Things have changed, somewhat, for women
The culture working women experience has changed dramatically since Melissa Swan’s generation, which entered the workforce in the 1970s and early ’80s. Sexism was an accepted part of the landscape with men “joking” about the need to keep the “broads” out of “broadcast.” Women in other fields were subjected to demeaning comments as well, with no recourse and never any consequences for the boorish male.
There were very few accommodations made for pregnant women. Despite having ample time accumulated to take off one evening a week for a month-long Lamaze class, Swan’s boss told her she “needed to get her priorities straight.”
Being a working mom was a tremendous, exhausting and, I’m sure at times, demoralizing effort. After all, the catchphrase of the day was “Women can have it all.” So, what was wrong with these women anyway? Didn’t they get just what they asked for? They didn’t want to stay home anymore. They wanted to work outside the home, right? What’s the problem then?
My generation, which entered the workforce beginning in the mid- to-late ’80s, slowly began to question the whole “we can have it all” thing. While our patriarchal work culture did begin to accept women as co-workers, what it really meant was that most women would come to find they held two full-time jobs: the one for which they received a paycheck and the one waiting for them at home each evening.
The big cog in this wheel is that there was little (if any) adjustment in expectations for men during this shift. Women came home from their 9 to 5 to begin their 5 to 9 (or beyond): cooking a meal, doing dishes, overseeing homework, washing clothes, bathing children … Are you tired yet?
There have been some big workplace shifts during the past couple of decades, and they deserve recognition. There are actually (though few and far between) some dads who stay home with the kids. Women increasingly are hired in leadership roles. Some progressive companies now offer paid paternity leave. Numerous companies have shifted to more flexible scheduling, and sometimes dads are the ones who take the children to medical appointments and do the grocery shopping.
But, in many ways, expectations haven’t shifted nearly enough. Just watch television commercials if you don’t believe me. For every guy wielding a Swiffer, there are at least five commercials featuring moms getting up at night to change diapers, finding a caregiver for their aging parents or choosing healthy foods at the grocery. I have yet to see a man up to his elbows in dish suds.
We have a long way to go, baby.
I had my three children from 2007 to 2010. At the time, I was editor of a twice-weekly newspaper. If I’m to be honest, that paper was my first child and I happily devoted countless hours to it.
Things really didn’t change much when Hays was born. Once I learned how to get out the door in the morning (remembering to change out of house slippers to real shoes!), I carried on. Fortunately, he was a very, very easy-going baby. He sat quietly through city council meetings and, if I had to cover a wreck, there was always an officer ready to hold him while I took photos.
Things were different when Sylvia came along three months before Hays turned 2. Warner arrived less than two weeks after Hays turned 3. Honestly, I think I went on autopilot for the next few years. Looking back, I can see That. Was. A. Lot.
The thing was, I didn’t adjust my expectations. I still tried to do it all, just as I always had. I did not have a strong family support system, and my husband worked third shift. I’m exhausted just reflecting on it.
What I did have were amazing neighbors who took the kids when a major story broke and I had to go to work. More importantly, I had my upbringing.
Swan mentioned the strong work ethic instilled by her parents. I had the same thing. My mother was a force of nature. She was a registered nurse and manager of both the emergency room and EMS at Harrison County Hospital. Along with my grandparents, she put out huge gardens and canned numerous quarts of vegetables and fruits. She took my sister, brother and me to our activities and on walks. She made most of our clothes. Honestly, deep down, I wondered if I’d ever measure up.
My mother died when she was just 42. She never had the opportunity to be a grandmother. If she had, things would have been much different for me.
Swan told the women attending the first Crawford County Women Empowerment meeting last month that, despite what we’ve been told, we cannot have it all. I came to realize that some years ago. I remember talking to my former boss, a dear friend as well, and telling him how different the job was for a working mother opposed to a father. He agreed. He never had a community member question his dedication to the job because he had four children. A reader once went to my publisher to complain about me, saying maybe if I didn’t have three kids, I could do a better job.
Now that I am in a new, less demanding, role with no long commute, I’ve had the time to look at things in a new light. I feel very fortunate to remain employed in the profession I decided to devote my life to when I was just a sophomore in high school. I experienced some major tragedies during my upbringing. Those times eventually resulted in a tenacity that kept me going when the going got tough professionally.
Things will continue to improve for women — and, thus, for families — in the years to come. What I will tell my daughter is to advocate for herself, both in the workplace and at home. It is a sign of strength and wisdom — not weakness — to ask for help. It is not fair for her to attempt to “do it all.” And, it’s not healthy either.
What I’ve come to know is that women simply cannot have it all, not at the same time. We can’t. And, we shouldn’t be expected to or expect ourselves to either.
We are doing the very best job we possibly can. We are making valuable contributions in the workplace. We are dedicated mothers and wives.
It’s enough. In most cases, it’s far more than enough. It’s time we all realize that.