The Root: Please Stop Asking Whether Women Can "Have It All"

PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi doesn't think women can "have it all" Can women have it all? If you’re a working woman, you’ve read your fair share of inconclusive articles that seek to answer this sphinxlike mystery. This topic comes up as a national discussion with only slightly less frequency than those “why women—never men—are soooo single” articles.

This time the question of women having it all is cocktail conversation fodder once again thanks to an admission by PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi at the Aspen Ideas Festival, where she said that she didn’t think women could have it all—whatever “all” means, because despite the abundance of these conversations about women having it, I’ve never been quite sure what “all” actually is. Anyway, Nooyi’s perspective echoed the sentiment of that very popular Atlantic magazine cover story from 2012, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The title clearly explains the gist of the artlcle.

Here’s what Nooyi told folks in Aspen:

"I don’t think women can have it all. I just don’t think so. We pretend we have it all. We pretend we can have it all. My husband and I have been married for 34 years. And we have two daughters. And every day you have to make a decision about whether you are going to be a wife or a mother. In fact, many times during the day you have to make those decisions. ... We plan our lives meticulously so we can be decent parents. But if you ask our daughters, I’m not sure they will say that I’ve been a good mom. I’m not sure. And I try all kinds of coping mechanisms."

So back to what “all” is. It sounds a lot like striving for unattainable perfection. Here we have a woman who, from the outside looking in, has the elusive “all,” or at least what I thought, but was never sure, was always being talked about when women—only women, never men—engaged in these “having it all” discussions: a great career, a mate she’s married to and a kid (or two). Nooyi is the head person in charge of a global brand, PepsiCo—friggin’ Pepsi! She’s been married for 34 years and has two children. And this very accomplished, long-married mom doesn’t think she has it all?

Something’s wrong here. But the problem isn’t with Nooyi; it’s with a culture that has screwy expectations of women who work. They’re too damn high. Women are striving to reach some unattainable superwomanlike existence in which they’re all at once like the definitive mother Clair Huxtable to their kids, catering to their man like Beyoncé and displaying Oprah-like genius to their employer.

While I’m with the whole overachiever motto of “Shoot for the moon because even if you miss, you’ll still be among the stars” philosophy, I also know that one person trying to be three different people is exhausting, and Sybil ended up in an institution trying to do something like that.


The Root: We Can All Learn From Maya Peterson

Prep school student Maya Peterson was asked to step down as student president over this pic.  

I might be Maya Peterson’s biggest fan. Don’t know her name just yet? You should. She’s the prep school graduate everyone’s buzzing about for her bold, if a bit misguided, way of tackling sexism and racism at her New Jersey high school.

Maya, a black-Latina lesbian, was elected class president at the very elite and very white Lawrenceville School, the most expensive boarding school in America. She ran on a platform that catered to minority students and underclassmen. She was the school’s first black female president and its first lesbian president, too.

Maya’s term abruptly ended in March when she posted a picture on Instagram mocking some of her classmates. She dressed up like the white boys at her school while holding a hockey stick and wearing an entitled glare. The caption had the hashtags #romney2016, #confederate and #peakedinhighschool.

“You’re the student body president, and you’re mocking and blatantly insulting a large group of the school’s male population,” one commenter wrote in response to the picture.

Maya’s response was epic: “Yes, I am making a mockery of the right-wing, confederate-flag hanging, openly misogynistic Lawrentians,” she wrote. “If that’s a large portion of the school’s male population, then I think the issue is not with my bringing attention to it in a lighthearted way, but rather why no one has brought attention to it before ... ”


This is why I like her. She got into a position of power and—unlike so many politicians who swear they’re about change and making a difference but who, once they’re elected, get stifled by the status quo—used her voice to address something that mattered to her and the people who elected her. It’s what we all wish we could do in our corner of the world but so few of us actually do. It’s admirable. And while I may have bursts of “DILLIGAF” now in my mid-30s, I certainly didn’t have it at Maya’s age of 17.

Her election represents the school’s—and, in many ways, America’s—colorful changing face. As we’ve seen this play out on a national scale with our actual president, change—coming in the (threatening) form of a nonwhite and/or female person in charge—doesn’t always go over so well in places where there’s a long tradition of white, conservative men being in power.

I was a prep school student, too—though my school wasn’t nearly as elite or expensive. The racism and sense of entitlement of some—not all—wealthy white students and of administrators who don’t know what to do with black kids is, unfortunately, part of the deal with sending your black child to a predominantly white school.

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