Imagine that a little boy grows up wanting to be a medical doctor. He gets good grades and gains admission into the university he’s always dreamt of attending. He also discovers a love for research. So as soon as he gets his Medical Degree (MD), he applies for a research position. Years pass as he immerses himself into his work whilst still maintaining a social life. Somewhere in his early thirties, he decides he’s ready to settle down. He and his partner marry and excitedly talk about the children they are going to have. At a family get-together, this man talks about his plans and hopes, while being hailed for making his family proud. His wife, who has just as many hopes and dreams for her career mentions them to family members in the same room. Some random aunty lovingly exclaims ‘thank goodness these days women can have it all’. This story might as well be true for how many times I have read and heard the phrase, ‘the woman who wants/can/can’t have it all’. And this phrasing is highly problematic.
This is the way our society works: men and women can want and aspire to have the same careers with the additional desire for a family. More often than not however, the man may be lauded as ‘ambitious’ (or just a normal man wanting normal man things) whilst the woman will be branded ‘over-ambitious’ and a woman who ‘wants it all’. But why does wanting a stellar career that progresses to the highest heights possible, along with a family, equate to a woman wanting it all? That phrase has been weaponised against women. I believe that it is a tool to guilt women into clipping their wings. In other words, reminding a woman of ‘her place’. Making sure she remembers that wanting all these things that should naturally be granted to a man is somehow abnormal for her. As an unmarried woman who has no children, I appreciate that maintaining a balance between work and family life is not easy. I’ve seen that in the lives of my mother, aunties, friends and big sisters. I don’t expect an easy ride of it either. However, I don’t believe it’s too much to ask that we women be given the space (that we deserve) to try, just be, then draw our own conclusions as individuals (and research), rather than have it foisted upon us through societal expectations and grapevine pressure.