Opinion

Can women have it all? (Why are we still asking?)

Parents aren't perfect, but why are we only asking women if they can have it all?

1WorkingMom-November2013-iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

So, can women have it all?

Two female CEOs were recently asked this question—and their answers reveal a lot about how we perceive women in power.

Matt Lauer sat down with Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, and asked if it was possible to be both a good mother and a good boss at the same time. Barra skirted the question, smiling and saying something about having a great team and great kids. Since the interview, Lauer has been taken to task for asking such a blatantly sexist question.

However, Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo, was asked the same question at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Her answer was no. Interestingly, the male interviewer didn’t receive the same flack as Lauer.

Do we really still need to ask this question? I think working moms everywhere want to know if everyone else suffers from the same guilt (Nooyi says she wanted to “die from it”), and if everyone has to do the same balancing act that involves caregivers, spouses and extended family. Moms want to know if anyone has figured out how to have a successful work-life balance.

Read more: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”: My thoughts>

So, why do we get so mad when people like Matt Lauer ask the question? Because Lauer sits down with male CEOs of companies regularly and not once has he asked them the same question. Alternatively, no one has ever asked Lauer if he can be both the anchor of The Today Show and a good father at the same time.

The Today Show‘s female producer has since come out and defended Lauer’s question—she, too, is a working mother of two and wanted to know Barra’s answer. Hey, I want to know the answer, too. But not the way it was worded: “Can you do both jobs [mother and CEO] well?” Is there actually a mother in the world who thinks they are handling everything well? And if they do, would they admit to it on TV?

I think we know that women and men can’t “have it all”—there are only so many hours in a day. So while Lauer is defending himself, we need to redefine what it means to be a “good mother” and a “good employee”—and figure out what the hell “having it all” means anyway.

Read more: Battling work-life balance>

If our goal is raising happy and healthy kids who make good choices for themselves, then isn’t it great that some kids get to see their mother running a company and employing thousands of people? Isn’t it wonderful that so many kids have dads volunteering in their classrooms and teaching them how to cook? Aren’t we lucky to be living in a time when there are female CEOs to ask ridiculous questions to?

Couldn’t we look at it so that families “have it all”? That way the focus is on the kids, and making sure their needs are met. That also means that their parents have the flexibility to be at their kids’ side when they are needed.

Read more: Drew Barrymore: Why women cannot have it all>

I am going to assume that Mary Barra wasn’t available every time her kids needed her. I’m also going to assume to that when Indra Nooryi says her kids may not think she was a good mom, she is telling the truth. I’m also going to assume that the men who were the CEOs of GM and PepsiCo before these women weren’t too available to their kids, either. I wonder if their kids thought they were good dads?

But we will never know the answer to that last question, because no one has ever asked them.

Read more: Parents, you have it so good right now>

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them are fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman

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