quite separate from the real issues facing the majority of us. They are not the same thing, they do not have anything like the same urgency, and besides, the “I want it all” creed is not going to work for the planet. I don’t believe feminism was ever about having it all. It was, and remains about equality, not matching excessive male privilege. Privilege, I might add, that the majority of males don’t enjoy either.

Feminism isn’t about “wanting it all.” Nobody has that right. The ideology is about creating a world in which everyone has a better chance at decent survival, not just a greedy few of either sex whose sense of entitlement is in danger of raging out of control, to everybody’s cost.

37 Responses to “What is this “IT” that women should want all of?”

  1. Elisabeth July 8, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    I just sent a copy of this post to my four daughters, all of whom know that women can’t, and don’t necessarily want all they can get. All of whom share in the struggle you describe, to get ‘adequate affordable child care for all women, and a non-discriminatory workplace in which we are treated with respect and equality, properly paid and not penalised for creating the next generation who will keep the country going.’


  2. 730reportland July 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    Wonderful post Jennifer. Finally a feminist post that is not feral and based in reality.

    “equality, not matching excessive male privilege. Privilege, I might add, that the majority of males don’t enjoy either.“

    The embedded media don`t report like this, and they should, but are only interested in what they consider `sexy`. Bullshit like slut-walk or the `nearly-as-greedy` as the men, Westpac CEO, who would have used plenty of her `sisters` skulls to smash though the `glass-ceiling`.


  3. Ray July 8, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

    This issue should really be framed in terms of what it takes to raise children. In which case the question arises: how do couples, gay or otherwise, work and raise kids? It seems that in most cases, one of the two, including in gay marriage, takes on more of the domestic and child care responsibilities and the other becomes the main breadwinner. I know of several examples of where men have become the ‘house husband’ and the wife is the primary breadwinner.

    We might reframe this as ‘couples can’t have it all’ – that is, both having full careers and both raising kids.


    • Elisabeth July 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

      I’m with Jennifer, however we phrase it, Ray, ‘no one can have it all’, at least not without dire consequences both to themselves and others.


  4. helvityni July 8, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

    I sometimes wonder why those English upper class Ladies sent their little ones to boarding schools, was it because they wanted to break glass ceilings or was it just for a LIfe Style.

    I also wonder why a so-called class-less society like Australia adopted this custom, and still now send their kids away….


    • Julia July 8, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

      glass ceilings are why a girl’s best friend is a diamond…
      …glass cutting saw…
      on some moon & star lit nights…I wish the ceiling was glass so we could lie in bed and count stars as we fall asleep

      at business college we were warned about the casting couches in city offices…


  5. windupmyskirt July 8, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Great post. I wholeheartedly agree. I prefer to define my own IT, propaganda be damned.


  6. gerard oosterman July 8, 2012 at 4:07 pm #

    In our time toddlers and babies were looked after a community of mainly women friends but sometimes included fathers as well. They formed play groups and this gave many the opportunity to make friends and work part time or study. After the toddler days there came the kindergarten for low cost child care till primary schools.
    There was also baby sitting clubs giving couples time to go out without having to worry about paid babysitting by strangers.
    This was all happening in the late sixties and early seventies.

    Now, a very expensive set- up has been created whereby babies and toddler get driven by huge black growling Diesel S.U.V’s to child care facilities. The mothers are pale with tensions and constipated by Chemist’s Patterson’s Calmnervepanemdols. It is no wonder that the babies refuse to fit in with all this frenetic driving to and fro. They now start earlier and earlier, protesting and arching their backs, bold their fists defiantly and refuse to get strapped into the baby carriage or strollers. They take a stand.

    At what cost breaking into a career? What is the meaning of a career? Will it include daffodils on the table or an afternoon with friends seeing L’Havre?

    Of course, those playgroups and babysitting clubs in the sixties happened in the inner west. I don’t know how all this padded out elsewhere. It is all so difficult now. Those huge houses and all those appliances, TV’s in many rooms. Stand-by lights flickering during the night, Foxtel and Tbox, an occasional warning bleep when a battery somewhere in some room runs short. The smoke detector going off when the pizza gets burnt. The Ipod is missing and what happened to the Tom Tom?
    But, there is still hope.


    • Julia July 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm #

      my playgroups were me, my brothers and the neighbours’kids…a FOX was what we flew on down at the creek…
      …smoke detectors change the whole way people cook…and the neighbours always know when we burn the toast.


  7. gerard oosterman July 8, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Back in the late sixties:
    As many of the couples became friends and started to socialize it was inevitable that someone thought up the idea of setting up a baby-sitting club. This would then allow parents to sometimes go out and know that their baby or young child was well looked after and at no cost. For every hour a baby was looked after, mainly during evenings, the parents of the baby would be charged a minus point and the baby sitter would get a plus point. To get rid of the minus points it was expected for parents to baby sit in return. There was a limit in racking up minus points and anyone exploiting the system would receive a notice that baby-sitting was expected, or else the baby- sitting for the offending couple would cease. The system worked perfectly, and by and large the point system remained fairly balanced. After all, who wanted to be known for being a perpetual ‘minus point couple’? There was one hiatus, males doing baby-sitting. The last bastion in the late sixties for males to break down was the right to baby-sit. Women were in the throng of burning bras and going girdle less, stockings with seams were passé and Germaine Greer had announced ‘Bras are a ludicrous invention’. So, while women burned bras because they were seen as accoutrements of torture, men burned their draft cards avoiding real torture and felt liberated until they tried to baby-sit in Inner West of Sydney.


  8. hudsongodfrey July 8, 2012 at 5:49 pm #

    If it’s any consolation we men don’t know what IT is either. 🙂


  9. paul walter July 8, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

    Seems to me the thread starter is to do about the role of narcissism in social/cultural dysfunction, with two examples, the Janet Albrechtsen control freak model and its spiritual relative, the Pat Robertson rape-oriented institutional idiocy, binned.
    I suppose the Pat Robertson thing is about history. It’s about the rise of patriarchy from its origins in the Baboon and Chimpanzee troupes and its interaction with capitalism, terms of production, as authoritarianism transcribed across culture as history has evolved the current set of socio-economic conditions under which we all live, both within the dream world of the West and the globe in general, with its billions of excluded “others”.
    If it’s a runaway train, I suppose the best folk can do is aim for survival both as individuals and in the defence of the basic group, I can’t see that we can expect that much more of humans than other primates, at this stage in human and cultural evolution.
    I presume human intelligence is developed to the extent that we are beyond just primate behaviour. We view things in the abstract, have conferences on global warming and global poverty and what could be normative, yet so many different people are on so many journeys at different stages of consciousness and variations of experience, that the goals get conflicted and the Tower of Babel collapses again. what seems to be lacking is “good orderly direction”, a sense of shared purpose sublimating self absorption, altruism versus self interest.
    So, as someone having reached middle age and happy to escape to some quieter corner, away from the perpetually maddening crowd, I’d say we know too little about our own real natures, eg our socialisation; conditioning toward postponement of gratification and the reality of the final signification as leading only to a new proposition, for example. So, there good bits,in life, usually when you think that only the worst can happen, as there is the taste of defeat from a position of seeming victory and gratification..
    As you grow, you learn to use your nous, as Socrates said- you make your way about the cognitive jungle, but part of that is in accepting that the human is defined by in and through limit; no one will win all of the time, altho there is a first time for everything.
    So, of course girls should be encouraged to understand that there are good things in life for them that they should feel entitled to seek out and experience, but as Dr Wilson more or less said, if you teach kids entitlement dislocated from the effort of social cooperation and personal leg and brainwork, as happens with sections of the middle classes this can only be a recipe for future conflict and is a comment of the ethnological nature of humans and societies as operative, that is part of a soup that also includes the normative and altruistic.
    I dont know what the solution to this would be, but hope am not so soured that I wouldnt continue to advocate for better fairer treatment for all, if only to stop things getting worse.


    • gerard oosterman July 8, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      Yes Paul, and what about when the train is steaming towards Rookwood? The realisation that you might have tipped the scales towards having done a bit more good than bad would be helpful. The last thing though, is for others to heap more coal into the fire furnace making the run away train train even go faster. In fact, if in retrospection a reshuffling of things are to be given another chance, a derailment at this stage might be very handy.
      It is never too late.


      • paul walter July 8, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

        Thanks Gerard.
        We can only ponder the source of a prospective derailment, but Rookwood is looking closer every second.. the metaphor is true on a couple of levels.
        Loved your earlier post, the world changes but only slowly and its not always easy to pick up these changes. Like you, as time passes I also to tend to look back and think that the world was a lot less bullshitty back then in many ways.
        You don’t understand these thing when younger because you haven’t the perspective. I remember my Nana scolding us for the sins of modernity, including long hair and cars- back in her time they made their own fun, out yabbying or ’round nothing more than a pianola.
        Do you ever get to see Rowson’s cartoons at the Guardian newspaper?
        They are beautiful representations of the people jamming more coal into the furnace: bankers, politicians, Koch brothers/ Murdoch types, behind the walls of whatever modern version of a fortress they live in cognitively and actually apart from the rest of us.


  10. hudsongodfrey July 8, 2012 at 7:39 pm #

    On reflection anyone who wants IT all as a matter of entitlement does themselves and whatever sector of society they identify with the huge disservice of undermining the hard work done by those of their ilk who’ve tried to attain their own version of IT on their merits.

    That seems foolish to me. Perhaps not as foolish as believing anything an oxygen thief like Pat Robertson had to say, but still pretty darned foolhardy. Maybe we’ve just got a problem here with fools taking one another’s self obsessed rhetoric to heart.

    On a brighter note I loved that the article for exposing the “wanting IT all” fallacy even though I’m slightly taken aback at the idea that this level of foolishness affects people. To me saying that things like the “bullshit patriarchy” and an unfounded sense of entitlement only exist if you buy into whatever brand of foolishness is peddling them is stating the blatantly obvious when the merely obvious should suffice.

    The real crux of the matter as I see it is how to stop people from being so foolish as to buy into this stuff. That and attacking a form of unmitigated selfishness that I suspect has a bit to do with it.


  11. gerard oosterman July 8, 2012 at 10:18 pm #

    As it was in the sixties:

    As it was I turned up one evening and with the household all dressed to go and dine somewhere or see Zorba the Greek, I noticed a distinct cooling towards me. They made a discreet phone call and decided it would be safe for a man to be allowed to baby sit, just this time. ? Of course, many of the parents that knew each other through social events knew each other as couples or, in the case of play groups, were mainly always women. For a man to be on its own, solo, and at baby-sitting in the evening was not that far advanced in acceptance yet. There was a meeting and the majority approved ‘male baby-sitting’. I don’t know what the objections or criteria were for being suspicious of males doing baby-sitting. Curiously enough, the mother that was surprised and taken aback somewhat when I presented myself to baby-sit, thought nothing of taking her clothes off for a life drawing session. Were males going to do evil things or was the reluctance because of lack of skills? It was not that much of a challenge though and much depended on what sort of facilities the parents had provided. Real coffee instead of the instant variety was preferred. Sometimes, there was a good book or a television program. Sometimes, especially if it was after midnight (double points) you would just go to sleep on a couch if available. Never in their marital bed of course!

    Most times babies would either sleep or cry. If they cried you generally gave them the option of a milk bottle or a dummy. With some families there were directions on procedures, and I remember one cot having a type of fly screen lid fitted on top. It was hinged and had a locking device which was difficult to open; it had a trick to it. I ended phoning the secretary. Did they think their baby was going to get stolen? I only had one time that my baby soothing skills were inadequate. Mind you, the babies (twins) were known as ‘the horrible twins’. Apparently, they would scream and could not be bend in order to change their nappies. It was my turn to baby-sit for these twins and as soon as I walked near them they broke out in a howl and in tandem. The nappy stench made clear I had to change them, but even another step towards their cot resulted in a renewal of their blaring sirens. It would only abate when stepping back. I kept stepping back and phoned the secretary again, she came around and changed the nappies. By 1972 most males had broken the barrier and were fully accepted for babysitting.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 9, 2012 at 7:01 am #

      Gerard, I love your anecdotes. This on is marvellous. Aheah of your time, you were, sir, Ahead of your time.


  12. Gail Wilkie July 9, 2012 at 8:21 am #

    After a lot of thought about the whole Can Women Really Have “It” All? Debate I have come to a few conclusions. When middle-class career driven women discuss this issue I think the IT they are referring to is Power and Influence. It’s has to be. They are not discussing the woman in the suburbs who thinks she has it all because she has made it to the role of ‘Team Leader’ at Coles with a full time roster and a pay rise, and she has a couple of kids and a hubby has a good job and if they are careful they’ll be able to pay off the mortgage early and even, if they’re really careful maybe take the family on a holiday to Bali or Thailand. No that sort of woman doesn’t interest these power suited women who are chosen to sit on forums or be interviewed on radio. They’d be given a polite but condescending ‘good on you’ but it’s not the sort of IT these women are talking about.
    You are right Jennifer, the IT really needs to be defined and the question should be restructured. Maybe: Can women like us have what we think they should have? I also think the true aim of feminism has been forgotten. It is to give women equality and value. To make them feel valued by everyone, regardless of their choices and their drive and what their own personal ‘IT’ is. A good start would be equal pay, equal respect, equal sense of self-worth, from everyone, not just blokes, but women too.
    So when we hear or read about these discussions women are really saying, can we have what those few select men do? Can we have power and influence and feel important? It seems to me that they are still arguing for a goal framed by the good ole patriarchal hierarchy. Aren’t we smart enough to do it our own way?
    And why not mention all those women who are relied on to make these career driven women’s lives do-able, from the women who clean their houses and mind their children and wipe their mothers crap or dribble in the old person’s home. Or even their drycleaner? Where would those women be without someone to dry clean their power suits? Would they consider the woman who had made a career out of her little, local dry cleaning business to be someone who has IT all? I doubt it; blue collar jobs aren’t as sexy and nowhere near as influential as white collar jobs.
    I think the discussion that needs to be had is ‘Do Women Feel Equal and Valued?’ and if they don’t what can we do about. All of us. Together. And what is important to us, as individuals, as a community and as a society?


    • helvityni July 9, 2012 at 9:04 am #

      If those women in suburbs feel unhappy and un-equal, no one prevents them joining the feminist battles…
      Hubbies might even be happy to ge theit women to do something else besides cleaning and weeding…


      • helvityni July 9, 2012 at 9:05 am #

        …to get their women


    • jo wiseman July 9, 2012 at 9:12 am #

      Being glamorous with a brilliant job, dishy supportive wife, and adorable children and pets sounds OK to me. What’s not to like?
      Oh … you said husband, not wife? Yes, yes, not smart at all to want a life like that if you’re female.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 9, 2012 at 10:37 am #

      I think I agree with pretty much all your points, Gail. We are asking the wrong questions and we are still framing the questions in paradigms that need serious deconstruction.

      What is important to me is that rewards and comfort are not the property of an elite minority, supported by the hard, barely rewarded slog of others. What worries me is the gap seems to be widening.


    • paul walter July 10, 2012 at 12:23 pm #

      How did I miss Gail Wilkie’s post first time? It really is a fertile post.


  13. gerard oosterman July 9, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    I don’t know about all that power that men have. Around my area it has become eerily quiet. This is mainly due to those leaf blowers finally being put to rest, packed up and stored back in the sheds. The last of the hated leaves having been blown to smithereens or sucked into those large black bags and emptied into the yellow lidded bins.
    A lot of those very large bazooka like leaf blowers were manned by strong women. It was awesome to see how they would roam through Bowral environs with the leather straps holding the manacing blowers between equally sturdy backs and heaving bosoms. The yellow crested white cockatoos were all up in arms as well, nervously roosting in trees, well away from those noisy machines. A Jack Russell was skulking underneath a Hebe bush.
    I would not be surprised if many a man would not be somewhat envious of a more domestic life. Too much is made of being in ‘power’ or that those high positions are somehow to be emulated by women who would then feel ‘equal’. Equality involves a lot more than cracking glass ceilings or running a multi national company. Is it not also a state of mind? Is equality also not a matter of ‘feeling’ or ‘being’ equal.
    We know a couple; the husband with a very good position, powerful and big bikkies. Last time we were there, I noticed a book on 17th century Latvian ceramics on the table. That is his passion. And while the wife was going around with the leaf blower he was perched high on a ladder cleaning out the gutters and roof valleys.
    A perfect picture of domestic equality.


  14. balanda July 9, 2012 at 9:55 am #

    You kind of make it sound like the only reason some women don’t want a husband is because they’re just not “susceptible”. I didn’t think sexual orientation was particularly related to susceptibility. A small point but it jumped out at me very glaringly.

    Also, please, please, please, can we mention men in this conversation? There is this silence around the lack of equal contribution to childcare in heterosexual relationships. Maybe women could have so much more if their male partners would be prepared to have a bit less.

    Criticisms aside, fab article.


    • Jennifer Wilson July 9, 2012 at 10:31 am #

      I did? I thought I said some women are not susceptible to the propaganda that urges us to “have it all”
      The “have it all” thing does seem to me to be presented as a gendered concept.

      There seems to be an ongoing conversation on many blogs about heterosexuals and child care arrangements. I agree it’s a HUGE point of contention. I don’t especially want to enter into the fray, so many others are doing it so well, frequently from a position of authority much greater than mine! I should link. That’s the best idea.

      Thank you!


      • paul walter July 9, 2012 at 11:45 am #

        Now, that is a VERY astute remark from Jennifer, a thought- provoking reversal that gets to the core of the immanent landscape through which and by which a tendency that maintains a status quo is identified, selected and channelled even against the conscious interests of its subscribers.


    • hudsongodfrey July 9, 2012 at 10:32 am #

      I recommend Gerard’s contributions to you 🙂


  15. Sam Jandwich July 9, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    Just because I like personal examples to illustrate these matters, I thought the example of my mother might be relevant here.

    As one of the original baby-boomers she grew up in an era where women were expected to get any sort of job straight out of high school, so they could contribute to their family’s finances while scouring their social circles for a suitable husband. My mother was a bright and interested student, but since women weren’t supposed to go to uni she learnt typing and shorthand instead, and at age 17 got a job as a typist in some state government office or other, inevitably married the bass player in the local covers band, and went on to spend her 20s in hibernation – since in those days it was more or less compulsory for women to quit work as soon as they got married. This all changed in the late 60s however, when along with a lot of women of her generation she decided there was more to life, got back into the workforce and started going to uni after hours, left her deadshit husband, met my dad at a conference, and then spent the next 30 years on the treadmill of steadily gaining qualifications, wealth, children, cats, and all the trappings of suburban life in the latter stages of the 20th century, eventually rising to a relatively senior position in her organisation, before the fruits of hers and my father’s labours, and the leaving home of her progeny, allowed her to retire in her late 50s and spend the next few years travelling and working in developing countries, earning very little money but doing something she feels is worthwhile.

    These days she says to me that she almost feels like the time she spent on the career treadmill were “wasted years”, and now encourages me (and anyone else who will listen) to just follow my heart, because in this extraordinarily wealthy society in which we live it is eminently possible to do what you love and make a living from it.

    All you have to do then is figure out what it is you love – and that’s your “IT”.

    Maybe like all baby boomers my mum shoulda listened more to John Lennon (As soon as you’re born they make you feel small, by giving you no time instead of it all), than to Paul McCartney (live and let die)!


  16. SydneyMum July 9, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    Thank you so much for writing this article. Recent articles in various newspapers have been immensely frustrating, as the context they set doesn’t match my circumstances or desires, despite the fact I am ‘primary breadwinner’.

    Would love to also see someone vanquish the term ‘primary parent’.

    It’s so heartening to see someone define equality as wanting a better chance at decent survival. Let’s focus this back on those that don’t have a choice, rather than implying that everyone has a viable choice.



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