Women are told they can have it all but is it realistic?

SYDNEY Mon Apr 28, 2008 6:56pm EDT

1 of 2. It used to be a feminist mantra: you can do it all, successfully raise a family and have a career but author Meg Wolitzer said in her new novel that the one-time noble goal doesn't work out in real life. Wolitzer is seen here in an undated handout photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Handout/Deborah Copaken Kogan

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SYDNEY (Reuters) - It used to be a feminist mantra: you can do it all, successfully raise a family and have a career.

But Meg Wolitzer, author of "The Ten-Year Nap," a new novel about women who leave the workplace to care for their children, says the one-time noble goal doesn't always work out in real life -- and that is not a bad thing.

"Having everything is one of those cringe worthy concepts that sound better than they actually are," Wolitzer told Reuters. "Is the point of life to amass a big jackpot? I think the point is the stuff that happens along the way."

Wolitzer, 48, was brought up by a feminist mother, writer Hilma Wolitzer, who was adamant that women could have everything they wanted.

So she was fascinated by the number of women now opting to stay at home rather than pursue the career paths chiseled out by their feminist mothers and grandmothers, sparking the rise of "mommy wars" between women who worked and those who stayed home.

Wolitzer herself wrote her book as she raised her two sons, now aged 17 and 13, and also taught creative writing.

Her eighth novel, "The Ten-Year Nap," focuses on some formerly high-achieving women from New York City's East Side who gave up their jobs to look after their children and 10 years later, with their children older, are deciding what to do with their lives and whether to return to work.

But these women face uncertainty over whether women can re-enter the workforce in a meaningful role after such a long break, and the book raises questions over whether there has to be a choice between motherhood and career.

HAVING YOUR CAKE AND BURNING IT

Wolitzer said she entered the "mommy wars" arena aiming to write a work of fiction that was not judgmental about women who chose children over career and she found the topic to be far more complex than expected with no answer at the end of it.

"There is a feeling at a New York dinner party that when someone asks what you do, and you say you stay home with your kids, that they will roll their eyes," said Wolitzer.

"But it's extremely unfair to assume people are more interesting because they work. Work doesn't make people interesting."

Wolitzer said there were few books that took a balanced view on the "mommy wars" with most of the debate portraying women either as over zealous about their children, such as producing overly decorated cup cakes, or as executives who treat home as an extension of the office and rarely see their offspring.

"But these are cliches. They just are not true," she said.

Wolitzer said many women had to work, needing the money to support themselves and their families, so the idea of being able to have it all was just not realistic.

But while the younger generation of women was not as strident as their mothers, Wolitzer said she found this did not mean women were turning their backs on what previous generations of women had fought to achieve.

"I am seeing groovy dads and mums who have much more flexibility in their ideas about gender roles in a family and that is nice to see," she said.

"There is this generation of younger women who don't feel they need to adopt the kind of frizzy-headed, clog wearing feminism of their mothers and grandmothers ... the old models do fall away but a lot of the good stuff has been left behind."

(Editing by Arthur Spiegelman)

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