And I have juggled like mad, with three wonderful kids, a husband I adore, and jobs that leave me perched perpetually on the edge of insanity. Like most working mothers, I have snuck out of meetings to attend piano recitals and missed track meets when a deadline was looming. I have sprinted through airports in the futile hope of catching an earlier flight home and tried to comfort a sobbing child when, inevitably, the plane was late. I delivered my first lecture in a suit that reeked of infant throw-up from earlier that morning and crashed the minivan into a tree as I raced to retrieve the correct ballet costume.
Through all this chaos I have become increasingly convinced of two interconnected points. First, that there is undeniably still a “women’s problem” in the United States, a problem that relates deeply and intimately to the bleak roster of numbers that tell this story. And second, that part of this intractable problem is tied to the fact that women in this country are struggling far more than is necessary not only to have that ephemeral “all,” but to do it all alone.
Indeed, rather than leaping with glee at the liberation that has befallen women since the 1960s, we are laboring instead under a double whammy of impossible expectations—the old-fashioned ones (to be good mothers and wives, impeccable housekeepers and blushing brides) and those wrought more recently (to be athletic, strong, sexually versatile, and wholly independent). The result? We have become a generation desperate to be perfect wives, mothers, and professionals—Tiger Moms who prepare organic quinoa each evening after waltzing home from the IPO in our Manolo Blahnik heels. Even worse, we somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help. Almost by definition, a woman cannot work a 60-hour-per-week job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without the 60-hour-per-week job. No man can do this; no human can do this. Yet women are repeatedly berating themselves for failing at this kind of balancing act, and (quietly, invidiously) berating others when something inevitably slips. Think of the schadenfreude that erupts every time a high-profile woman hits a bump in either her career or her family life. Poor Condoleezza Rice, left without a boyfriend. Sloppy Hillary, whose hair is wrong again. Bad Marissa Mayer, who dared to announce her pregnancy the same week she was named CEO of Yahoo. She could not pull it off (snicker, snicker). She paid for her success. She Could. Not. Do. It. All.