Why Men (and Women) Can’t Have It All by John Erickson
Growing up, my favorite movie was The Associate staring Whoopi Goldberg as a woman at a Wall Street firm attempting to climb her way up the corporate ladder through hard work and dedication. Her character Laurel Ayres does all the work and comes up with the ideas that clients eventually invest in, her partner Frank takes all the credit and eventually surpasses her at work by getting the promotion she had been vying for. In a prodigious scene that I still vividly remember from my childhood, Laurel quits her job and starts an investment firm on her own; betting every cent and piece of property she has on the eventual success of her new business adventure.
In an attempt to break through the proverbial glass ceiling and play with the big boys of Wall Street, Laurel eventually discovers that although she can be (and is) the genius behind many of the great ideas that would save companies millions, she still needs to have her ideas expelled by a man she creates in order to win over clients, which eventually leads her to become successful. However, while Laurel is reaping in the benefits of having Mr. Cutty, her made up business partner, by her side, she eventually learns that no matter what she does she will always be secondary to her male business partner.
Although the movie ends with a good feminist one-two punch to the proverbial patriarchal face, it taught me an important lesson about the politics and sacrifices each gender consciously or subconsciously make while trying to succeed in life’s adventures. Why were perfectly good ideas by a female second fiddle? Why were men the only ones capable of coming up with ideas? And more importantly, why did women and men use each other in the same manner in order to succeed and further themselves in the world?
I’m sure many of the readers of Feminism and Religion have read the painstakingly long and brutally honest piece titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter and others might have read Gina Messina-Dysert’s blog in response to it. While we all took to the blogosphere to find and discuss our answers to the age old feminist question that many have been afraid to publically ask like Anne-Marie Slaughter and few have actually dared to answer in great detail, I’m here to tell you that both men and women still can’t have it all regardless of how many eye rolls you just had after reading this last sentence.
Yes, men use women and yes, when you look at the political, social, sexual, and religious landscapes of the world, white, Angelo-Saxon men blot out the terrain like an ever-growing forest in a land of capitalistic enterprise hell-bent on earthly and gendered domination. However, what we fail to realize is that women also use men in many of the same gainful enterprises. While I live in the world of academic, I also live in the real world. I go out to clubs with friends, I listen to the stories from both men and women from highly respected careers discuss their crazy Saturday night, and hear from each of them about how they skillfully and successfully manipulated the opposite gender (or those of the same gender for my LGBTQ brothers and sisters) out of the club and back to their apartment or into some other compromising position that placed one at a disadvantage and the other in a seat of power.
While my friends bragged about the escapades over coffee at brunch or in a text message, I often felt that many people are afraid to admit to their misusing because they are worried about how it will make them look rather than admitting it is something that we all have and still continue to do. The point and problem about using each other is, that it serves as a catalyst to many of the world’s problems and successes. Academics, many like Anne-Marie Slaughter and others would like to sit back and write about the inequalities in gendered politics and the advantages and disadvantages to women and men without truly engaging in the matter that they too once did the exact same thing that they are now writing about.
Can women have it all? Possibly. Can men ever have it all? Maybe. Regardless of however we put it, the are ills to every good deed in the world and we need to get back to understanding how and why we use each other in order to fully understand that behind every good man might be a good woman but also behind every good women there might also be a good man.
We all use each other to get ahead in the world and there is nothing wrong with that. It is the matter in which how we use each other that we need to question and deconstruct in order to fully realize and understand Slaughter’s final point about understanding our own power and in the process making the world better for all women and in the process men as well if we truly are attempting to create a world based on gender equality rather than inequality.
Much like the ending of The Associate, we all create and use people in our lives to succeed and fail in our endeavors. Although Mr. Cutty was a fictional character, he eventually became the physical manifestation of everything the Laurel Ayres attempted to escape at her old job and recreate in her new, female owned and operated one. She eventually had to literally become the actual manifestation of Mr. Cutty at an all-male New York City club to reveal that behind every good man may be a good woman but behind good women may still be the predestined and already defined actions of men that feminists have been trying to fight against for years. Men and women may be able to have it all but they won’t get anywhere near achieving the goals of Slaughter’s article without acknowledging how we got there in the first place.
John Erickson is a doctoral student in American Religious History at Claremont Graduate University. His research interests involve an interdisciplinary approach and are influenced by his time as the director of a women’s center and active member in the GLBTQ and women’s rights movements. His work is inspired by the intersectionality of feminism, queer identity, and religious political and cultural rhetoric. He is the author of the blog, From Wisconsin, with Love and can be followed on Twitter at@jerickson85.