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Women Can’t Have It All – Because the Game Is Rigged


Women Can’t Have It All – Because the Game Is Rigged

Laurie Penny

Can women have it all? That this is still a major ethical dilemma of mainstream feminism shows how far we’ve still got to go. Yes, even though they’ve taken the nudes out of Playboy. The answer is less important than the fact that the question is vapid. Here's a better one: when did the message that ‘girls can do anything’ get twisted into the edict: ‘girls must do everything?’


I like reading Laurie Penny. She has loads of insights, and yet, probably due to her rather tender age, she often gets lost inside her own paradigm.

Let's juxtapose these two statements:

"The truth about ‘work-life balance’ is that it doesn’t exist. It never has existed, and unless we radically rethink our attitude to work and care, it never will. There it is. That’s the truth nobody wants to acknowledge."


"Little boys don’t get sold this nonsense. They’re not encouraged to worry about how they’ll balance their roles as husbands and fathers with paid work. Family life, for men, is not supposed to involve a surrendering of the self, as it is for women. Young men do not worry about how they will achieve a 'work-life' balance, nor does the 'life' aspect of that equation translate to 'partnership and childcare.' Not for men."

I would not dismiss as nonsense the very foundation of patriarchy's programming (or operating instructions).

For men, the balance between work and family is a GIVEN.

For women, it's set up as a choice that involves diametrically oppositional commitments.

However, if society honored both genders and the Western Judeo-Christian ethical stance involved genuine respect for both, then a support system would be in place to make aspirations just as possible for females as they are for males. And the three starting points for that balance include:

  1. Equal pay for equal job efforts
  2. Good childcare and pre-school programs for all children
  3. Fathers/husbands helping out with all aspects of childcare and domestic duties if the wife also works

During my single mother phase when I moved to Gainesville, a young woman from China pursuing her ph.D. in Psychology (at University of Florida) sought out my friendship. She'd appear at my favorite coffee shop and with only a tentative grasp of English, she'd ask me to take a quick look at her term papers.

In any case, one day she told me that I was selfish for THINKING that I could have a career and BE a mother. To her, you chose one or the other.

My point is that this kind of socialization setting up woman as sacrificial lamb is global. It's not just based on how Western media tells women willing to smoke cigarettes that they can have it all... while lying. It's something all women are told; and only those from families of wealth can PAY for the support system that allows both simultaneous pursuits.

Again, if the system supported women--to truly be and become all that they could be, such a "Sophie's Choice" would not exist.

The trend I've seen is that of young career women freezing their eggs so that at that point in time when they're convinced they "financially have enough" (or enough security, itself tricky and transitory); they can cash in that egg, mate it with some laboratory sperm, and presto: "That baby you ordered is ready. Do you want 'em with a side of gravy?"


This post was flagged by the community and is temporarily hidden.


Not reproducing is a gift to the planet.


I would also add that women are told that they have to decorate themselves constantly from birth in order be desirable to the opposite sex. This is just another lie to sell stuff that no one needs.

I like your three starting points and can not imagine, as a father, why all fathers would not want to do your step "3." It gives more than it costs by far.


In my opinion the glorious feminist revolution was poorly conceived and implemented.

Yes, women should have fair access to the work world. Yes, in order for that to occur it is needed that men support their women (and families) by taking on more child rearing and household responsibilities. But no, it is not reasonable that the total work load on men should be increased significantly in order to give women their fair access to the work world -- yet that is what happened.

A far better implementation of feminism would have included a reduction in the length of the work week at the same time that women were gaining equal access to the work world. Men would then have gained some time with which to support their women by taking on more of the child rearing and household responsibilities. Women would have been better able to balance their time between family, work, community, and themselves. There would have been more time available for activities other than work and family responsibilities. And quite importantly the balance between workers available and work hours being paid for would not have been tilted so much towards capital by the influx of women into the workforce.

The resultant imbalance between workers and capital, specifically the surplus of workers caused by significant numbers of women being added to the work force led, within a relatively short time to most workers not being paid enough to support a family on one wage. Workers were now required to work full-time and in addition needed to fairly split the child rearing and household and communal responsibilities around their full-time employment. Very little time gets left over for communal responsibilities and child rearing often does not get the time and attention that it requires. Supply and demand then cut our wages, although for a while inflation and increasing productivity due to automation made it seem that our income was increasing, at least it seemed that way to the workers who did not become not part of the unemployed and underemployed surplus.

So who did the glorious feminist revolution benefit? Not the working class. Not men. Not children. Women? in some ways, but in some ways not. Capital? mostly.

I remember that there was considerable Ford Foundation money behind the feminist movement. Yes, the game was rigged.

Still, if feminism is properly conceived and implemented it has much potential for improving society. Us males are not the enemy and a feminist solution needs to add in our interests as well as working class interests if it hopes to bring a solution that improves the lives of women.


"Little boys don’t get sold this nonsense. They’re not encouraged to
worry about how they’ll balance their roles as husbands and fathers with
paid work."

No. Little boys are told to get out and bloody well get a job, and to stop whingeing about assorted garbage in the work-place which shortens their lives and causes them slow deaths. They get nagged by their wives as to why there is not enough money to pay the mortgage of the house she wants and they get told by our glorious consumption -based world that last year's car is no good and that they are not a real person if they don't buy the latest piece of trash from whatever factory is shortening their lives with crappy boring work in a foul environment. Then they get abused by femmonazis.

Face it: most men have NO choice. Most men are stuck below countless glass ceilings. Most men end up in dead-end jobs which stifle any creativity. Most men get told they are no good for this and that because they haven't bought/acquired this and that. And then the silly buggers allow themselves to get conned to go fight for King Country and God and come back maimed in some way. It is time that well-educated, well-to-do women stopped whingeing about the choices they DO have.


You try to blame Feminism for Patriarchal Capitalism by using twisted logic to blame women IN the workforce for how capitalism (in its ruthless present form) exploits all.

Then, by suggesting males are not the enemy, you forget the incredible levels of violence aimed at women.

Just today on Public Radio a Feminist (and I didn't catch her name as I was running errands) was interviewed. She stated that the most dangerous place for many women is in their own homes.

Do you know why that is? It's because odds are--if a woman is brutally attacked--that it will be from her husband, date, or partner.

All over the world violence coming from men is directed at women. While American men distance themselves by pretending that it's only primitive creeps like the animals in the Taliban who rape girls (purchased as "wives") at the tender age of 11... inside the U.S. it's date rape, campus rape, serial killers, domestic abuse, and so much more.

Women upon entering the workplace, or Feminists, in general were hardly in any position empowered enough to alter the capitalist nexus... or its constructs.

Nice try at blaming women.

And something you right wing plants constantly do is try to sully the reputations of GREAT persons by indicating that they get funding from Ford or Rockefeller Foundations.


.."Ain't you the educated fella."


We need another Rosa Luxemburg or several thousand with critical analysis and a fire in the belly. To replace patriarchy and capitalism religion must be eliminated. Only a man could invent a fable that had a man giving birth to a woman without pain, Only a man would charge a woman with such a ridiculous idea such as original sin caused by a woman and used to control women. Patriarchy fits hand in glove with capitalism, which is not good for most people including men. Solomon had 600 wives which meant that at least 599 men had none. Of course marriage is also an invention of man to control women and their scary sexuality,
In Ecuador where I now reside, it is still the norm for a man to have sex outside of marriage, but a woman is forever shamed if she does the same. The whole culture is sadistic and oppressive. Their is a torture victim on the wall of most homes to remind people of their guilt and shame. But it is only different by degree just as it is in the Arab world. Most of the worlds population, women and men, are suffering from massive Stockholm Syndrome. The whole system is set up and propagated for the benefit of a few, mostly men. What is sad is that the abused victims are unaware of their oppression and protect the oppressor and indoctrinate the young to submit.
It is no accident that the feminist movement was co-opted. The .001% did not want another MLK or Malcolm X to arise and point the well deserved finger at capitalism. As one other poster mentioned much of the funding and education of the movement was by the establishment, like the Ford Foundation and the CIA, a sponsor of Gloria Steinem. What educated and aware person, woman or man, would aspire to a job?
It seems strange that the author does not mention a livable income that all adults are granted just for being alive. The tragedy of the modern world is that almost all the benefits of technology has gone to the .001% and they didn't even invent it. I remember that in 1963 in Tomorrow Land they were extolling the benefits of technology and predicted that by 2000 the average work week would be 15 hours and most workers at that time were men. If the benefits were equitably distributed, that actually could have been a reality. The author could have easily written her book and she would have had a vast audience that had the leisure time to enjoy it.
There are still pockets of culture in isolated areas that have survived the onslaught of patriarchy and have maintained what Riane Eisler calls a partnership society. Check out "The Kingdom of Women".
I know there are Rosas struggling to be heard. We need to listen and promote. After all the thing that frightens the .001% the most is that the 99% will wake up and rise up in mass. Actually we do not need to rise up. All we need to do is not go to work or shop and the system would collapse.


Indeed I am.

Now m'dear; have you ever worked in a foundry? Have you ever operated machines that cover you with fine sand, outside and inside your lungs, breathing hot fumes from some resin that sets the sand in the mould hard, with you head 8 inches from a core box heated to near red-heat and from which every 2 minutes you have to extract the moulded core from which emanates the fumes of the resin, and have you ever done this for 8 hours at a stretch, or even 10 or 12 hours daily, to get the overtime to keep the family going? Have you ever sat for 8-10 hours per day in a shed full of smoke from the foundry, in rows with others, the end of which you can hardly see for smoke, making complex sand moulds for machinery and other stuff which gets thrown out when a new model of Kenwood mixer hits the market? Have you ever worked in a coal mine, or other type of mine, in noise and mud and dirt and silica dust that gets into your lungs and stays there? That is the type of work little boys get told to do for a living and it is what men, the bloody fools, actually have to do. Working on garbage trucks, chucking out the junk made in foundries, fuelled by the stuff dug from coal mines, is a clean job albeit that it lacks status.


Women can have a great career. They can have a wonderful marriage. They can have children. However, to do all very well is not realistic. One area is going to suffer because of another.
When women didn't "have" to work in order for a family to just get by and survive with children, the children were provided with nurture and nourishment. Husbands got the needed attention as head of the house. Then things changed.........financially and emotionally.
Some women screamed to go to work as their right to maintain a life more than wife and mother. Other women saw the absolute necessity to bring in more money for the household budget.
Stop expecting it all, ladies. Having a great marriage involves time and effort. Raising responsible children takes lots of time and effort. Working requires time and effort. There is only so much time in a day and those who think they should do it all are headed for a physical, emotional and mental breakdown at some point.
Those women putting off to have children into their 40's are being downright insane. Children take energy and the older you get, the less you have. Children need young parents not middle aged "old fogies" compared to their friend's young parents.
Unfortunately this financially corrupt nation has destroyed the family and the minds of women thru propaganda to believe that they should be superhuman. The female was intended to be a nurturer and anything less is a betrayal to her family. If you don't have such tendencies then don't have children and don't get married. Just have your career and live with your decision before you ruin the life of a husband and children when it all crumbles to pieces.


The fallacy of this article is that no one can have it all. Life is about choices and you can choose to devote all your time and energy to a career or to family life or to some balance of the two. You can strive for anything you want, but you have to be willing to make the sacrifices.

"For men, the balance between work and family is a GIVEN.", I think not. there may be expectations, but I struggle with the balance on aregulat basis, knowing that when I travel, I am helping my family financially, but also knowing that I am missing time with them.

As for your three starting points:
1. Unequal pay for equal jobs is a myth. Whne you account for profession, training and experience, the "pay gap" decreases to less than 5%. Perfect no, but pretty damn close.
2. Good childcare / pre-school programs - a noble goal, but who is paying for it, someone needs to be reimbursed for their efforts to provide day care. Again it comes down to choices, day care or an extra income.
3. Fathers/husbands need to help with all aspects of childcare domestic duties - regardless of whether the mother works. Raising a family is a partnership requiring full effort form both parents.


I think the key here is the word 'work'. People blather on about the 'work ethic', but I think we are being bamboozled. The whole system is rotten and furthermore, to use a new buzz word, unsustainable. This whole nonsense about the virtue of working at a job that consumes the better part of the day, stresses you and gives you just enough (and sometimes not) in order to get up and do it all over again just because someone has locked up the food and all the basic necessities of life.

Some of us are lucky and do 'work' we love which enables us to enjoy 'play' and best of all is work that is play. I would much rather create a play with my children than go down a coal mine for 8 hours a day, but--here's the rub--don't value the coal miner (CEO, lawyer, dishwasher, etc) more than the person who bears (through 'labour') and/or nurtures children. Society doesn't value the care of the most important beings--the children. Our collective values are all wonky. We reward baseball players with millions and leave caregivers dependent on the charity of others--slavery? It's the system. If a parent stays home to care for children, be they woman or man, they become dependent, non-earners. If parents decide to both go to work, they end up like rats on a wheel. It's the system.

As for 'having it all' who said I have to have a house, a spouse, a career, exotic vacations, children, etc.? Is this the new American Dream? I'll be happy when I have...? The system is definitely rigged. It's good for neither child, woman, man or beast. And it's unbearable.
Here is a link to a short film bringing Ibsen's A Doll's House into the 21st century:



I apologize for referring to the Feminist Revolution as the glorious feminist revolution. That was sarcastic and I can see how for some women my choice of words can be a red flag. I was around in the 60's. I was not in favour of the Viet Nam war, racism, or patriarchy, but that is irrelevant to this discussion except to explain that I noticed then a messianic aspect to the women's movement and my sarcastic use of the word "glorious" referred to MY perception of what I was seeing.

I will also apologize for being a poor writer. I am not blaming women, rather I am blaming those with capital who saw an opportunity to change the balance of power between capital and labour. Women and men upon entering the workplace are hardly in any position empowered enough to alter the capitalist nexus... or its constructs. And for by far the vast majority of us workers that does not change throughout our working lives.

What I tried to say, however poorly, was that the reason that women can't have it all, why feminism did not succeed as well as had been hoped -- was because the work week was not shortened, a reform which would enable that BOTH men and women would have time to work, properly share the raising of children, participate in the community and have some time for themselves. I think that reducing the length of the work week is a goal advantageous to feminists, ideally a feminist issue (and one with considerable potential to reduce inequality in society).

Saying that feminism was not implemented properly is not the same as being against feminism. That I do not recall any argument or discussion by feminists about shortening the work week so that both men and women would have time to live does not mean that it was not discussed, just that I am not aware of it being discussed.


Exactly. Work less for a decent wage. Time for art, for family--the good stuff that makes life enjoyable. Will require turning society upside down.

For what it's worth, I'm a man and I have absolutely no desire to have what Slaughter (or Cheryl Sandberg, for that matter) would have people think "it all" might be. When the kind of narrowly-defined goals that require long hours, tons of stress, forgoing other priorities/interests in the pursuit of "success" seems to be the only definition of the word so many have, I find myself wondering if we have any chance, as a species, to get ourselves out of the various messes we're in. Could we get it any more wrong? Instead of looking towards values that align more closely with sustainability, stewardship, and better health, we're told we should be looking up to people willing to sacrifice just about everything in their personal lives to increase stock prices for some company (while likely running up a carbon footprint the size of a small South American city). Whether the "thought leader" is a man or woman, so many of them are saying such similar things.
There was, until quite recently, a powerful movement within women’s liberation to acknowledge enforced ’reproductive labour’ - childcare, housework and caring for husbands and elderly relatives - as a source of women’s oppression.

I think a pretty strong case can be made for supporting a Basic Income on feminist grounds. Kathi Weeks' book "The Problem With Work" does a good job laying out what earlier feminist thinkers had to say about non-compensated labor that women so often do and goes uncompensated.


Yes, the reality of what happened is far more complex than I described. Both women and men need time to live and work and to spend in community activities and responsibilities. As you point out, many of us instead of having adequate time to raise children and participate in our community ended up selling that time for a larger house, better car, vacations, private schools, cable, and so on.

When women moved into the workforce full-time then the time that they spent in the work world had to be taken from somewhere. They had to take it from the time that they used to raise children and to look after the house and from the time they used to participate in the community. And they had to take time from the time that their men had been otherwise using. Community time for men and women was mostly no longer feasible. Women's liberation required that men find more time to help with looking after house and children. The day was still only 24 hours long. Some responsibilities had to be dropped or compromised when women moved into the workforce full-time.

What we got from women moving into the 40 hour per week jobs was more stress and less time for everything that was outside of our jobs. We had little to no time for community activities. Most of us got larger family incomes. And with increased productivity and increased family incomes we bought bigger houses and had more things to buy. And eventually in addition to the increased stress due to selling too many hours, and due to various economic forces, we would get more financial and family insecurity and more divorces. In my opinion having women moving into 40 hour per week jobs was not a good deal for men. The larger family income, bigger houses, vacations, multiple cars and toys were not worth the extra stress and lack of time, and the reduced time available for spouses and children. At least some of us think that.

As for the New Deal sliding down the drain, my opinion is that it was not caused by women moving into the workforce. Rather in large part it was caused by the family unit selling an extra 40 hours per week that was already being used in other ways. With all the demands that families faced they really did not have the extra 40 hours per week to sell. I suggest that in part the New Deal is sliding down the drain because the family units took part of the time that we had for children and home, and most of the time that we had for community and thinking and then spent that time working to earn money that was used to buy bigger houses, vacations, and toys and careers.

What was the cost of selling the time that we had for community? This is the time when we talk and play and argue and build collectively. This is the time for connections with our neighbours. Some of these connections give us some resistance to the propaganda that is used to herd us. This is time for gossip. Time to organize communally. Time to do our civic duties. To become informed so that we can be more active and competent participants in a democracy. This paragraph definitely needs much more thought, but the point of it is to suggest that our not having time for community activities as a result of the family unit selling an extra 40 hours per week to the work world played a significant part in the New Deal's slide towards the drain.

Had the work week been significantly reduced then women could have moved into the workplace full time without requiring that families take so much time away from raising children and from community and from personal time. With shorter work weeks women could have had the fulfillment of careers and jobs and could have had increased financial independence and still had time for family and community because with a shorter work week their husbands would have been able to spend more time with the raising of children and with household activities. With families selling significantly less than 80 hours per week the balance between capital and labour would have been more equal and the workers would have been able to claim more of the increases in productivity than has been the case. Citizens would have time to be citizens. My point remains that the feminist revolution was not implemented correctly because the work week was not reduced in length.


No fault divorce? You mean when the wife kicks out her boring husband because the grass has become greener elsewhere and claims the kids and the Family Court gives her the house and around 30% of his salary and half his superannuation so he has to borrow from the bank to pay her this superannuation as he can't get it till 65 and he still has to pay full tax on his salary and the boy-toy moves in to keep the wife happy but no, it is not cohabitation so she gets a pension off the government as well?


Yes, nurses work hard and the job is horribly hierarchical with the bigger doctors picking on the lesser doctors and the lesser doctors picking on the registered nurses and the registered nurses picking on the enrolled nurses and the enrolled nurses picking on the nurse aids and ALL of them spitting on THE most important person in the hospital, the CLEANER, without whom most patients would end up dead of infection after surgery, and the bed-pans would remain full of whatever was in them.

I would rather work as a male nurse, however, than in a sewer, in a foundry or any factory, down a mine of any sort, or in any of the countless dirty and dangerous jobs that normally fall to the lot of the poor bloody male and against which the only psychological protection is male machismo and bravado, which is SO sneered upon by the middle-class feminists who quite often have a pretty easy life despite the (omigod!) burden of rearing children.

However, as SR notes, I'm an educated fella so I managed to get out of the crap-trap that I once walked into.