The title of this post is a quote from season 2 of the hit 1960s period drama on AMC, Mad Men. In the episode, the show's post-war feminine mystique, Betty Draper, has just expressed to her husband her desire to pursue work as a model after a long absence from the business. The absence being due to getting married and raising three children of course. Her husband, Don, expresses some support for her but little confidence in her and after all, there is his infantile worry--will there still be dinner waiting for me when I come home? (If you watch the show, you know that Don's dinner is usually cold by the time he gets home, if he does at all). Not one to shirk her household responsibilities or disrupt the division of labor, Betty assures him with a child-like smile that yes, dear, there will indeed still be dinner! Ham, specifically, and it will be studded with cloves and draped in canned pineapple slices and maraschino cherries, just the way you like it! She seemed pretty energized by the thought that she could "do it all." But I couldn't help feeling sorry for her standing there blushing in front of her distant husband like a little league player asking coach for a chance at bat.
This scene is funny and dramatic and so of its time, of that era. Still, it makes me think about women today and the struggle we go through to balance work and life and I wonder if its really such a thing of the past. I mean, I feel like whenever one dons another hat we are all having to reassure the people in our lives that "there will still be ham" or, perhaps the more modern, "boneless skinless chicken breast." That is to say, I will still be there for you. A piece of me, measured in time, will still be all yours. No one will have to suffer because I have to work to earn a paycheck (or want to) outside the home! Or do anything else outside the home for that matter. No one will go without boneless skinless chicken breast on my watch! It will be marinated and grilled to perfection just the way you like it too. Sometimes the responsibilities expected of wives and mothers are too much, unrealistic, and even laughable. In the Mad Men episode, Betty Draper eventually fails in her bid to get back into the modeling business having given up prematurely which is part of the point. Her skin has become too thin. She returns home, is a good sport, and tries to convince herself to be satisfied keeping Don's ham dinner warm.
No one wants to be a Betty. But I feel that as the post-feminist generations go on, we are learning that it is likewise unrealistic to "have it all." I recently read a quote from a famous female chemist that said something to the effect that a woman can have a family and a career but can't have 100% of both. She can have about 80% of each. That is to say, when you are spread too thin, someone suffers or something is lost in the work. That may sound bad but in my opinion, a lot more is gained for oneself by having 160% of a life rather than 100% of either family or work. Either way is a sacrifice.
A few months ago, I was watching The Anderson Cooper show and he had as his guests three stay-at-home mothers and three mothers employed outside the home. I could forsee just by looking at the guests that the producers had chosen that it was not going to go well. The lineup was so stereo-typical and ripe for a blow-out. The three stay-at-home mothers were plain and doughy looking while the working moms were polished and assertive. As soon as the conversation began it involved name-calling. Can you guess? The stay-at-home mothers were calling the working moms "selfish" and the working moms were calling the stay-at-homes "lazy." The stay-at-homes maintained that the working moms were selfish because they spent too much time away from their families, hiring professionals to meet their needs, while not only indulging in a career but squeezing in extra-curricular activities like an hour at the gym! And for this, they should feel ashamed. The stay-at-homes were purported to be lazy because they avoided responsibility (i.e., earning a paycheck) and looked like crap because they didn't take care of themselves lest it take time away from their families. And for this, they should be ashamed. As the camera flashed to Anderson, he was lunge-ing on the stairs of the studio, microphone at the ready while his facial expression seemed to wonder not about the predicaments of these women but about what kind of martini he would like to order when he meets Kathy Griffin later for dinner. He seemed out of his element--he didn't know what to say. Besides the guests, the audience did most of the talking. All of the points were what one would expect. Stay-at-homes argued that caring for the needs of their families was a job despite the fact that it is not remunerated. If it were, they would be paid the combined salaries of a day-care provider or teacher, a housecleaner, and a cook! I was disappointed that no one addressed the dig about being afraid of responsibility--I am hard-pressed to think of a responsibility in this world that is greater than the proper care of children but alas, all these women could think about was a monetary value of things--that barometer of middle-class emotions and the very thing for which they were criticising the working moms. And this was the problem as I saw it with the stay-at-homes on the show, they were defensive yet lacking in confidence and clarity. Their skin was growing too thin. They had one hundred percent of their family life but zero percent for themselves. The working moms were on the other end of the spectrum. They were judgmental and harsh of their counterparts. They had an air of superiority and were also focused on money. They failed to notice the hypocricy of some of their statements. One working mom insisted that her nanny was very worthwhile because she brought to the table a "valuable skill set" that she herself did not have. Apparently to this woman, doing such work as making crafts with a preschooler, changing diapers, or even enforcing disciplinary boundaries is considered a "skill set" as long as she's paying for it rather than the misery-inducing grunt-work she insisted it was when deriding the stay-at-home mothers. These guests were polarizing, if not delusional. They were on different ends of the spectrum for good reason--its t.v.! There is some truth as to what they suggest, however. There are working mothers and stay-at-home mothers alike who neglect the needs of their families or themselves. The women on this show were a plum example of these divisive extremes. Most wives and mothers fall somewhere between the two. But at the end of the day, all women are expected to, of course, provide ham. And herein lies the problem for modern day women and something I ask myself: can you live with 80/80 and still have enough boneless, skinless chicken breast for everyone?