Female Expectations: What’s up with that?

Men and women have always had different expectations in society. That’s the way history has played out, and continues to play out today. As women gained more equality, doors were opened to more opportunities.

Source: heragenda.com

Source: heragenda.com

Despite the advances women have made, there is obviously more changes that need to happen. One of the many expectations that needs to change is the idea of “having it all.”

What does that mean?

It appears that the phrase could have derived from author and Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown’s 1982 book entitled “Having It All: Love, Success, Sex, Money…Even if You’re Starting With Nothing.”

The title wasn’t Brown’s idea, and she actually hated the title. But it appears that society has ran with this idea that women should chase after “having it all.”

The first thing I want to note is that “having it all” is a phrase not directed at the population at large. It is specified to women, and women only.

Why?

I’m honestly not sure. I’m assuming because society believes that men already have it all. So someone concocted this idea that no women “have it all.” Thus, society needed to dish out advice to women on how they too can “have it all.”

But first, society needs to define what they believe all women in 2015 must have in order to truly “have it all” and have succeeded in life:

1.

Source: hercampus.com

Source: hercampus.com

College degree.

2.

Source: davisvision.com

Source: davisvision.com

Career.

3.

Source: playbuzz.com

Source: playbuzz.com

Marriage.

4.

Source: mothersniche.com

Source: mothersniche.com

Kids.

Are there women who do in fact want everything on this list? Of course.

But does every single woman on the face of the planet want all of these things?

Source: memecrunch.com

Source: memecrunch.com

The problem with the phrase “having it all” assumes that all women, all over the planet, have the exact same list of dreams they hope to accomplish in life in order to feel like they’ve “made it.” This isn’t the case. We are human beings. We are not one size fits all. We aren’t robots.

I believe that just like men, women should feel free to live their lives as they please (as long as they’re not hurting anyone or committing crimes, of course). We don’t see articles about men struggling to “have it all,” yet throughout the years, there have been many magazine covers like this:

Source: washingtonpost.com

Source: washingtonpost.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

Source: content.time.com

All of these magazine covers are debating about what’s “right” for women’s lives. These in-depth articles explore “nontraditional” decisions some women make. These articles dissect the statistics of how many women aren’t having kids, what happens when women have a career and kids, and explores the reasons for women parenting the way that they do.

Do magazines study and write extensive articles like this about men? No. Men have never been involved in these repetitive discussions that seem to be never-ending.

My question about these debates on women’s lives?

Source: troll.me

Source: troll.me

Honestly, why does any of this matter? Should it?

My theory is that the media and society make it appear like it matters because women are still consistently judged by absolutely everyone. It’s a fact of being a woman in the world.

Our appearances, life choices, goals, dreams, and opinions are all dissected, picked apart, debated, questioned, and judged. We are judged by the media, society, our teachers, our families, churches, doctors, and strangers. We cannot escape judgement.

The problem with this is that society has made it impossible for women to “have it all” because society has a specific opinion on what “it all” is. If you haven’t checked every box on their list, then you don’t have it all according to society.

When there is a trend of women making decisions different from society’s expectations of them, like opting out of parenthood, for example, the media and society freak out like the world is coming to an end.

Source: searchbuzz.co

Source: searchbuzz.co

“Oh my gosh, why are less women having kids?!?’

“What’s wrong with these women?”

“How can we change their minds?”

“Are women who don’t have kids selfish?”

Women still have narrow expectations in society today, even in America. When we travel our own paths and make our own choices, there is an absolute frenzy from, well, everyone. Women are still expected to check every item off the list of the “To Do List of Every Woman on the Planet,” and when women don’t, there are debates about why not.

Newsflash: It doesn’t matter.

If women aren’t hurting anyone, who cares if some women don’t have kids?

Or don’t get married?

Or don’t go to college?

Or don’t have a perfect career?

Women are human beings, too, and not all women have the same brain, the same values, or even the same interests. Shocking, I know. Women are (GASP!) free to make choices. Just like not all men have the same ambitions in life, neither do women.

This idea of women “having it all” seems to give women the message that they can never have “it all” because it’s impossible. Evidently they are saying, “It’s possible for men to have a college degree, get married, have kids, and have a career, but women, you just can’t do that. Sorry!” It’s the assumption that all women everywhere want all of these things, and that it’s automatically an impossibility.

My version of “having it all” may differ from another woman’s version of it. Also, I don’t even believe in the phrase “having it all” because I believe that the phrase is just agenda pushing. It’s pushing the message that women are set up to fail and that they should be fighting their entire lives to achieve “it all.” It’s just forcing women to continue being “good girls” and following what society expects from them. Men are judged slightly for not achieving these things as well, but not even close to the degree women are judged. Women are judged so harshly it’s fulled worldwide debates.

As everyone continues to debate if women can “have it all” (or if “having it all” should even be discussed anymore), I hope that more people start coming around to the idea that women can make individual choices and that the only thing that should matter is that women are happy and fulfilling their own personal dreams.

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93 thoughts on “Female Expectations: What’s up with that?

  1. Rebecca your writing presents a positive approach. It is part of the age old question, the differences and similarities of humanity. Honestly, everyone should have it all. Nevertheless, if everyone were equal in everything, money being one, nobody would work and society would collapse. If we all were president then who would be in charge? If we all were men, or women humans would expire. Equality deserves a place. We must learn to respect our differences. We must accept there are flowers of diverse colors and shapes. Women can have and achieve anything men can. Thank you for this inspiring work.

  2. It’s an interesting issue and you raise some good points. I completely agree that women shouldn’t feel pressure to have it all. I have often felt like one of the mistakes of the feminist movement is to encourage women to be more like men, rather than teaching everybody that femininity is equally as valuable as masculinity. There is value in staying home and taking care of your children. It shouldn’t be seen as something uniquely feminine, it should just be seen as valuable. When we put value on roles that women traditionally held, then it no longer becomes a question of having it all, but just making a choice about what you consider valuable and doing it. The fact that men traditionally didn’t stay home and take care of the kids could easily be seen as them not having it all either. But why should we try to have it all? And as you say what does “having it all really mean”?

    Some of the discussion about having it all for women, however, does come from a good place. Imagine you had limited choices of what you wanted to do in life, and then all of a sudden you have a lot of choices. I think it might be easy to choose a path that is somewhat unrealistic and try to take all those choices and incorporate them into your life. So I do think as options have opened up for women it’s kind of been like a kid in a candy store and while maybe some women CAN have it all, it’s certainly not easy and many of these articles point out the challenges. I think the discussion also comes from a good place in the sense that it points out some of the inequity that still exists between genders. For instance I know one article I read talked about how despite all these additional options women have, in domestic relationships they are still expected to do most of the chores and most of the childrearing, because men aren’t willing to do their equal part in the home. I admit, myself to being that type of man early on. While I was all for equal opportunity it was just simply part of consciousness that homemaking is something a woman does. My mom did it, even though she eventually had a full time job. Almost all my aunts were like that too. This is also in the consciousness of a lot of women too. I feel we are still in a transition era between 70’s and now where a lot of our parents and grandparents had very traditional gender roles and so we are raised thinking those gender roles are normal. So I feel that the discussion about having it all is important because I’ve never seen it as trying to really encourage women to have it all (at least in the articles I read), but what the natural limitations are to trying to have it all. I guarantee you men don’t have it all either. It’s impossible, but I think there is a perception that men do, and there is a general perception that women should be able to have everything a man does. Instead we simply need to see life as a shared responsibility between individuals and that it doesn’t matter who does what, it has value and that if you’re trying to have it all, then you probably can’t do it on your own.

    • Thank you for your perspective. I agree with you that a lot of these discussions about women having it all may stem from the fact that women have more choices now than they ever have. I agree that all choices should be celebrated, and it all depends on what the person’s definition of “having it all” really is. I believe that having it all can mean whatever a person wants it to mean.

  3. Great post, Becky. I’ve always thought that each individual, rather than society, should determine what it means to “have it all”. My personal goals will never be the same as what the world seems to think they should be…

    • Thank you! I imagine it must be a lot of pressure. I’m only in my mid-20s, so I haven’t experienced that pressure yet. But I have heard a few “When you have kids…” statements over the last couple of years. I usually just smile, nod, and change the subject! 🙂

  4. Rules, laws and conditions Are made by those who benefit from it. In this case men. So no matter how hard we fight the set conditions. There will always be those who come up with new rules to set you back and have you be wrong.once again. Through out time it has been this case.

    Last and this is very men like to say. Is that women are living and choosing based on emotions. It is a conditions put in the world since women had the change to vote. Men put this into the world to proof women wrong and that they can’t make a choice bases on feelings.

    Please do not get me wrong I feel you and would like to see it change as well. Love how you dissected a single small phrase that holds so much meaning. Also again being created by men to somehow show you that emotions and hard corporate decision making would not be able to coincide next to each other. False? Sure as some women have proven

    It is one side I missed. Women to have feelings and emotions as well as a cold heart when it comes to careers and or businesses. That single phrase is in itself already contradicting and contradicting everything a women could come up with as what it means.

    Let us hope that in a near future rules are made equally same as the conditions and laws. As they are made by men to begin with.

    Great read. Thank you

    • Thank you, and you make a lot of interesting points. I totally agree that men are the ones who come up with these things when they are the ones who will directly benefit from it. The expectations for women are complicated, contradictory, and ever-changing so that women are set up to fail. Then, like you brought up, women are judged for making certain choices. Women who value their careers are labeled “cold,” for example, because people think they should be making time for their families.

      I also hope that laws and expectations become more equal in the future. Thank you so much for reading and commenting! 🙂

      • It was a pleasure sharing.

        Expectations lead to distorted dreams and values. Men and women a like share a choice that is never just yours that way.
        So let me say this for last and thanks to you this is tomorrows thought.

        “Without expectations we are all equals.”

        Nobody should tell you what to do or dictate a choice in advance. Leaving the road open to do like any other.

        Ooh and in the end of the line even having a child is a choice made by two people never the woman alone. Just figured I had to say that to.

      • I love that idea that without expectations we are equal. That is so true. If we didn’t have these societal pressures to be a certain way or do certain things, we would have equality. It’s an interesting idea.

  5. I like this article very much. As a woman, I have found myself in the endless cycle. At the moment, I’m learning these decisions fall into the daily micro, rather than in the general macro. Small daily decisions and priorities. T-ball? or extra hour of work? Dishes? or calling that client? Do I have enough time to work on my website today? My recent decision to return to work brings this all home. Every. Damn. Day.

    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked it. I feel like a lot of us can relate to the idea that we have so many more opportunities and choices today. I think that’s a good thing. To me, it’s all about making the decisions that are best for us, and celebrating other women’s choices. 🙂

    • Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. 🙂 I am glad that you can relate to this pressure to “have it all.” I think as long as we do what we want in life and go after our dreams, then we already have it all.

  6. Hear hear!Well said…I often feel women on gaining their freedom have been herded right back into a trap with this pressure to have children so its great to read more positive posts on this issue. Thanks,

    • I completely agree with you! While women have so many more choices, we still hear myths and negative remarks about women who don’t want to have kids. Even today, there is so much pressure for women to have kids, and when they don’t want to, there can be negative backlash, which is totally unnecessary.

  7. “having it all” kind of refers back to having the white picket fence, house, car and 2 kids. And the woman paying for it, or largely contributing.

    Families weren’t 2 income necessary generally until late in the 1980’s. So the idea that a woman could go out, earn a decent paycheck and still have a family and middle class belongings was “it all” lol. That’s just in general.

    I grew up listening to my mom singing, “I am woman”, although she hasn’t wanted to or needed to work since before I was born. She did work for bank of america, then medicare, but stopped as Dad’s salary was more than sufficient for a nice life before I was born.

    The other somewhat common reference from popular culture is “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan…”. Remember this is when women were still largely in secretarial pools, if in the workplace. Many women are still alive who were the first lawyer, scientist, ph.d, etc. There are still “firsts” occasionally, but not so often as we’re kind of running out of things for there to be firsts in of older occupation titles.

  8. Such a great post, Becky! I just turned thirty and (because I’m married) everyone asks me when the baby is coming. It’s my freaking choice, just leave me alone! We do with our lives what we want, period.

    • Thank you! It amazes me that people still think that is somehow an appropriate question to ask. It’s so invasive and rude in my opinion. Not only that, but the person asking makes the incorrect assumption that every couple, everywhere, wants kids without question. Like you said, it’s a choice, not a requirement.

  9. I definitely agree with you on the idea that not all women (or men) have the same checklist. But I do think that whatever his/her checklist may be, they should all strive to achieve all their goals and have balance in their lives, too. We can have “it all” in the sense of whatever’s on our own list, you know?

    I also think that the media spends time analyzing women in this sense because women are the most likely to read about it. Maybe this is a bit sexist of me, but I think that women tend to spend a bit more time then men pursuing opinions and information on self-improvement. I have no data to back that up, but its been my personal experience.

    • That’s an interesting perspective. Maybe that is why these articles focus solely on women.

      I agree that we should all focus on what we have our own checklists and if it differs with society’s, then that’s okay.

      In my opinion, I think society also still focuses on these topics as it relates to women because there is still the widely held belief that women should be a certain way. Women are analyzed from every angle. For example, I noticed that when Hillary Clinton announced she was running for president, there was just an insane frenzy. Why? Because she’s a woman. Yes, if she won, it would make her the first female president. But do I think we need to spend hours of news broadcasts picking apart the fact that Clinton is running for president? No. I think the media is just making a huge deal because she is a woman, and women are still told that we must be a certain way. By running for president, Clinton is doing something that some women dream of, but that society seems to have a difficult time accepting. If society actually accepted the fact that a woman was running for president, it wouldn’t even be this big of a news story in the way it has been. The media analyzes every last detail about her running, her role as a mother, her femininity, her past, and everything in between that is never discussed when men run for president.

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  11. Another interesting, though-provoking and totally accurate post.
    I’ve achieved three out of those four. I wasn’t interested in two (marriage and kids). Degree and career yes. But I’d add to my personal list, world trip and second degree. Added the husband via the world trip, but the things I would say werecmy greatest achievements were world trip,and master’s degree.
    So, yes, we are all different. Having it all is a loaded sexist phrase as you point out, and what women want can vary hugely. But it is important we strive for what we want, and not what people tell us we *should* want.

    • Thank you so much! I’m so glad to hear that you enjoyed this post. I also want travel to be something on my “have it all” list, because I have always been interested in traveling the world and discovering new cultures.

      So far I have one of society’s items (degree), and currently working on career. I too feel like I have never been interested in marriage or kids. Maybe if I meet the right guy someday I’ll want to get married. But it’s definitely not on my list of things I have to do in life.

      I think that is so great you’ve done the things you want to do, and not things you should do. I’m trying to live my life like that as well.

  12. This was a very interesting read. Intelligently written and well presented. I seem to fall into the opposite stereotype of not having it all at all! I graduated from university last summer and I’ve not been able to work since. I’ve been consistently in and out of multiple relationships since I was a teenager; I am 25 years old and so far I’ve not even come close to marriage and kids. But that’s ok with me, it will happen when I’m ready and it’s just stupid that- by my age- I should have done the lot by now.

    • Thank you so much. I’m in my mid-20s as well and not anywhere close to having a long term relationship. But like you said, as long as we’re living the way we want, that’s what matters. 🙂

  13. When I read articles about women having it all, I always seem to hear a hint–a kind of overtone–of the thought that women have become greedy. Not to mention unrealistic. And you’re right–those same publications don’t dissect the question of whether men can have everything. Of course they can. They always have. (Actually, they haven’t–they’ve had to sacrifice a huge amount of warmth and family life, but having that wouldn’t be “natural,” so it’s not a problem for them, right?)

    • I never thought about that before. But maybe certain publications are trying to make it seem like women wanting to “have it all” (in whatever way) are greedy and unrealistic. And I believe that those would be horribly unfair terms to label women because wanting to go after their dreams isn’t greedy, it’s achieving happiness. Also, a woman should be able to realistically have all she wants in life.

      It’s true that from society’s perspective, men have always had it all, and women haven’t because they are women. It’s interesting to see what the media has done with this “have it all” phrase.

  14. Wow, I never thought about “having it all” in this way. When you think about it, no one says a man having a family and a career is “having it all” To me, it’s pretty strange that we still treat marriage as a goal. Don’t get me wrong: I’m engaged and I always wanted to get married someday, but dating seems like something you should enjoy, and if marriage happens it happens. We have enough stress trying to get where we want to be in our careers without worrying if we’re where we want to be in our relationships.

    • I completely agree. The way you view marriage is a good way to look at it. I think that having less pressure on getting married helps to just enjoy dating and not worry about getting married by a certain age or something like that.

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    • I know what you mean. Growing up, I didn’t think I wanted either one. I don’t think I realized how “different” that was in terms of societal expectations. I only discovered a couple of years ago that people just expect all women to want marriage and kids (and the other things on the “have it all” list). It does make me feel like an outlier a bit, but I feel like there are so many other people out there who feel the same way I do, and so I feel better knowing that.

  18. Hi Rebecca, great piece that I agree with. “Having it all” is such a patronising phrase to push on to women. It makes it seem like they aren’t a complete person if they don’t accomplish all of these goals. It puts a lot of pressure on those women that don’t want to have kids, get married, make a lot of money.

    I agree that men tend to get to avoid a lot of this pressure. There’s still a little bit but we don’t seem to beat ourselves up as much about it as women do. Im sure its a by-product of the advances made by feminism but we should all take a step back and think ‘am I doing this because I want to or because society is pushing me into it’. I’ll always encourage men and women to do what they really want to.

    • Thank you! I completely agree that the phrase “having it all” is patronizing. In my opinion, it’s just a message sent to women that they have to accomplish a particular set of accomplishments in order to not only be successful, but also to be viewed as a “real woman.” It’s too much pressure.

      That’s good you encourage men and women to do what they want. I think it’s important for us to be happy and find what we truly want out of life, not what society tells us to want.

  19. It’s a big world and can be very complicated, especially for young people who are coming into the age of so much information pouring into their world from so many sources. Too many opinions and too much false media. It sounds like you are on the right track young lady! Always remember to be who you are first, the rest will fall in line as it should!

  20. Dear Women,
    There is a secret meeting of men each week to attempt keeping a glass ceiling over the heads of all women. I know you have suspected this all along.
    Also, men have conspired to have you believe that they are incapable of picking up their dirty clothing, washing dishes, cooking, or any other domestic engineering task. Men conspire to act like children and throw temper tantrums when they don’t get their way. Among many other things men have conspired to create a recipe of dreams and aspirations so that every woman will have the same short term and long term goals. Men want women to be cookie-cutter stereotypes.
    Now that I have told all, I hereby surrender my man card.

    Moonstruck

      • It was simply an attempt to agree with you on your blog post and use humor to mock those would question a woman’s right to chose either end of the spectrum from stay at home mom to astronaut and anything in between. I assure it was in the context of praising your blog. Sorry for any loose association. You write a very good blog in fact I believe that I reposted it on my blog. Thanks for your creativity.

      • Oh good! I was worried for a second! Well in that case, I love that. Sarcasm can be a great way to mock people who have some silly beliefs. 🙂 Thank you so much, I really appreciate that!

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