I am a firm believer in duality. I’ve always prescribed to the idea that people can be numerous things at once. Even if those things are paradoxical — loving but vengeful, astute but dull, vulnerable but apathetic — I find that they can coexist in a person. Yet, despite this belief, I find it hard to determine whether I, as a woman in modern society, can truly “have it all.”
On Christmas Day, a childhood friend and I went to our local theater to watch Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women.” One scene that particularly resonated with me was when Jo March, the protagonist of the film, tearfully described the inner turmoil she was facing. She found herself at an impasse; while she wanted to submerge herself in her writing wholeheartedly, not wanting any distractions or a romantic partner, she was overcome with loneliness.
Ideas of “having it all” immediately flooded my mind. Despite originally being published in 1868, the issues addressed in Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” remain incredibly prevalent, if not more so. It seems as if there are two paths mapped out for women. The first is to become a powerhouse. Women who follow these paths are typically expected to climb the social ladder without remorse, gaining capital, status and success along the way. The second path is that of a homely lifestyle. These women are expected to stay home either taking care of their children and the home for their more work-oriented partners.
While our society as a whole has begun to strive towards and embrace more progressive and realistic ideals, I’ve found that this either-or mentality exists on our campus as well. In addition to the universal conflict of choosing a major you love versus choosing a major you believe will make you more money, our dating culture is plagued with these conflicts as well. Pursuing romantic interests is seen as a waste. In conversation with my closest female friends I’ve found ourselves measuring our romantic encounters based on efficiency rather than joy or experience. I’ve caught myself deeming them not worth it, or that I simply don’t have the time.
Does truly prospering in my career field of choice assume putting notions of children and a family on the back-burner? Does being an involved parent mean I must let go of my own goals and dreams to fuel those of my partner and children? Does stating I have no intention of getting married or having children at all make me unwomanly? Why aren’t men afflicted by the same concerns?
These are questions I ran through my mind countless times during my adolescent years. Even choosing to attend Yale as a first-generation student forced me to address plans that were pressing within the background of my mind. However, I’ve recently come to the realization that “having it all” doesn’t necessarily look like one thing for all women.
The conversation of whether or not an all-fulfilling lifestyle is attainable for women implies a uniformity that simply does not exist. While there are universal expectations held for women, we are versatile in that we have goals and dreams that transcend both gender expression and societal standards.
Personally, I don’t believe the sole purpose of my own livelihood is to find a lifelong partner and have children. I also don’t wish to see myself become a coldhearted business tycoon, being entirely consumed by my work and having time for nothing else. Yet these feelings are subject to change as I find a way for myself. Moreover, that which I find to be enthralling and a sign of accomplishment may not be the same for another woman and shouldn’t be assumed to be so. The women who have inspired me most are those who’ve carved their own paths and pursuits. They did not merely reinforce preconceived notions about women, but they found what drives them and supported the right of others to do the same.
I am eager to discover what it is I truly want out of both my time here at Yale and in life. While what I find may not appear to be the perfect portrait of a modern woman, I harbor the hope that all the ultimatums I’ve pondered will eventually wash away. I’m curious as to what I will find “having it all” will mean to me.
LEILA JACKSON is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Her column runs on alternate Thursdays. Contact her at email@example.com .