Nobody Has to Be Perfect

We have become a generation desperate to be perfect wives, mothers, and professionals—Tiger Moms who prepare organic quinoa each evening after waltzing home from the IPO in our Manolo Blahnik heels. Even worse, we somehow believe that we need to do all of this at once, and without any help. Almost by definition, a woman cannot work a 60-hour-per-week job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without the 60-hour-per-week job. No man can do this; no human can do this. Yet women are repeatedly berating themselves for failing at this kind of balancing act, and (quietly, invidiously) berating others when something inevitably slips. Think of the schadenfreude that erupts every time a high-profile woman hits a bump in either her career or her family life. Poor Condoleezza Rice, left without a boyfriend. Sloppy Hillary, whose hair is wrong again. Bad Marissa Mayer, who dared to announce her pregnancy the same week she was named CEO of Yahoo. She could not pull it off (snicker, snicker). She paid for her success. She Could. Not. Do. It. All.

I think the idea of the obsession with achieving perfection is something that applies to everyone, regardless of gender. I am not perfect. I don’t know anyone who’s perfect. I’m okay with not having it all, because I’m not even sure what having it all even means to me right now. I don’t have it all figured out, and that’s perfectly okay.

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40 Comments / Post A Comment

julebsorry (#1,572)

Mike, I like your writing usually, but I think you honestly may have missed the point of this article. By shrugging and saying “oh, men try to be perfect, too! It’s not just a woman’s problem…now let’s all just chill out”, you ignore where she specifically addresses this as “these persistent inequities; about the deep-seated patterns that seem to drive women toward the laundry room and men to the couch.”

The problem isn’t that women “just need to get over trying so hard” – there are actual reasons why women feel driven to be all things to all people, and many of those pressures are societal/structural. If anything is going to change, we need men to understand these problems and actively pitch in to change these structures. Writing yourself a pass of “oh, everyone tries to be perfect, let’s all just not” feels like a cop-out in light of the issues she addresses.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@julebsorry Beat me to it. But yeah, if we aren’t going to address the real issues here, there’s no point in having the discussion.

zou bisou (#1,637)

@julebsorry – I could not agree more. I work around 60 hours a week in finance, and spend nearly ALL my freetime (not spent with my boyfriend) at the gym (because i’m in my late 20′s and god forbid I don’t strength train now! it all goes downhill after 30!!!!!?!), buying eye cream (pre-emptive measures ladies!), getting my hair cut and highlighted (hi im prematurely grey from the stress!), getting the teeny tiny tips of my heels fixed and fixed and FIXED (they are so small, and cracks in the sidewalk- so big), handwashing my lingerie (God forbid they make beautiful stuff that is also machine washable!), writing handwritten thank you cards (socially expected), and yes, toiling in the kitchen to create that organic quinoa. And I don’t even have children. To anyone reading this and thinking “well, men write cards too, and go to the gym, and get their shoes shined” let me remind you of the distinction: society will never deem men a failure for choosing not to do any of these things. I’m thankful to have my choice of career, but slightly embittered that it doesn’t exempt me from fulfilling all those traditional female “duties” as well.

Mike Dang (#2)

@julebsorry Thank you, I understand what you’re saying here, and the reason why I said that the obsession with perfection applies to everyone is because I think it’s true, and because I want to put women and men on equal footing when it comes to this conversation about work/life balance—not make this a women vs. men conversation. But I get what you’re saying about how in doing so, it can skip over these societal pressures, and I don’t mean to do that at all. I just feel like this question about having it all has been pushed to the forefront with Anne-Marie Slaughter already, and now with the discussion of Hanna Rosin’s new book, and it’s no wonder that women wonder if they should have it all because they’re constantly asked about it. The writer of this Newsweek piece is calling the “quest for perfection” a “myth.” I am simply agreeing with her.

oiseau (#1,830)

@julebsorry Truth. I feel as a woman, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Everyone judges your choices no matter what they are. Men are not submitted to the same scrutiny or judgement WHATSOEVER. Unless maybe they are stay-at-home dads perhaps. It is really stressful and I think most women have a constant nagging notion that they should be doing things differently.

oiseau (#1,830)

@Mike Dang I do agree with this, though! It is definitely a myth. No such thing as perfect!

@zou bisou I don’t actually resent doing a lot of the things you listed (skincare, cooking, writing thank you cards, etc.) but I definitely resent your last point, that men are not deemed failures for not doing these things. A man who doesn’t keep up with these things is rugged and carefree, a woman is sloppy and falling apart.

blueblazes (#1,798)

@zou bisou I found the article a little motherhood-centric for my tastes. I mean, yes, many (the majority?) of women reproduce, but I don’t think that childless women are immune. It is as you say, motherhood is just one additional facet of a life already crowded with bizarre societal expectations. It takes me twice as long to get ready for work in the mornings because of all that “girl stuff” I have to do. Consequently, I get less sleep than my husband. Then he is surprised somehow when I don’t want to stay up until midnight watching movies and then have an hour of tantric sex. He’s never had to work the additional “part-time job” of being both hairless and well-coiffed!

@amanda@Twitter I find myself wondering sometimes if I would get as much satisfaction out of doing my hair and makeup if it weren’t such a universal expectation. I mean, I hate to leave the house without makeup and with my hair pulled back —but WHY?

zou bisou (#1,637)

@blueblazes PREACH. I especially liked this: “Then he is surprised somehow when I don’t want to stay up until midnight watching movies and then have an hour of tantric sex.”- Ha!

Megano! (#124)

@zou bisou Ah yes, the wonderful Catch 22 of feminism — women can and do do everything a man can do, but men haven’t stepped up to do everything a woman used to do. And so, I am never living with a man ever again.

honey cowl (#1,510)

@julebsorry Thank you thank you thank you. Mike and his fellow men may also feel the need to be perfect, but no one is judging the amount of clutter on their floors, the amount of hair on their bodies, or the hemline of their skirts. You may want to put women on equal footing, but we started 10 feet below men. Saying “This is isn’t a problem we should worry about!” dismisses that 10-foot leap we have to make to just be on the same plane.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@Megano! It seems like men are perfectly capable of taking care of themselves until they’re shacking up with a lady. Then suddenly things like “deciding what’s for dinner” or “using a broom” become totally fucking foreign to them.

I absolutely hated the part of the article where the author belittles this important point by saying, essentially, “oh, but men do more housework now than they used to!” More is not the goal here. Equal is.

oiseau (#1,830)

@MuffyStJohn I totally appreciate the fact that my boyfriend splits household chores 50-50 with me, including laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, and cleaning up food-messes after cooking. If he’s tired, I do more, if I’m tired, he does more. I guess what I’m trying to say is my boyfriend is not a juicebox and I am sure there are more like him out there. No woman should settle for getting dumped on.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@blueblazes I think motherhood is the gigantic elephant in the room whenever we have this conversation. I mean, I never want to have kids, but I understand that equality will come when mothers have the support they need from their partners, employers, and communities.

We also can’t dismiss the fact that, when making a choice about whether/when to have kids, women have to take all these other factors into account in a way that men never do. (I would have had a very, very different conversation with myself about motherhood if I didn’t know that, statistically speaking, I would be stunting my career and signing up for even more housework and child-rearing tasks with little assistance from my partner. This makes childlessness an absolute no-brainer.)

julebsorry (#1,572)

@Mike Dang Thanks for the thoughtful reply ! I completely agree that the worst possible way we can look at this problem is as a “men vs women” thing, where women feel resentful of having so much asked of them, and men feel resentful b/c they ARE stepping up, but lack role models and guidance on how to share new responsibilities and so may not be getting the credit they deserve for their efforts.

However, I think you’ve posed a chicken-and-egg question. I don’t believe that the recent slew of “having it all” articles have made women feel they should, in fact, “have it all”. Instead, I think women are near-universally feeling social pressure to take on way too much, and these articles are a natural result of the phenomenon (similar to “the problem with no name” that was felt by many housewives, but wasn’t universalized and described until Betty Friedan wrote about it in “The Feminine Mystique). So, I wouldn’t agree that the quest for perfection is a myth…but, we would all do well to understand that ACHIEVING perfection is a myth. And, to understand why women feel so driven to meet an near-impossible socially-set standard in ways that men may not be, and then what we can do to change that for the sake of our collective mental health.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@oiseau What you have is very, very rare. Cherish it.

@Mike Dang

Man, there is nobody on the internet (maybe in the whole world) that responds to criticism better than Mike Dang.

julebsorry (#1,572)

@Reginal T. Squirge Agreed! He’s a class act.

@Mike Dang

Newsweek and anything progressive = fail. That Hannah Rosen book is also a giant heap of unsourced fail. This issue comes to the forefront repeatedly because it’s an unintegrated contradiction between our social system and liberal feminism. And it’s generally about white upper class women, just to point out. Why anyone expects fulfilment while working a million hours in finance and scrambling to keep up to the conspicuous consumption brigade is beyond me.

Aside from that, women are scrutinized and disdained on the regular. And if you’re married and your floors are dirty or your husband refuses to dress “properly”, that’s also your fault. There are entire industries built around propping up this reality. Legions of the blogerati and magazine publishers and ad execs would be begging on the street if women could just opt out. Which would, of course, come with its own crucifixion.

This won’t change until there is some kind of social revolution – where child bearing and taking care of children are somehow celebrated in the cut throat upper echelons, supported and all are encouraged to participate. Not bloody likely.

zou bisou (#1,637)

@Hiroine Protagonist : Oh yes, why should we expect fulfillment choosing to take a job that actually pays our bills, instead of pursuing our low paying dreams? How silly of us white upper class women.

@zou bisou

What I said was, it’s beyond me. And it is. Working in finance 60+ hours a week sounds like a punishment TO ME. I wanted to point out that all this talk of generations and “us” refers to a specfic social location, because the universalization of this particular problem erases the experience of a whole lotta people. So you can stow the snarky boo hooing, someone called me white and upper class, okay?

Fulfillment is a slippery word – what does that mean to you? Constant happiness? No experiencing mental health issues from constant unremitting stress? Relief from the fear of being homeless? Not having to think about money? What does that mean in the context of thousands of other women experiencing constant and excruciating financial instability?

And you’re not expecting fulfillment from the job you describe, it seems to me. You’re expecting it alongside a bunch of other conditions, good relationship, time and space to have and care for children (maybe?) and whatever else your life consists of.

blueblazes (#1,798)

@MuffyStJohn PREACH! “I would be stunting my career and signing up for even more housework and child-rearing tasks with little assistance from my partner. This makes childlessness an absolute no-brainer.)”

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@MuffyStJohn Hmmmm, I don’t think this has to be rare, if you communicate with your male partner about what you both expect in a relationship. I know a lot of women who complain that the men in their lives don’t do anything, but it turns out they don’t do anything “right” according to them, so they do all the work and then cry about it. I would never be with a man who refused to carry his weight around the house. I am sorry that this is still an issue for a lot of people.
I am kind with Mike on this one. I think a lot of PEOPLE expect perfection for themselves and that makes them think the world expects it, not just women. Again, I guess I am just lucky, but no one in my life, myself included, expects me to be perfect. And I have a nice life! I really want to know who are these people in your life asking you to be perfect. Parents? Bosses? Friends?

MuffyStJohn (#280)

@josefinastrummer It doesn’t have to be rare, and yet it is.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2113487/Housework-STILL-womans-job-survey-revealed-just-10-men-more.html

http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2012/06/22/vive-la-difference-gender-divides-remain-in-housework-child-care

http://feministing.com/2012/06/26/sixty-percent-of-women-are-primary-breadwinner-but-still-doing-most-of-the-housework/

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2011/03/15/women-lead-in-unpaid-work/

This is an 8 second Google search; I’m afraid to even look at the academic scholarship on the subject.

I’m all for having discussions with partners (I’ve had many of them), but we’re dealing with an uphill battle when women and men are socialized in radically different ways and, again, it’s the women who bear judgment and ultimate social responsibility for raising the kids, cleaning the house, etc. As for your point that men just don’t do things “right,” I believe this is a cop-out to the Nth degree. For once, I think Huge Schwyzer says it best: http://jezebel.com/5923666/i-suck-how-guys-use-self+deprecation-against-you

Some people are very, very lucky to find truly equitable partnership, but it’s a lot more complicated than just asking for it (as many things in relationships are).

Megano! (#124)

@josefinastrummer Um yeah I totally used to do that, and it did nothing. Like I literally said, “When you don’t clean up your dishes and just leave them for so long that I HAVE to clean them up, it’s incredibly disrespectful to me because I have way better things to do than cleaning up after you.”
These are the responses I got:
“I’ll do it later!”
“I can’t leave someone hanging on MSN for 15 minutes!”
“I just don’t notice the mess like you do.” (Usually after he bitched about how he didn’t like how much of a mess our apartment was)
“I have ADD/Aspeberger’s I can’t remember when you ask me to do stuff even though it was 30 minutes ago.” (And yet compromising and doing it when I first mentioned it right away apparently wasn’t doable, and I got one of the previous excuses.)
“When you ask me to do stuff, I really don’t want to it.” (OMG I SO WISH I WAS JOKING ABOUT THIS ONE)

Sorry, but LOL at that last one. “You’re not pretty when you want things. I don’t like you any more!”

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@blueblazes I definitely get that there are these pressures, but maybe it’s worse if you’re working in finance, or fashion, or etc., because I don’t do very much beautifying and I’m still able to be successful at my lawyer job. I guess everyone could be hysterically laughing at my crap clothes and minimal makeup behind my back, but that doesn’t really effect my life that much. To say that an extreme level of grooming that takes hours per day is mandatory is not really a universal thing, I think.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@WaityKatie AFFECT, not effect. Blergh.

MuffyStJohn (#280)

While I see what you are saying about the pressures everyone feels to be perfect, the notion of being perfect (or “having it all”) in this sense is entirely about the expectations and choices women face that men do not. To miss that is kind of to miss the entire point.

For what it’s worth, the people I know who have the most “perfect” – on paper, that is – lives are some of the unhappiest people I know. There a girl from college who I ran into at a party months ago who has a fancy job with a great salary, and a very nice gainfully employed husband, and they live in a nice apartment in a fancy NYC neighborhood, and they travel all over the world, and she’s got lots of friends, and she looks great, and yet…talking to her, she sounded so unhappy and so insecure that it kinda blew my mind. Or my sister’s friend who inherited buckets of money and has a husband and two kids and lives in a gorgeous old historical house and has a glamorous job with a major newspaper; according to my sister, she’s gloomy and depressed all the time. These people who seem to have it all figured out, they got nothing figured out.

You know who does have it all figured out? My grandmother, that’s who. Her life has none of the money or glamour of the people mentioned above, but she’s got her cozy house and her cute dog and her vegetable garden in the backyard and she’s happy as a clam.

This discussion (the article, not these comments) reminds me of that one lady in “Happiness” who keeps talking about how she “has it all”. Meanwhile, her husband is raping little kids.

josefinastrummer (#1,850)

@werewolfbarmitzvah Yes to your grandmother! Why can’t people just say “fuck your outrageous expectations, this is the only life I get!”? I watched my parents “have it all” and then watched it all disappear and now they are pathetic shells of what they were. I refuse to live my life like that, even if it means my peers think I am a loser because I have a roommate and ride a bicycle to work.

littleoaks (#1,801)

“I am not perfectly.”

Hee hee. Intentional?

Mike Dang (#2)

@littleoaks

Marissa (#467)

@Mike Dang Great, now I have to watch this movie for the two hundredth time this weekend. Thanks a lot, Mike Dang!

rimy (#2,163)

In the article, the author said:
A second possibility, trumpeted most recently in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter in her examination of why women still can’t have it all, is to keep fighting the proverbial fights—for better day care, better family leaves, more flex time at work and co-parenting at home.

This is what I agree with and what I think it all comes down to. We should take care of each other, and work for a society where you can earn a sustainable wage while providing a nourishing environment for your children. Men and women, rich and poor. Single moms, dads, and married couples.

WaityKatie (#1,696)

@rimy And, you know, people who choose not to have kids, too. We need balance too.

TARDIStime (#1,633)

Mike, is Logan taking over all tagging duties on your posts, too?

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