Newsflash: We don’t. We never did. And we never will “have it all.” Because it’s impossible — for anyone. Male or female.
Having it all is no less a fantasy — and no less self-defeating a comparison — than a Barbie doll’s measurements or the perpetually fresh-faced “24-hour woman” in the iconic Enjoli perfume ads or the modern-day “supermom” who flits effortlessly between her corner office and her kitchen.
Yet despite efforts to banish “the worst words that ever happened to women,” as Sheryl Sandberg describes them, the phrase continues to be bandied about in the headlines.
This week, I was particularly dismayed to see it splayed across the cover of “The New York Times” magazine, which asked of the Texas state senator and gubernatorial candidate: “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?”
In choosing these words, writer Robert Draper not only sidesteps the more newsworthy and significant question of whether the Democratic candidate can win the gubernatorial race (a notable accomplishment in one of the nation’s reddest states), but he also discounts all of Davis’s extraordinary achievements to date — not to mention the relationship she has built with her grown daughters, who call her “a remarkable mother... a rock and a role model.”
Can you imagine a publication asking the same question of a male candidate?
Yet somehow this trope that has been loaded with meaning over the years, raising the bar with every iteration, has become the Holy Grail of feminine achievement, an acceptable ideal against which women (but never men) are measured — and, inevitably, fall short.
Even the woman who’s been widely credited with coining the phrase could not have imagined it would grow to encompass so much. In Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 bestseller of the same name, the former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan (a magazine whose recent cover lines include “75 Sex Moves Men Crave” and “Lean Thighs Without Lunges!”) described having it all as having “love, success, sex and money.” There was no mention of kids at all. (She never had any.)