As a single mom with a blog, and what some have referred to as a bold personality, I am used to being asked a lot of questions that border on brash. Everything from the older woman in the elevator looking at her watch… and then looking at my toddler…and then me, and saying, “My, my, my…isn’t coming home from preschool at 5:30 a mighty long day for such a little girl?” to the well-intentioned yet always insulting, “Why are you still single?!?”
Professionally speaking, I am a journalist, and I, myself, have asked many, many people, many, many questions in my career – so I certainly forgive others for their curiosities – even when they lack tact. I have been fortunate enough to make a living out of my ponderances, so I take most questions people ask with a grain of salt.
But there is one question that always seems to make me stand up a little bit straighter. One that bugs me so much that I never know exactly how to respond. One that I really wish would never be asked of me, or any other woman for that matter, again, and that is, “How do you do it all?”
I know, I know. At first blush, this seems to be innocuous or perhaps even complimentary, given all of the things that I, and many, many, other women do every day. And as a single mom, I appreciate the acknowledgment that I am shouldering a large amount of responsibility, while being fueled by my very awesome village, my incredible determination, and, more than anything else – love.
But when I pause, and take the, “How do you do it all?” in, it really, well, it really irks me. It’s not only the question, but also the tone it is asked with, that makes it sound more like “Yeesh…how do you it all?” Or “God… I can’t believe you are actually doing it all” which makes me want to stand up and say, “I’m doing it all the same way eeeeveryone else is. Getting up out of bed every morning and doing what I can to kick ass at being a parent, while maintaining a career to support my daughter and I. I’m doing it all, in the same way millions of other women AND men are.”
And right there is the main pain point for me. The irritation with the tone, is secondary to the fact that I can only recall one time, ever, that a man was asked this question (bravo to Charlie Rose asking Bill Gates how he found the time to balance his career and his role as father on CBS 60 Minutes). But beyond that, I can’t call to mind another instance where I overheard, or witnessed, a man being asked, “How do you do it all?”. It was certainly volleyed around my former office quite frequently. But it was always directed at the women, despite the fact that many of the men I worked with had very demanding jobs AND a family, which often included small children.
“If we leave men out of this discussion all-together, we are not only neglecting to acknowledge the work that they are doing outside of the office, we also aren’t calling attention to how difficult the juggle is, and why it is so important for them to be a part of it.”
It seems like women are asked “How do you do it?” because we’re still living with an outdated picture of what men and women’s roles are. Just as Charlie Rose recognized, many men are also “doing it all” — or trying to — but society continues to only value what they do at the office – so the question is never asked of them. According to society, men are only ever at work. Women, however, can and do, exist within both domains in our societal imagination and this is where the pressure point exists.
So maybe refraining from asking me (and every other woman) the question is really not what I’m hoping for. Instead, let’s ask men the question as well, and bring them into the conversation about how they juggle the demands of care and career. And although I recognize that statistically women still do the majority of the housework in 2 parent homes, and that fathers have on average, 3 hours more of leisure time a week than mothers do, we are only widening the gap between our worlds by refraining from bringing them into this conversation – because not asking how they do it all implies that they aren’t expected to. If we leave men out of this discussion all-together, we are not only neglecting to acknowledge the work that they are doing outside of the office, we also aren’t calling attention to how difficult the juggle is, and why it is so important for them to be a part of it.