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By Keeley Seymour, LCSW, CEDS
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Tina Fey says the rudest question you can ask a woman — worse than “How old are you?” or “What do you weigh?” — is “How do you juggle it all?”
It’s too accusatory, she maintains. “‘You’re screwing it all up, aren’t you?’ their eyes say,” she writes in “Bossypants.”
Jen and I attended the PA Conference for Women on Thursday, October 19 at the Convention Center. One of the keynote speakers, Tina Fey, brought up this excerpt from her book Bossypants. She discussed briefly the inequity women experience with roles and responsibilities, and the perception that women should be able to do it all well.
The other keynote speaker present at the Conference, Jacinda Ardern, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, also spoke to this question. She stated that often throughout her career, particularly around when she gave birth while in office, she would be asked how she juggles it all. She said she would respond “I don’t. It takes a village.“ She discussed briefly how women are expected to do all roles and maintain them well, which places societal pressure on women to be able to manage both roles seamlessly and without stress.
Throughout history, women have been no strangers to work. In the not-so-distant past, many women were engaged in various forms of labor, contributing significantly to their households and communities. However, the concept of women working outside the home for wages was not widely accepted until the late 19th century.
Industrialization brought about significant changes in labor dynamics. Women, primarily from working-class backgrounds, entered the factory workforce in significant numbers, working in grueling conditions alongside men. This era marked a pivotal moment in the history of working women, as they were thrust into a new world of economic independence.
However, the transition from home-based work to factory labor was not without its challenges. Women faced harsh working conditions, lower wages than their male counterparts, and societal scrutiny for their newfound independence. These difficulties gave rise to various women’s movements and labor rights campaigns that sought to address gender-based disparities in the workplace.
Despite progress in women’s labor rights, the social perception of women’s roles remained deeply ingrained. Traditional gender roles portrayed women as caregivers, responsible for managing the household and raising children.
The recent period of the Covid-19 pandemic also exacerbated these disparities as women dropped out of the work force at high rates in order to maintain the home. For a long period of time at the beginning of the pandemic, children were without childcare or were enrolled in online schooling. Burden was assumed by the mother, due to historically placed gender roles, forcing women to resign from their careers. Those women who didn’t remained stressed and burned out, constantly feeling inadequate because they could not maintain both.
Women have made significant strides in the workforce. They have shattered glass ceilings in numerous industries and continue to excel in leadership positions. Yet, the burden of being both career-oriented and nurturing persists. It’s as though society expects women to seamlessly manage their careers and families without breaking a sweat.
The question, “How do you juggle it all?” implies that women should effortlessly balance their professional, personal, and family responsibilities, creating an unrealistic expectation. It contributes to the stereotype that women are natural multitaskers and should gracefully handle all their roles.
This pressure can be detrimental to women’s mental and emotional well-being. It reinforces the idea that they should be perfect, which can lead to feelings of inadequacy and imposter syndrome. Women may feel compelled to hide their stress or challenges, further exacerbating their emotional burden. Social media doesn’t help with these feelings, as most individuals post the best parts of their lives, insinuating that they can handle it all.
Moreover, it overlooks the systemic issues of gender inequity in both the workplace and the home, implying that it’s solely the woman’s responsibility to manage these disparities. The question itself needs to be reframed to acknowledge the systemic issues at play and promote more equitable sharing of responsibilities in both professional and personal spheres.
How do we move past the assumption that women are primarily responsible for both work and home? We need to redefine the roles of women and men, acknowledging that both can excel in their careers without sacrificing their personal lives. We need to continue to pave the way for more gender equity in both places. We also need to normalize that none of us can do everything well, and portray a more realistic picture on social media. Only then can we hope to eliminate this question, or at the very least pose to both men and women, “Who do you have in your village?”
Evolve Counseling Services is a specialized team of Licensed Therapists providing treatment in Paoli, Pennsylvania.