We see them every day. As we drive past one of the local elementary schools, there they are dressed in business suits and high heels dropping off their children and making sure that they have their backpacks and lunches. When we walk up Magazine Street or around Audubon Park on the weekends, there they are aggressively maneuvering their baby carriages while simultaneously talking on a cell phone, planning parties and scheduling their Pilates class. They are all women: businesswomen, daughters, best friends, moms and wives. They appear to “have it all,” but do they really? And, in their attempt to appear to be the wonderful, multi-tasking, successful goddess, what price do they really pay?
Recently, I indulged in a little afternoon decadence and streamed I Don’t Know How She Does It, starring Sarah Jessica Parker. The majority of my 30’s were spent watching Ms. Parker navigate the dating world of NYC, wearing Manolo’s, Gucci and Dolce and Gabanna while trying to get the love of her life to commit to her after 10 years of dating. We all know how that turned out, but to see her married to Greg Kinnear, living in rural Boston with two adorable children while working seemingly non-stop for a high profile financial firm with Pierce Brosnan was a bit disconcerting, to say the least. After all, didn’t Carrie Bradshaw write a sex column once a week? She had a schedule that included hanging out with her best friends at exclusive clubs, attending fashion shows and dining at the finest restaurants, drinking cosmopolitans—I was her. So it makes it even harder to comprehend how she managed to seamlessly jump into the 24/7 corporate world and family life with such energy and panache.
I know that’s Hollywood, but that’s what we all do, isn’t it? We transition and, as women, we're changing the employment picture as we know it. According to recent statistics provided by the Department for Professional Employment, women are expected to rise to 78 million in the work force by 2018, up from 66.2 million in 2009, just a few percentage points away from making up 50% of the workforce, up from our mothers and grandmothers in the middle of the 20th century who comprised only 18.4 million. These numbers are impressive but they don’t tell the whole story. Women juggle everything on a daily basis and within our family and professional circle are expected to do so without dropping one single ball. And for all this, Caucasian women still earn 80% of what men do for the same position and when considering women who are African American and Hispanic, it gets worse—they earn 71% and 62% respectively.
In Parker’s movie, it wasn’t so surprising that she tried to be everything to everyone. What struck me the most were the demands of the people around her. Her husband made her feel guilty about working late and traveling for her job, when it was acceptable for him to do the same. Her co-workers had no patience for her; the male competition would snare any opportunity to outdo her when a family obligation called. The single female assistant vowed she’d never be like her and turned up her nose at every mention of her family life. It’s hard enough to be successful as a woman in the working world without all the demands, guilt and backstabbing imposed upon us…something has got to give.
I’m sure that there are women out there who work really hard to maintain the façade of the perfect career/mother/wife/fit woman, but don’t let them fool you. Either they have a team of nannies, trainers and housekeepers or they’re treading water and ready for some serious medication or a total breakdown. Believe me, I’ve seen it first hand.
We’re not going to change society and those who put unreasonable expectations on us because, for the most part, they are similar to Missouri Republican Todd Akin who thinks we can miraculously terminate a pregnancy just by will—they have no idea what it takes to be a woman, especially one who has aspirations of being successful both personally and professionally.
Therefore, the change has to come from within and we have to decide what it means for ourselves to have it all; don’t let society or anyone around you determine your self-worth based upon unfounded expectations, especially when they’ve never walked a block in your stilettos or flats. When I lived in Manhattan, having it all meant professional success, traveling the world, a great social network and owning a condo on the East Side. There were no children involved and marriage was not even a glimmer on the skyline. Everything changes, as we all know, and when I moved to New Orleans five years ago, I added a wonderful man to that mix and that is now my evolved definition of happiness.
But happiness is subjective and trying to be everything to everyone leaves out one important person…you. Like Parker did at the end of the movie, figure out what makes you happy and fulfilled and learn to say ‘no’ when you feel like you’re compromising too much and losing yourself. Life is short and as women, we need to figure out where our time is best spent—whether it’s with your children, significant other or at work, spinning at five in the morning or venturing out into the world, looking for new experiences. Defining your self-worth according to your own standards instead of society’s is a win-win situation sans guilt and disappointment…start there and the rest will follow, guaranteed.