Are Haircuts and Exercise Luxury Items?

I really should get a hair cut one of these days!

Sorry to keep beating a dead horse here with the Atlantic Monthly’s mommy issues, but I can’t stop talking about the work/family balance. Here’s another rebuttal to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article on the myth of women ‘having it all.’ Here’s Dana Shell Smith on “How To Have an Insanely Demanding Job and Two happy children”:

But while Dr. Slaughter concluded that it was impossible to “have it all” as a high-level official in government, my experience could not be more different.

So what, exactly, is a balanced life, according to Ms. Shell Smith?

By using mobile technology and consistently selecting jobs that handle mainly unclassified material, I’ve been able to continue my work regardless of my physical location and late into most evenings after my kids are asleep. I am focused and efficient during working hours and am rarely far from my blackberry when I’m not at the office. These were all choices available to me within our system…

…So-called “work life balance” means work and family. Full stop. Social life is on the “nice to have” list, not the mandatory list. We haven’t seen a non-animated movie in a movie theater in a decade. We collapse from exhaustion most evenings and are each settled in with a book by 10 p.m. We watch almost no TV and shop for everything except for groceries online. … My kids knew by first grade that they should sign up to bring water to school parties, even though I love to bake. I would like to have closer friends, but that would require time I simply cannot give.

And I would love to exercise and get haircuts when I need them, but those, too, are luxuries that do not go along with the life I am leading at the moment.

Um… I don’t really know what to say here. She’s not a single mom working two factory shifts. Friends, hair cuts, exercise, making (or buying, for crying out loud) a batch of cupcakes made from a mix once a year are… “luxuries that do not go along with the life I am leading at the moment.” Not going to a movie for a decade? Working late into the night every evening. These are ‘balanced’ activities? Look, I’m loath to criticize yet another hardworking woman just trying to get through the day as a decent person. And I’ve certainly put friendships on ice and skipped the gym (a lot) and let my scary skunk roots show for weeks at a time. Life is complicated.

But people are taking these Atlantic commentaries very seriously and it’s a pretty powerful thing for a powerful woman to represent herself as “balanced” if she actually thinks taking care of her health and basic grooming are “luxuries.” (I hope she has glorious Rapunzel locks; If I tried that stunt, I’d be sporting a halo of brillo pads.)

And I wonder, too, how this insular view of family life will look in hindsight. It’s a very big departure from the way families and communities have been organized for centuries to forgo the support of a wider social network (and I’m not talking about facebook.) There are real health implications to living such a driven life, too. Again, plenty of people do it. I just argued in yesterday’s post that it’s a valid choice for some folks. But, please, let’s not call it balanced. Intense? Fulfilling? Sure. Maybe. I can’t speak for anyone else. But it doesn’t sound balanced.

About ErikaChristakis

Yale Lecturer in early childhood education/Licensed teacher/Former preschool director and Harvard College house master/some-time journalist. In possession of: unmarketable bachelor’s degree (Harvard, anthropology), semi-marketable graduate degrees (public health, education…). Rewarding career at the intersection of family, society, and schools (including long stint in parenting vortex). Forging a new path to connect all of the above.
This entry was posted in Children/Teens/Young Adults, Women-related. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Are Haircuts and Exercise Luxury Items?

  1. Aimee says:

    I can’t get this whole business off my mind either. “Two happy kids” – sure about that, sister? Life for kids is more than just surviving stress and isolation from “non-essentials” (like family friends and a pan of brownies… WTF?). Their childhood sounds like the miserable gilded cages of upper-class Victorian children. If they never see their parents having fun, what kind of example is that? Heck, sitting around on a Sunday morning drinking coffee, eating pancakes, lounging in jammies until 11, are important IMHO. So is spontaneity, something this family sounds like they have precious little of. There’s a lot to be said for the carpe diem spirit: “Pack up, kids! It’s Saturday, it’s hot, and we’re heading to the beach!”

    I’m closing in on 40, and despite my “advanced age,” two years ago I made a bid at entering the Foreign Service. I came within a hair’s-breadth of getting in (I know, sounds like the big fish that got away, but I really did). I knew that it would be a demanding job, but I didn’t know it would be THIS demanding (other foreign service officers with whom I talked about the lifestyle did NOT describe their lives like this). After reading this, as Garth Brooks put it about 20 years ago, “Thank god for unanswered prayers.”

    What kind of message are we sending to the world, about the United States, when the individuals, who are charged with representing our interests abroad have their priorities this out of whack? In many cultures, people self-identify as a member of a family/tribe/clan first, and as an individual second. Dana Shell Smith’s family life is NOT representative of successful American life… or is it? If we’re “sellin’” American-style democracy as THE ultimate way to live – see? look at how awesome it is! – should we be surprised that people in other regions aren’t buyin’?

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