Why do women themselves say that women “Can’t Have it All?” We say it because, as one mother told me, the phrase resonates as being “Shockingly, earthshakingly true.” We use you “Can’t Have it All” because it reflects a reality, our frustration with the impossible goal of trying to be both June Cleaver and Modern Career Woman at the same time.
But we have to stop using that phrase, because the CHA-CHA-CHA mantra is an outdated code for telling a woman she can’t have what men have traditionally had—namely, a challenging, time-consuming, financially rewarding job and a well-cared-for family. Well-cared for, that is, by someone else: his wife. When we use that phrase, we are effectively saying that it’s okay to expect women (and women only) to be forced to choose either the desire to care for children OR ambition, to be seen as caring OR seen as competent, and to be a dull “stay at home” mom OR a selfish “working mom.”
Telling ourselves CHA-CHA-CHA may relieve the pressure we feel to do it all, but it also lets the rest of society off the hook by making them comfortable with the idea that women shouldn’t expect anything to change so that we can have something different.
Using CHA-CHA-CHA makes the conversation solely about mothers and women, and the reality is that men and people without kids also struggle to combine careers and caring for others.
The CHA-CHA-CHA is a classic example of how outdated subconscious assumptions sneak into our language and stay there, all but invisible. The language limits our options by chaining us to old ways of thinking about jobs, ambition, caring, and mothers and fathers. We use it because we haven’t created a new way of thinking and talking yet and we desperately need to talk about it all.
So what if we stopped using that phrase.
I did it here by subbing in CHA-CHA-CHA. Maybe we go the Voldemort option – the phrase that must not be named. On Twitter, the hashtag #havingitallhas turned it into a conversation space for thinking and talking differently about the related issues.
What if we used that space to start talking more specifically about the lives we do want - what most women AND men say they want these days. We want a whole life, an integrated life. The opportunity to work hard at work worth doing with good people for fair compensation. The time to care for family – children, parents, spouses. The room to pursue our own dreams and interests, and to take care of our health and contribute to our communities. The ability to have those components of life shift reasonably as circumstances change.
Then instead of time spent on the CHA-CHA-CHA debate, we can focus our energy on the important aspiration – what would it take to build a society where everyone has the opportunity to create a whole life for themselves?
- When someone does the CHA-CHA-CHA have your own response ready. Maybe, “I think everyone should be able to live a whole life.” When you see a newspaper or magazine use the CHA-CHA-CHA lingo write and tell the publisher why the phrase is out of date and give some alternatives.
- How would you describe the life you want today? Five years from now?
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