“Of all CEOs among Fortune 500 companies, only 18 are women,” wrote Joanna Coles, Marie Claire USA editor-in-chief, in the magazine’s latest issue devoted entirely to career.
“Thank God there’re only 18 of them, not more, because being CEO is so freaking tough for a woman,” is the unexpected thought that crossed my mind as I was reading this, something hardcore or even moderate feminists would definitely want to kill me for.
Then, of course, I immediately felt remorse for exercising such retrograde ideas. Of course, I’ve got tremendous, awe-like respect for over-achieving women who manage to combine a stellar career and family, and everything else a 21st century woman might dream of. In fact, I view the females who epitomize the celebrated concept of “having it all” as modern-day heroines, no less.
In my twenties, I have been lured by this notion myself. But while I did succeed in becoming a rather productive multi-tasker and multi-projector in work and social life, it didn’t seem feasible to fit in a family in that “living on the run” lifestyle. I was super-busy and restless, pursuing my professional passions and feeding on the adrenaline the achievements and new exciting experiences supplied. But deep down, I was not totally fulfilled.
And while now in my thirties I am trying to prioritize for good and compromise certain things in my professional life to make room for other stuff which seems more meaningful to me now, I find myself pondering more and more about how unrealistic, if not merely utopian, the “have it all” pursuit has proved itself to be.
The leaders of the women’s movement were promoting this concept as one of the last century’s most progressive and empowering messages.
But in reality, as alluring as “having it all” might appear to a woman, does getting there, if ever, make us sane and happy? It doesn’t feel that way to me.
With this incredible pressure to perform that the female liberation era has imposed on us, we often lose focus and sometimes direction and even, eventually, drive. More frustratingly, vehemently going after what we “must have” or “should do,” we may lose touch with who we really are and what we really want.
In Russia, feminist ideas don’t have a significant influence or so we like to believe. Still, I see women chasing this “having it all” pursuit even more rigorously here than in the West, perhaps without even realizing it. While a Western career woman might be quick to delegate a good portion of the home chores to her partner, most Russian women strive to be perfect in all areas no matter what – professional, domestic, physical, etc.
The mythical image of a super-potent Russian female capable of nearly-Herculean exploits prevails in our classical literature. In Soviet times, it pervaded daily life: women performed physically demanding jobs alongside men in factories and at construction sites on a regular basis, with a second work shift waiting for them at home: kids and husbands to tend to.
Speaking about men, especially the more successful ones, most of them seem to be remarkably focused and consistent with their choices. If they choose to invest in their work, they don’t feel guilty if they drag behind on other fronts. As far as the “home dads,” guys who’ve chosen to take a long-term paternity leave or permanently stay home, these fellows also seemed to me more relaxed or at least way less perfectionist than many housewives. And, truth be told, I’ve never met a guy who claimed he aspired to “have it all.”
And the female over-performers who’ve seemingly made it… I’ve met quite a few of them in Russia, too – a new generation of extraordinary businesswomen has emerged here lately. Some appear to be male-energy-dominated machines, overburdened by the stress of the responsibilities and decision-making they’ve taken up, like the high-profile partner in an American law firm in Moscow who complained in a recent Forbes/Russia interview that she saw her two kids mostly at night, when they were asleep. Others seem more elated, although still stressed and dissatisfied as they’re constantly racing the clock, just like Sarah Jessica Parker’s frenzied character in the recent comedy about a woman juggling a career in finance and raising two small children in “I Don’t Know How She Does It.”
The happier women, I’ve noticed, are capable of making more unconventional choices, when necessary, like becoming self-employed, or going after a more flexible schedule and just succumbing to not managing to have it all – at least all together.
And the happiest ones I’ve met don’t even try to engage in the “have it all” utopia whatsoever. They do everything their own unique way, following their gut preferences and talents. They don’t try to be like Angelina Jolie (a female apotheosis of perfect everything) and are at peace with the fact that they might never accomplish what they could have (or maybe not yet) with all the opportunities available.
I myself, a perfectionist by nature, have recently discovered a surprisingly joyful alternative to accomplishing things – letting them go.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
Russia has always been referred to as feminine and Russian women have been one of the most popular stereotypes of this nation, both positive and negative. But is this an all-male fantasy? Here is a hip, modern, professional and increasingly globalized Russian woman looking at the trends around her, both about her gender and the society at large. She talks and lets other women talk.
Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.