What do you get a woman who has it all? A wife.
It dawned on me as I lay in bed, utterly exhausted yet sleepless due to anxiety generated by an ever expanding to-do list, that I cannot have it all and maintain my sanity.
I deeply appreciate the strife that women before me experienced to ensure that my gender was not a sentence to being barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. I am acutely aware of the sacrifices they made to ensure that my choices are as varied as any man’s. Thanks to these sheroes I have it all, but I am too depleted to enjoy most of it. Due to the freedoms that our foremothers were deprived of, and for which they fought on our behalf, we seem to believe that we are obliged to want more, do more, be more, have more. Tacitly it is unacceptable to lack lofty ambitions. Since we can have it all, we are expected to want it all.
Sadly, I have come to realise, our bounty is made of Fool’s Gold. Women are time-starved, with more work, demands, anxiety and very little glory. For starters, most women work a double shift, first the office and then home. Men’s housework is occasional, while a woman’s is ongoing and relentless. In her book Wifework, Susan Maushart shares research which shows that wives across the globe perform between 70% and 80% of the housework, irrespective of whether they are employed or not. Yet, the demands that are placed on us at work are no less. Recently, on a week long, away bosberaad, I noticed the numerous calls the women received from home; kids, partners, domestic workers, even a gardener. The men hardly got any such calls; in fact they primarily initiated a call or two to check up on things.
Society has cast men in a clearly defined role, as providers and protectors, and doesn’t demand much else from them. This expectation has barely been adjusted since women too took on the role of providers. Men have hardly been given added responsibilities, while expectations on women keep on growing. We must have a flourishing career, a happy family, a vibrant social life, healthy relationships, stimulating hobbies, intellectual pursuits, perhaps a business on the side, and a respectable exercise regime. Gummiberry juice, anyone?
Which came first, our ability to multitask or our need to? Multitasking is a double-edged sword. Just because you can drive and apply mascara at the same time does not mean that it is wise to do so. When you multitask you often perform all the tasks much poorly than if you had focused on one, like most men have the luxury to. Have you ever wondered how the careers of men like Einstein, Sinatra or Scorsese would have been altered if they had been expected to cook their own meals, help with the homework, organise muffins for the fundraiser and do the laundry? They certainly wouldn’t have been as accomplished as they are. Focus is key to excelling in any pursuit. Tony Robbins, the renowned success coach has observed: “One reason so few of us achieve what we truly want is that we never direct our focus; we never concentrate our power…never deciding to master anything in particular.”
Women often fall short in our performance because we do not have the luxury to focus on any one task. We are always on call, especially now in this digital age, in which technology has increased our accessibility. A male colleague can appear responsive and dedicated because he consistently responds to emails sent at night or weekends while we cannot thanks to household chores, kids, and various other care giving obligations that come with our gender. The kids know not to disturb daddy when he is in the study or the garage, parents know not to disturb kids during homework time but mom is always free game. She works herself into a frenzy doing a million things at once, with mixed results.
A male friend put our multitasking superpower into perspective when I used it to justify doing other things while driving. He asked; “You may not have been in any accidents, but how many have you caused?” How many, literal and metaphoric, accidents have you caused by juggling so many balls? What physical, mental, emotional, spiritual or professional price have you paid for having it all? I have accepted that I cannot be the best mother, while excelling at work, with the richest social life, a great sex life and a hot body. That requires superpowers very few of us possess. Some things have got to give. I have decided to consider what is truly important to me right now, and invest my time and energy into those few things.
Since I don’t have a wife I will have to pass on having it all.