For much of the past year, the hottest debate in the world of women's stuff has been, Can women have it all?, as memorably answered in the negative by The Atlantic's July cover story last year. More than six months later, The New Republic's Noreen Malone, as part of that mag's relaunch, has suggested that "Beyoncé says yes" they can. But Beyoncé seems to think she's not there yet. "I felt like I had been so commercially successful, but that wasn't enough," she says in a trailer for her new HBO movie about herself. "There’s something really stressful about having to keep up with that. You can't express yourself. You can’t grow. It is the battle of my life. So I set a goal. And my goal was independence." Beyoncé seeks world domination. She doesn't want it all; she wants everything. This is the problem with having really rich ladies set the terms of the woman-stuff debate. We're talking about one thing, and they're talking about something else. While millions upon millions of women deal with the mundane struggle of making a living and raising families, the question it seems that gets asked in these stories is, Can rich women ever have enough?
Ann-Marie Slaughter's interesting, thoughtful piece for The Atlantic was about who wrote about her difficulty being a high-ranking State Department official and a mom to teen boys at the same time. While Slaughter pointed out some frustrating relics of a more sexist era at the highest levels of government, it was hard not to notice that her difficulties didn't line up perfectly with the average American woman's. As she wrote, "I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic—highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place." So while Slaughter struggled to have enough time for both career and family while maintaining homes in the suburbs of two of the most expensive cities in America, New York and Washington, D.C., she did not mention the struggle facing many working women: not having enough money.
This helps explain why Slaughter's cause has been picked up by so many women who have even more despite doing jobs that matter much, much less. It's not that these ladies can't hold down a job and having a family, it's that they can't... I'm not sure what they can't do, exactly. "You make choices as a wife and mother, don’t you? You can’t have it all. I don’t care what it looks like," said actress Gwyneth Paltrow, dressed up in clothes that cost more than most car payments, to InStyle in December. "I'm the biggest workaholic, but I do believe you can't have it all. You can have a few things and prioritize and balance that with real life," actress Drew Barrymore told USA Today this month. The Huffington Post write-up of Barrymore's remark concluded with these paragraphs:
Barrymore launched Barrymore Pinot Grigio in spring 2012, and her new makeup line, Flower, drops this month. She will talk more about marriage and motherhood with Oprah Winfrey on "Oprah's Next Chapter" on January 27.
Click through the slideshow to see who tied the knot [like Barrymore] while pregnant.
Add to that pile Beyonce, who makes her have-more-ish comments in a documentary about Beyoncé directed by Beyoncé. The idea is popular with fancy women outside Hollywood, too. International Monetary Fund head Christine Lagarde said in September, "I think you cannot have it at the same time. I think you can in a way have it all as long as you can afford to be patient. But you cannot have it all at the same time. You must accept there will be failures." Lagarde has two sons, great hair, a nice tan, and, oh yeah, is the eighth most powerful woman in the world.
But my favorite Rich Woman Who Can't Have Enough of all time, ever, in the whole history of the whole world, is Paula Broadwell. Broadwell, if you've forgotten, was best-selling biographer-mistress of David Petraeus. Broadwell tweeted from an Aspen Institute function, "Sitting with @katiecouric and @AnnMarieSlaughter in Aspen. Why #womencanthaveitall?" That was in July 2012 shortly after Slaughter's story became a cultural phenomenon, and at the time, it was not yet public knowledge that not only did Broadwell have "it all" -- a career, a husband, a fancy house, kids -- but she also had a slice of someone else's "it all" -- another woman's husband, and the tailwind of his career.
This is the problem with using wealthy celebrities and officials as models for the rest of us in the grubby masses. Rich women, they are not like us. They look like us, in that they are humanoid, but they are not like us when they define luxuries as problems. When rich women talk about their struggles to have it all, rich women begin to resemble their worst caricatures: a fleet of Cookie Monsters, furiously, maniacally cramming resources into their gaping, throatless mouths, consuming everything that comes near like that desert mouth Han Solo narrowly escapes in Star Wars. It's tough to sympathize or even keep track of what they're saying.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.