Are You "Depressingly American" If You Care About Work-Life Balance?

What Women Really Think
Sept. 9 2013 2:41 PM

Are You "Depressingly American" If You Care About Work-Life Balance?

Author Delia Ephron attends the 25th Annual Artios Awards while thinking about rape in South Africa

Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Every time I see the phrase “have it all” in a headline, I know I’m in for a deep, irritated eye-roll, and this New York Times Sunday Review essay “You Can’t Have It All, but You Can Have Cake” by Delia Ephron, is no exception. Her point is basically that American women (and men, too!) should stop whining about “having it all” because the idea of wanting marriage, work, and children is pathetically narrow, and in other countries “having it all” means “walking to school without worrying that you might get raped on the way.” (What?) Also, she adds that we’re all stuck in high school, where Sheryl Sandberg is our reigning “Prom Queen Have-It-All.” Because we can’t talk about women and work without mentioning someone with whom most women have nothing in common.

First, let me express my sincere wish that no one ever use the phrase “have it all” ever again. It’s meaningless and usually condescending. Furthermore, I agree with Ephron that there are people in the world far worse off than Americans. But by dismissing the whole idea of wanting to work and have children as something only frivolous wealthy people struggle with, we’re conveniently ignoring the real problems that the majority of working Americans are dealing with: the lack of affordable or even available child care; the crazy, growing expense of college; and the lack of paid maternity leave.


It’s a boring bummer to talk about how lots of Americans, especially working-class ones, are struggling to support their families in a system with very little safety net.  It’s much sexier to just tell rich ladies they're dumb and "depressingly American" for being concerned about work-family balance and to shame them for not spending all of their brain space on rape in foreign countries (which ones Ephron’s talking about, I’m not sure—she ever specifies). Even girls who are still in high school can hold two different thoughts in their pretty little heads at the same time.

Jessica Grose is a frequent Slate contributor and the author of the novel Sad Desk Salad. Follow her on Twitter.



Scalia’s Liberal Streak

The conservative justice’s most brilliant—and surprisingly progressive—moments on the bench.

Colorado Is Ground Zero for the Fight Over Female Voters

There’s a Way to Keep Ex-Cons Out of Prison That Pays for Itself. Why Don’t More States Use It?

The NFL Explains How It Sees “the Role of the Female”

The Music Industry Is Ignoring Some of the Best Black Women Singing R&B


Theo’s Joint and Vanessa’s Whiskey

No sitcom did the “Very Special Episode” as well as The Cosby Show.


The Other Huxtable Effect

Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.

Cliff Huxtable Explains the World: Five Lessons From TV’s Greatest Dad

Why Television Needs a New Cosby Show Right Now

  News & Politics
Sept. 18 2014 8:20 PM A Clever Attempt at Explaining Away a Vote Against the Farm Bill
Sept. 18 2014 6:02 PM A Chinese Company Just Announced the Biggest IPO in U.S. History
The Slate Quiz
Sept. 18 2014 11:44 PM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Double X
Sept. 18 2014 8:07 PM Crying Rape False rape accusations exist, and they are a serious problem.
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 18 2014 1:23 PM “It’s Not Every Day That You Can Beat the World Champion” An exclusive interview with chess grandmaster Fabiano Caruana.
Brow Beat
Sept. 18 2014 4:33 PM The Top 5 Dadsplaining Moments From The Cosby Show
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 6:48 PM By 2100 the World's Population Could Be 11 Billion
  Health & Science
Sept. 18 2014 3:35 PM Do People Still Die of Rabies? And how do you know if an animal is rabid?
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.