For those of you waiting to hear more about G’s story, women and choice, or even cartoon voices, I apologize. For the time being, at least, my energies are focused on the non-fiction book I am writing (agents and publishers, feel free to contact me!). This book will feature a bit of history, a touch of analysis, and a lot of true stories of real women finding success in their search to “have it all.” I hope you’ll come with me on my own personal journey to have it all as I wade through the process of writing and publishing my first book.
Please allow me to introduce you to:
Together We Rise: True Stories of Real Women Using Social Media to Have It All.
August 29, 2008: Senator John McCain announces that he has chosen Governor Sarah Palin to run for Vice President alongside him in his quest to become the next President of the United States. For only the second time in history, and the first time in the history of the Republican Party, a woman is chosen to run for the second most powerful political position in the United States.
Talk of the historical nature of the choice and the qualifications of the chosen quickly gave way to the familiar discussion of whether or not women are able to “have it all.” While referring to Sarah Palin as a governor, a ground-breaker, and a go-getter would all be accurate, the media and the nation moved their focus swiftly to Palin’s role as a wife to her husband, Todd, and a mother to her five children, including a five month old infant with Down Syndrome. By the first of September, the New York Times’ headline regarding Palin was, “A New Twist in the Debate on Mothers” referring to the topic in the body of the story as “The Mommy Wars: Special Campaign Edition.” The very next day, Washington Post author Andrea Hopkins penned this headline, “Sarah Palin Controversy Stokes Mommy War.” The Los Angeles Times quickly joined the discussion with, “Questions are Raised about Palin’s Family Responsibilities.”
In 2008, women hold some of the highest positions in government. As Speaker of the House, Representative Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful member of the U.S. House of Representatives. The U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice, has cemented her place in the history books as the first African-American woman to hold this position. And of course, Senator Hillary Clinton of New York, the third most populous state in the nation, made a historic bid for the White House while campaigning to be the Democratic Party’s Presidential nominee.
Why haven’t the personal lives of these women fallen under the same level of scrutiny as Governor Palin’s?
Not one of them is currently the mother of a young child.
Perhaps this is why Senator Hillary Clinton, herself a mother, did not face this same level of scrutiny regarding her role as a parent during her historic race for the White House. Conceivably she did not arouse the same criticism and evoke discussion on women and their quest to have it all because she has been in the national spotlight for so long. Perhaps she even received a free pass because her daughter is a young adult or because she has only one child compared to the five Palin children. But a closer look at her role as a mother reveals that Clinton inhabited a similar world as Palin, only it all occurred nearly three decades ago. Two years before the birth of her daughter, Hillary Clinton stood side by side with her husband Bill as he ran for his first term as Governor of Arkansas. Once elected, Hillary not only gave birth to their only child, Chelsea, but she also practiced law and served on the board of the Children’s Defense Fund. During Chelsea’s pre-school and toddler years, Clinton chaired the Arkansas Educational Standards Committee, and by the time Chelsea was entering middle school, her mother had been declared by The National Law Journal to be one of the top 100 most influential lawyers in the country.
Also, the social climate in 2008 is significantly different from what existed twenty-five years ago when Hillary Clinton was achieving lofty goals professionally while also parenting a young child. By the mid-1980’s, women made up the majority of college students, earned approximately 49% of master’s degrees, and received a ground-breaking 33% of doctoral degrees awarded. The environment was ideal for the working mother, the first generation of women to “have it all” on a large scale. The choices for women were seemingly endless, and women were encouraged, even expected to strive for the complicated balance between raising children and achieving professional success.
But somewhere along the way society has decided that along with the presentation of choices comes the responsibility to choose, to specialize in just one of women’s roles. In making the choice to stay home and raise children full time, many women have professionalized the decision to be a stay-at-home mom, due much to their own education level. In fact, Census data reports that 54% of mothers who have achieved a master’s or doctoral degree have chosen to stay at home with their children at least part time. Those mothers who choose to work full time, relying on child care for as many as twelve hours a day, are often criticized for relegating their parenting duties to what some consider part-time status.
For all the progress that’s been made in the last century, it would appear that mothers are still expected to make a choice between home and work, motherhood and career.
So what determines whether or not a woman can “have it all,” and when did the quest for this elusive goal begin? As recently as the 1930’s, American sentiment slanted dramatically towards women remaining out of the labor force. In fact, laws were proposed to keep married women “in the home.” During World War II, due partly to the government’s propaganda campaign to entice women to join the work force, the opinion that women should not work began to shift. It would be years, however, before women began to move in large numbers out of the service industries and into professional careers previously populated almost exclusively by men. The pioneers who progressed into these fields generally focused absolutely on their careers; these were women who chose to forgo family and even marriage in order to excel in a man’s professional world.
In the 1960’s and 70’s, a radical change began to take place. Women began taking more math and science classes, enrolling in four year colleges, and although they married later in life than their stay-at-home counterparts in the 1950’s, they did in fact marry. Many of the women who went on to graduate from medical and law school amongst an almost entirely male peer group also went on to become mothers – the first women to attempt to “have it all.” In 1965, for every 100 men in their 20’s who had earned a college degree, there were only 61 women who had achieved the same degree. By 1989, that number had changed to 96 women for every 100 men with a college degree. This increase in college educated women translated into more working mothers. In fact, in June of 1994 the Census Bureau calculated that of the four million women who had given birth in the past year, 70% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher had returned to the labor force.
A new phenomenon was born of these changes. For the first time in history, girls were being indoctrinated from an early age with dual expectations of excelling in a career and becoming a mother. Suddenly a generation of women fell under a new lens of scrutiny, fell victim to a tyranny of perfection. This generation of women, today’s mothers of young children, is comprised of high achieving, educated women on a scale never before seen in this country. Expecting to excel in all things, the pressures are enormous. Rather than turn to each other for support, women have turned against each other in what has come to be called the Mommy Wars. Are the women choosing to work outside of the home, like so many of their mothers did thirty years before, suddenly not as much a mother or a woman as those that came before them? Are the women choosing to stay home and care for their children full time abandoning their potential and failing their gender?
Amidst this divisive atmosphere a revolutionary new choice for women is emerging. For women who yearned for a third option – staying home and working – a surprising alternative to data entry, job-sharing, and work from home scams has materialized in the form of Web 2.0. A rapidly growing trend in internet usage and technology, Web 2.0 – or Social Media – facilitates communication, collaboration, and creativity. And somewhat by accident it has created something else – a community. Natural communicators, women are thriving together in this technological frontier. Whether utilizing social media platforms to build a brand, network with professional peers, or build cordial relationships with possible business partners, women are able to take control of their professional lives through the use of social media in new and exciting ways – entirely on their own terms.
“Having it all” is not a new goal for women. Feeling torn between finding fulfillment in motherhood and personally sought after professional success is not unique to 2008. But for women who are feeling lost inside this mounting tyranny of perfection, the rules have changed.
Follow the journey of women as they are first forced to work outside of the home out of financial necessity; choose to work outside of the home for personal fulfillment; and finally use technology in 2008 to revolutionize the ways in which women attempt to “have it all”- together.