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Why Are We Still Asking if Women Can ‘Have It All’?

By Alex McKechnie
Office of University Communications

March 5, 2014 —  

Wendy Davis on the cover of the New York Times Magazine

A recent issue of The New York Times Magazine featured a story on Wendy Davis, the Texas state senator who is now running for governor. Splashed across the cover of the magazine was the question, “Can Wendy Davis Have It All?” The headline – and the article, which included a detailed examination of Davis’ personal life, including her role in raising her two daughters – drew criticism, and was called everything from outdated and clichéd to outright sexist.

The question of “having it all” – which goes beyond a conversation about simply achieving work-life balance and asks whether or not women can be “good mothers” and also maintain successful careers – keeps coming up. From Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s recent book “Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead,” which encourages women to abandon the myth of having it all, to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s controversial piece in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” the ongoing debate brings up some intriguing questions about gender. Why are we still using this trite catchphrase to scrutinize women’s personal and professional choices? Why are women held to such a different standard than men in this regard? And is this debate specific to the Western world?

For an expert perspective, we reached out to Usha Menon, PhD, an anthropology professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences, whose research and teaching interests include gender relations, women’s well-being, family dynamics and concepts of the self. Her most recent book, “Women, Wellbeing and the Ethics of Domesticity in an Odio Hindu Temple Town”, examines a group of women in India who are living traditional, sequestered lives but have found satisfaction and empowerment in this form of domesticity.


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