When did the expression "having it all" come to mean "being a woman, being a 'top professional,' and having a family"? That's an easier one than the question "Why are women still presumed to be fixated on having children?"
"Having it all" took hold back in the mid-70s, when British journalist (and mother) Shirley Conran (second wife of Sir Terence Conran) published Superwoman, improbably popularizing the phrase "Life's too short to stuff a mushroom." She went on to write Futurewoman: How to Survive Life After Thirty (1979), and these days heads up a foundation called the Work-Life Balance Trust, where "life," of course, means "family."
Now we have "futurewomen" like Kerry Rubin and Lia Macko, authors of Midlife Crisis at 30, painting the life-work question as follows:
If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of a mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12-hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.
What a fate! No wonder Anne-Marie Slaughter—the Princeton professor and former State Department official whose Atlantic piece has prompted the latest "having it all" kerfuffle—recommends that women establish themselves in their career first, but still try to have kids before age 35, "or else freeze your eggs, whether you are married or not."
This is a desperate world. A world in which there is no such thing as adoption. A world in which Sad White Babies With Mean Feminist Mommies is a photo subgenre. A world in which not having kids means not just not having it all but not even having a life—not even if you're a Supreme Court justice.
It is not, however, the world that most of us live in. Sitting idly on my couch in my apartment—oh, sorry, my lonely apartment—and thinking just off the top of my head, I came up with a list of more than 30 friends, present and past coworkers, professors, and admired acquaintances, all of them women, all of them over 30, all without children, and all too damn busy with better things than to fear the ticking of a clock. Then the baby in the apartment across the courtyard started crying again, and the neighborhood filled with the sounds of rich family life.