Here’s something women on the Left and the Right can agree on. If a woman has a job and is raising children, why is it that her husband gets a pass about “making it all work,” but the woman doesn’t?
Jennifer Garner touched on just this point at Elle’s annual “Women in Hollywood” Monday. Commenting on the “sexism” in Hollywood (yes, folks, evidently it’s there too, even though they try to make it seem you’ll only find it at Tea Party rallies), Garner said when she and her husband, Ben Affleck, were at a recent press junket together, they were asked very different questions:
[E]very single person who interviewed me, I mean every single one—and this is true of the red carpet here tonight, Elle—asked me, ‘How do you balance work and family?’ and he said the only thing that people asked him repeatedly was about the tits on the ‘Blurred Lines’ girl [Affleck’s ‘Gone Girl’ co-star, Emily Ratajkowski], which, for the record if we’re talking about them, they are real and they are fabulous. Take a look and enjoy.
Kudos to Garner for the positive, ehem, remarks about the sexy co-star—something she definitely must do in light of the totally expected rumors of a “marital crisis” on account of Ben’s reported “gushing over” Robin Thicke’s hottie sidekick. But I digress… though, I do have to say, Garner has it all over Ratajkowski, if for no other reason than Garner, like all moms, has put her “tits” to good use—other than being ogled at.
Was that sexist? Sorry. I blame watching too much Tosh.O this evening. But I digress, again….
Back to sexism in Hollywood—Garner says that when it came to work-life balance, no one asked her husband about how he handled being a dad and a working actor. “As a matter of fact, no one had ever asked him about it. And we do share the same family. Isn’t it time to kinda change that conversation?”
Garner has a point, and it’s something all of us women who hold down jobs and raise a family can relate to. We might not be Hollywood starlets out here, but we work all day, come home to homework that needs to be done, dinners that need prepared, lunches that need to be packed, tears that need to be dried, and hugs that need to be given. We know. We live it. (For those of you who want to assume that Garner and Affleck have nannies doing it all, I don’t know that, so I’m going to assume the best.) It doesn’t matter if you’re making a million a week or a thousand a month. The struggle is the same for all women who are trying to keep it all in balance.
That Question Isn’t Really Sexist
This has been the reality of women ever since they decided they could do everything a man can do. It’s women who have changed their roles, so it’s not surprising that women are in focus when it comes to “making it all work.” Is this sexism per se, or just “habit”?
I’d put it more in the category of habit. It’s historically been the norm for dads to have families and work. That’s not true for women, so we shouldn’t be so offended when we’re asked how we do it. Compared to the length of human history, the modern women’s movement hasn’t lasted very long. It takes a while for the natural order of things to catch up, to refashion, to remold—if they ever truly can.
I don’t think the people who were asking Garner about balancing her work and home life were being sexist. They’re just reacting to the natural order of life—something that’s hard to escape no matter how many female empowerment campaigns we run. It’s written into our DNA that the norm isn’t for mom to “have it all” (someday, we’ll figure that out). So, we shouldn’t be surprised when people instinctively ask, “How are you doing it all?”
What’s the answer, then? Should women abandon the workforce, forsake their professional dreams, and stay in the home? That’s not going to happen—although a lot of women are returning to the home and doing a lot of work part-time or from home offices. Men are doing this too, but not with the same ease as women.
Women Do Things Men Can’t Because We’re Different
Garner says we need to change the conversation. I would agree, to a point. If moms are working, please ask them about their work. They, presumably, love what they do and it means a lot to them to be asked about it, to be given that level of respect. They work hard, just as hard as men. And if dads are pulling equal weight, maybe we should ask them about how it is at home with the kids. I’ve seen many a man begin to gush when asked about his home life. I’m looking at you, Brad Pitt.
But the reality is that when it comes to “making it work,” women will never fully escape the dictates of nature that they are the central figure in the home. Women are the nurturers, the natural caretakers, the creators of life. Women are the ones children are most physically dependent on from the very moment they come into this world. That’s simply not true for a man. He doesn’t have that responsibility or that privilege. His duties lie elsewhere—“to painful labor both by sea and land,” as Shakespeare would say.
A woman might be toiling by sea and land too, but she’s toiling at home as well. When asked, “How do you do it,” maybe we shouldn’t cry sexism too quickly. Maybe we should bear the question like a badge of honor. Or maybe we should hear it as a clarion call, a reminder of our first calling, our best calling, and smile with pride—more for the love of our children than work, which—when all is said and done, when the curtain has closed—is just work, after all.
Yes, we toil. Some of us by necessity, some by choice. Some of use might wish we didn’t work. Some of us might revel in the joy of our profession. Whatever the situation, whatever our reasons, we do like to be recognized for the work we do. Our labor is not in vain. But our professional labor is nothing compared to the joy of our most natural calling, our first love: being a mother, being the person who makes the home fires burn with the brightest and warmest of lights. No man—even the most sensitive and the most involved—can ever shine so brightly.