Sunday, June 9, 2013

The Kobayashi Maru

Reader's Note:  As I am a heterosexual, lower-middle class, white woman, that is the viewpoint I will have in this blog. I recognize that not everyone has these viewpoints, privileges, and experiences. Since this post will speak about the trouble of being a working mother, I am definitely speaking from a middle-class, married, and white point of view.

The question is, Can Working Women Have it All? All being, of course, happiness, relationships (not necessarily sexual or romantic), love (in all of its forms), an interesting job that is in balance with home life, hobbies outside of work, and a house that is reasonably put together and not falling around one's ears. If married or with children, the "all" also includes children, being a good mother (whatever, exactly, that means) and a healthy, romantic, and loving relationship. And, of course, to be thin, beautiful, and perfectly coiffed at any moment.
As a mother, I culturally feel the pressure to have it all and some I have internalized. I must also live with the constant stress of trying to "have it all". I've been thinking more about this as I attempt to hit a work-life balance and as I read more and more pieces like Anne-Marie Slaughter's in the Atlantic or this piece in New York Magazine about abandoning this pursuit to become a stay at home mom and how that is a feminist pursuit.

From a personal point of view, having it all translates to me as a woman who puts her child first, makes a healthy and delicious meal 3 times a day, obsesses over her child's education and growth, succeeds professionally, manages to make sure her work and home lives don't intermix too frequently and somehow keeps a romantic relationship with her partner. All while losing all baby weight within 6 weeks and being perfectly coiffed.

Now here is my reality: I, like my sister, my mother, and her mother before her, have kept my baby weight and probably will for a while; I do not know how to pluck my brows but I do not have the time to go to a spa; I honestly have no idea how to coif my hair; my work life very much interferes with my home life because, well, it is a family business; I am not succeeding professionally and often struggle in the workplace; I certainly don't make 3 healthy meals a day; and I don't always put my child first.

In short, I am not the ideal mother, I am not having it all. And the general sense I have, based on comments, opinions, both made to me personally and on blogs, is that I am just not trying hard enough (Slaughter's piece covers this bit particularly well). Let's work with a few concrete examples:
Poor bottle babies. I guess they don't rock, they roll? 

  • Breast is best! Yes, yes, we know. We've gotten it all now. I remember at my Intro to Breastfeeding course at my hospital that my instructor said that if we did not breastfeed, we would have children more prone to illness, fat, and less intellectually viable. Tried as I might, I could not breastfeed. My darling son and I are physically incompatible for breastfeeding unless we had his mouth surgically altered. Yet, from all the mommy blogs, my encounters with other women and mothers, I am somehow a failure. I did not try hard enough. 
  • Baby over career. Oh yes, I know we are all told to Lean In. But there is cultural pressure where if you complain about your child coming before your career, or interfering in it somehow, that something is wrong with you. This one is the one I struggle with the most. I went to graduate school. I have several graduate degrees. But to get a career in my field, I need to move and that is just not able to happen. I am tied to Cincinnati and this makes me incredibly angsty. And that is "a bad parent." I am not putting my child first. I recognize that I will be the one who will have to leave work early for his soccer games, baseball clinics, ballet practice, summer programs. And that's considered ok and what I'm required to do. All while somehow "leaning in".
Honestly, I think I can't win. Because I must miss work for my child, I am not advancing my career and I am not trying hard enough. But because I get stressed about that, I am not caring enough about my child and I should be happy to be at home with my son everyday and because I am not, I am an unfit mother. No matter which choice is presented, I always make the wrong one.

Of course, Captain Kirk wins the Kobayashi Maru (the unbeatable test designed to see a cadet's character) by changing the program; he changed the way in which the program responded to things. I think this applies to motherhood in that we have to change the ways we think about motherhood (my ultimate thesis is, of course, that we still need feminism). We used to allow women choices in life; we were moving toward equality. But somehow, along the way, we experienced a "backlash" and the repressive status apparatus moved again and presented choices which were really non-choices. Peer pressure and cultural pressures are powerful motivators. And as long as we culturally push women to putting their children above themselves (or, conversely, their careers above all and then pity them for empty lives), we are presenting only empty choices.   No matter what choices women make they are "wrong." And the only way we can fight against that is if we stand up for each other and argue what are choices and what aren't. 

Anyways, this particular entry is all over the place as I've been attempting to write it for four days. Because, job, motherhood, homework. Again, mothers always putting others first. And that is presented as a choice.  

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