WHITNEY: Shriver Report findings can strengthen all families
What does doing it all look like?
For me, it sometimes looks like getting to work on time, but with yogurt on my slacks and a stack of dirty dishes "soaking" in the sink. Other days, it looks like a make-up free face bearing witness to the sleepness night that preceded a morning meeting that came too early. And on rare occasions, it looks like I'm managing my full-time mom/wife/editor job with ease and grace (or so I'm told).
I imagine things might be easier for me, what with my college degree, my livable wages and a husband who's a true partner in raising a child and creating a life we can both be proud of.
For many women, though, doing it all isn't as simple. It's complicated by low wages, expensive daycare and limited options for breaking free of that holding pattern.
This week, Maria Shriver sparked a nationwide conversation about doing it all — #doingitall if you're on Twitter — when she released The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Pushes Back From The Brink, an analysis of what it looks like to be a working woman in America today. Shriver and a host of physicians, economists, psychologists and career and life coaches appeared on the Today throughout the week, where they talked about the problems facing women in the workplace today.
Let's stop for a moment to acknowledge that, in 2014, we're still talking about "women in the workplace" as if they're an anomaly or some special breed of extra-driven individuals like the suffragettes of generations before. I can glance around the room now and see a near-even split of men in women, but why accept my anecdotal evidence as fact when the Shriver Report tells us half of the American workforce is comprised of women and two-thirds of women are the primary or equal breadwinners of their households. In fact, only one-fifth of American households report having a male breadwinner and female homemaker, according to the Shriver Report.
Career women: not so novel after all.
Unfortunately, working women are outranking men in one class of job — they account for more than two-thirds of the minimum wage workforce. That creates a problem when those women are the primary or equal breadwinners of their households, because it means they're closer to financial duress due to things like unexpected medical bills
“For too many American women, the dream of ‘having it all’ has morphed into ‘just hanging on,’” Shriver says of the report's findings. “The Shriver Report is about what working women need now to be successful in today’s economy, where women are powerful, but also powerless. Identifying why that is and what we as a nation can do about it is the mission of this report.”
I'm on board with a lot of the analysis here, because when we talk about making improvements that benefit the female workforce, we're not only talking about making things better for women but for their families as well. This IS the parenting column and page, and under ideal circumstances, women should be filling one-half of the parenting equation. But we also have to recognize that many parents are going it alone, maybe part of the time due to divorce and custody arrangements or maybe all time time for a myriad of reasons.
I can't get fully on board with the idea of "doing it all," though. The idea of having it all or doing it all suggests, at least to me, that someone is holding a measuring stick up alongside my life to assess my performance as a wife, a mother and an individual. I'm skeptical of the application of the words "it all," because my experience in as a woman in America tells me that I've never been able to attain "it all." I've never had all the looks of the women in glossy magazines, all the creative and domestic smarts of Martha Stewart. The idea that one can "have it all" is a myth, because we can never define what "it all" is.
When you have the privilege to stay home with your sick kid or take a day off for their field trip, you have something pretty good. When you're fulfilled in your career, even if it's as a full-time stay-at-home mom or dad, you have something pretty good. When you're happy, healthy and prospering, you have it all.
That said, all the things I've mentioned above are only attainable for everyone when we begin to address the weakness that still exist in the workplace. When we talk about things like equal pay, paid sick leave or maternity/paternity leave, we're talking about strengthening families — whatever form they take — and that should be a goal our society can agree to strive for.
To read more of the Shriver Report's findings, visit the shriverreport.org.
Whitney is the associate editor of the Pioneer, and she oversees the Parenting page. If you have something you’d like to see on this page each Friday, email her at email@example.com or call (231) 592-8386.