Posted by: Kymbre Robinson | April 10, 2018

Can Women Have it all?

While listening to the presentations on Monday, I was really intrigued by one of the leaders, Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Vigdis Finnbogadottir became the first female president of Iceland after winning a close election. More importantly, she became the first woman in the world to be elected head of state. She remained president for twelve years before retiring, changing the picture of what a president is.

America has yet to elect their first female president and seem to be struggling in promoting female political leadership. In our reading last week, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, Slaughter explains that the work culture in America is difficult for women to balance career and family, especially in politics. Long before they begin their careers, some women are already contemplating whether or not they will have children and when. Should women have children while they are still young or wait until later after they have established themselves? Slaughter states that one of the half-truths society gives American women is that “women can have children and a career if they sequence it right.” However, it can be difficult to do this since people are marrying later, careers can switch easily, and not all pregnancies are planned.

When women have children, they then must take into consideration if they are going to take time off from their careers in order to care for their children. Several women do make the decision to step down from their careers for a while, but it has been shown that they have difficulty re-entering the workforce after they have left. Women are not guaranteed maternity leave in America, nor the opportunity to retain the same position they had before they left. Slaughter mentions that another half-truth for women is that “it is possible to have a career and children, if only they marry the right person”. Even if they have a partner who is willing to take on more of the burden in childcare, this truth makes the assumption that most women feel as comfortable as men to leave their children to go off to work.

However, Vigdis Finnbogadottir was a single mom who successfully raised her child and enacted the duties as the president of Iceland simultaneously. Nordic countries have been making strong advances in gender equality for a long time. They are seen to have the largest participation of women in the workforce, and a substantial decrease in the wage gap, while providing an abundant amount of leadership opportunities for women. In fact, Sweden consists of the highest percentage of women in government in the world. So how do Vigdis Finnbogadottir and other Nordic female professionals balance out their career with family?

In an article, What Makes the Nordic Countries Gender Equality Winners, the author explains that Nordic countries, such as Iceland, have been able to provide a better work-life balance for men and women. Their countries include both mandatory paternal and maternal leave that come along with state-mandated benefits. In Iceland, parental leave consists of three months. Governments help rising parents with child care by providing them with parenting kits at hospitals and pensions. Women are also encourage to take post-maternity re-entry programs before re-entering the workforce.

Overall, Nordic countries seem to possess a culture that stresses a healthy family-work life balance. The countries believe more in “working to live, not living to work.” According to Slaughter, America is facing a culture of “time macho” in which employees are expected to work harder and stay later for their careers. Slaughter points out that the more time in the office does not always mean that value is added towards their goals. She goes on to say that while having family friendly policies is necessary, often women in America can be afraid to take advantage of them in the time macho culture. In the end, she argues that ultimately America’s culture must change before women can truly have it all in balancing a career with children.

Do you believe that Iceland’s culture of family-work balance helped make it easier for Vigdis Fonnbogadottir to become president? Do you think that America could ever adopt any of the family friendly policies that Nordic countries have put into place? What do you think would be the most helpful in changing America’s time macho culture and revaluing family in the workforce?

Here is the link to the article below.


  1. Hi Kymbre! I thought the readings about ‘having it all’ were really interesting. They acknowledges some pretty uncomfortable truths, in that women have to make long-term family decisions in most careers. There are some that offer off- and on-ramps, but the vast majority of careers do not give women the flexibility to painlessly leave and come back to their jobs. It’s really intimidating to think that me, a (hopefully) professional woman will have to have a plan for the next 30 years if I decide to procreate. The point about sequence was interesting, because there is never a perfect time to have children. Women would be missing out on something no matter when they leave the workforce to have children.

    Maternity and paternity leave are significant contributors to whether or not women are able to leave their job and return. I think the norm in the United States is twelve weeks unpaid maternity leave. Just for reference, a three month baby is just starting to grab for toys. I can’t imagine that at this level of cognitive function it would be healthy for a mother to leave for long periods of time (i.e. the work day). Postpartum depression is also common in this time period, so a mother who has to go to work (and suffers from postpartum depression) would be consumed with feeling of guilt. I’m sure that women trust the people they are leaving their child with, but there would still be some nagging thoughts that the mother has a duty to be with the baby at all times.

    I think that the support Nordic governments provide was a factor in Vigdis Finnbogadottir’s success as a single mother. Not only are Nordic women accepted as valuable members of the work force, they are seen as equals to men in many regards. I read an article about a viking tomb being uncovered, and the archaeologists finding female skeletal remains. Culturally, them, Nordic cultures are predisposed to accept female participation in (what we consider to be) masculine spheres. The support that the government provides includes paid maternal and paternal leave; I think it’s super important that the governments recognize that both the mother and father benefit the baby (and vice versa).

    I hope that eventually, the United States can shift from a time macho society to one that promotes healthy work-life balances. This time macho leads people to do more work that what is actually expected of them for the simple purpose of doing work. I think this relates to America’s fondness for being busy. It’s almost like a competition: You got five hours of sleep last night? You’re lucky I only got three! as if this is a symbol of our intelligence or dedication to a specific task. I think this relates to what Slaughter said about women choosing not to take the family-friendly career options. They think it is a cop-out, perhaps. I think clear expectations for a particular job would be helpful in limiting people from doing extra work, but it is a long-term cultural shift that will not be easy to achieve.

  2. I do think that the programs and government policies in place make it easier for women in Nordic countries to ‘have it all.’ However, I think our societal values in US and Iceland are very different and that also plays a role. In Iceland and other Nordic countries, family is a strong value in their society. However, while family is important in America, our family unit and what our families look like are a little different. In America, many couples have children together but are not necessarily married. In other many other countries, women still get shunned for have children outside of a marriage. Howeve, our society is much more open to causal relations and blended family types. This makes it difficult to determine what qualifies as a ‘famuly’ or determine who gets leave from work. Our goverenment policies are very old-fashion and are not up to date with our modern realities. In any casues policies still say man and wife and that is not always the norm anymore.

    This is especailly true for single mothers, who do not have anyone else to lean on to provide when they take maternity leave. Our society is much more uptight that Iceland. Most people in the work force work long hours and do not take many days off. However, in Iceland and other Nordic countries they value their time off work and actually take advantage of the opputunity to take off work.

    I am studying abroad in May to Finland to study their education programs. In Finland, they have shorter school days, less school days, and less homework yet they out test our students in the United States. The stress level in Finland is much lower than in American and it is working for them. In European countries families go on ‘hoilday’ which can last up to a month. From my own upbringing, my dad was always very reluctant to take off even a day to have a long weekend trip. I think ultimately our societies differ in values and how we go through everyday life. However, for materinty and paternal leave, our governmental policies need to catch up to our modern day definitions of family to match and actually benefit all types of families.

  3. I believe that countries that have enforced laws that make parenting and working more accessible are a step in the right direction. Implementing re-entry programs after maternity leave is essential for successful workplaces. Slaughter mentions the “time macho” culture, and I agree that Americans are afraid to take advantage of the opportunities because “time is money.” I agree with Slaughter that the culture needs a change before America is ready for women to have it all. I do believe that Iceland’s culture has helped Vigdis Fonnbogadottir thrive in her country as a president. I think that American leaders should notice these other countries that have success with these programs, and companies should encourage the culture change. I think if leaders in companies would encourage people spending time with their families, it could help. If workers were honest about their family lives, like attending practices and games for children, then the managers could be more understanding. I just think it takes more open communication on a friend and understanding level.

  4. Making it possible to have parenting and being able to maintain a career, I want to be at the top of the list of things that can be accomplished in America within the next 10 years or so. I know that I am working hard for a degree that will hopefully land me a prominent career, I also know that every women is working just as hard if not harder for their degree as well. Having to take maternal leave should not have a difficult re-entry process. A system in which we are able to prioritize our families and happiness but still retain and fulfill our careers is a system I hope that we have figured out by the time we are all starting families of our own. As of right now it seems that we cant have it all and it seems as though we may have to wait a little while. One way or another I hope this problem can be resolved.

  5. I definitely think that a country with certain policies that cater to being a parent would be super helpful for women in gaining more leadership positions. I think many women still dream of having it all but with how our society is currently set up, it is almost impossible. I think when companies do things, such as the leave policy that CNU published regarding parents who are expecting or adopting, is amazing. These kinds of things encouraged women to keep working towards their goals while still having the family life they desire. I do not think that maternity leave should have such a difficult returning process. I also really like ideas such as allowing parents to pick the hours they work so they can be home when they need to.

  6. The question of when women and family is one of the most common dilemmas. Women are expected to fulfill their natural duty of having kids, and it is something that most women were raised with the impression of. However, this is changing. Women are more than just people who stay at home. Women have careers. Both are very time consuming, and some have to choose to only do one. Traditionally, women did not have careers. In this modern day, more and more are choosing to just not have kids. Both, however, have a strong negative stigma. So, woman try to juggle both. If women start young, there are chances that they will never get to a career and “lose their chance.” They could get their schooling first, but then afterwards, the information they know is outdated, and it is harder to get a job. So, people tend to not want to stop after schooling and they go straight into careers. They can’t stop at the beginning of the careers because they are expendable and will probably not be able to come back from the break. So, it is good so stick with your career, but at some point, it is too late to have kids, and you will miss your shot to start a family. So, what can a women do? The best thing I think is to get a name for yourself in your career, and when you have a kid, you can’t drop off the world. You have to keep your name in at your job and try to stay connected. This way, you will still have a spot, and you will still be motivated to come back. Also, it is good not to stay out of work long to still be knowledgeable about the latest trends. Once you are able, start coming back to work. But slowly. Start off, only coming in a few hours to show commitment. As the children ages and health becomes normal, take more and more hours as you are able until you are at your full time again and as desired. Good family plans help with this because it keeps the women connected to their job, but it also gives them the needed break.
    The case of Iceland and Vigdis Finnbogadottir are a little different. The biggest reason women take off work is so they can recover from giving birth and help nurture the baby. For Vigdis, however, her daughter was adopted. She never had to take off a large part of work to help raise the baby in crucial months because she was already past that age at adoption. In addition, before her presidency, Vigdis did things with flexible schedules that often aligned with school times, so she could just work while her daughter was at schooling. In the presidency, her job was very figure head ish and she was able to choose her schedule as she pleased. As her daughter aged, she was also able to come with her to things. For this reason, it wasn’t much of challenged and was possible. If you do notice, however, another women has yet to be president of Iceland. So, she could’ve just been a special case with her adoption. Adoption is a great way to not need to take a break from a career. None of this, however, subtracts from Iceland’s policies because their family policies are exceptional, and because they offer it to both genders, it takes the stigma away and makes family an equal priority. This helps greatly with that gender difference.

  7. I think its hard to compare America to other countries since we are so different. America is one of the longest running experiments where we have so many diverse ideas, cultures, and people that it makes it hard for all of us to agree on any one thing. Other countries such as Iceland do seem like they have their stuff together, but they also all have very similar ideas that ,makes it easy for them to all get along and agree. So in this country that is so big and so diverse, we end up with a process that takes much more time to get everyone on the same page. Whether it be gay rights or electing women for president, we have a hard time moving forward at the pace of other countries. I think that Iceland and other countries like it give America a good idea of the things we should be moving toward, but as for being the country that comes in first, we are just too big and slow.

  8. I think both the political policies and social norms of these Nordic countries helped pave the way for Vigdis Fonnbogadottir’s claim to presidency. As you mentioned, there is more to balancing the personal and professional lives of men and women than changing legislation. Of course, legal backing by Congress would be extremely beneficial; in the United States, maternity leave is only legally required to be an unpaid four weeks off, and most large companies adopt this allowance. However, even if this law were changed to be more flexible for both mothers and fathers, would American workers use this leave? Personally, I think that it would take a lot of time for Americans to accept this kind of paid leave without receiving the judgments and criticisms of those trapped in the macho time culture that you explained.

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