Anything You Want to Be?

“Nobody objects to a woman being a good writer or sculptor or geneticist if at the same time she manages to be a good wife, a good mother, good-looking, good-tempered, well-dressed, well-groomed, and unaggressive.” - Marya Mannes

Last weekend I attended an event at the MOMA that consisted of a series of short feminist films.   While all the films were intriguing, the one that resonated with me the most was entitled "Anything You Want to Be” directed by Liane Brandon.   This film dates back to 1971, but it is, unfortunately, still very relevant today.   In just eight minutes, it illustrates a vital point about how young girls are often misled into thinking that they can be anything they want to be, even though societal expectations of what they should be, are forever present.   Without much dialogue, the film poignantly points out that many girls are taught that they should do everything in their power to achieve their dreams.   Nothing should get in their way…

Of course, until they have to prioritize getting married and having babies, as all women “must” eventually do.   Too often, the message of empowerment for women ends at marriage.   Parents want their daughters to have the world, but they also want them to eventually be responsible for, and live up to, their “womanly duties.”   They should only hold onto life goals that fit into the context of the sex stereotypes they live in (having children is just one of the many examples portrayed in the film).   There is a limit to what they should dream — as family responsibilities are the first priority, and all else the second.

It is time that we start teaching the next generation of the female race that there really does not need to be a limit to their dreams.   They need to know that it is okay for their dreams to exclude the typical scenario of motherhood, nurturing, family responsibilities, etc.

As women have gained more equality, the common analysis has become that women can now “have it all.”   In other words, women have the “luxury” of having children, and being a mother and housewife, while simultaneously maintaining a career.   If they choose,  women can hire a nanny to watch the children and even help with household chores, while they go out and make a living.   Or women can find a balance between their careers and personal lives where they only work limited hours and dedicate the rest of their time to their children - a balance that men are rarely expected to achieve.

So, having it “all” for a woman means the combination of a career and children… or does it really?   What if a woman’s definition of “all” does not include getting married or having a family, and instead consists of dedicating her life to other fulfilling endeavors?   Why is this not seen as a viable and acceptable option?   We, as a society, need to re-define what we mean by “having it all.”   Each individual’s desires can be so vastly different from one another that we need to stop generalizing and forcing people to live up to stereotyped expectations.   Women and girls should not be subject to only being “anything you want to be” for 20-30 years of their life, until they need to set aside their dreams, and move on to being a wife, mother, caretaker, etc.   Of course, if a woman genuinely wants to fulfill that role, she absolutely should and has every right to.   But she should not be compelled to do so just because she is taught that her life must include those goals.