Having it all: Liz Lemon Can’t Do It Either – UPDATE

“Sandwich Day” is one of my favorite episodes of 30 Rock. On the set of The Girlie Show, “sandwich day” is “the most magical day of the year,” says the slovenly writer, Frank. It’s the day when the Teamsters treat the staff to sandwiches purchased from a Brooklyn deli whose location is kept a strict secret. When the greedy staff eats Liz Lemon’s sandwich, she flips out:

The writers beat the Teamsters in a drinking contest, get a new sandwich for Liz, and she tries to bring it past TSA security at Kennedy airport (long story). Told she must leave the sandwich because the dipping sauce exceeds 3 ounces. She must decide between the sandwich and the ex-boyfriend she is trying to chase down.

“Leave the sandwich?” Liz gasps, “Leave the sandwich?”

Determined to bite off more than she can chew, Liz opts to try for both. Standing in the security line, she flips open the dipping sauce and proceeds to devour the sandwich while the TSA agent remarks, “you’re choosing a sandwich over a man.”

“I can do it!” Liz Lemon chokes out between bites, “I can have it all!”

Disgusted, the TSA worker says, “God, lady, you’re eating foil!” and lets her through.

The thing that always strikes me about the show is that Liz Lemon, in her quest to have it all, rarely find joy in anything. She longs for things — a baby, a relationship, a sandwich — but she commits to little beyond the food because everything else costs so much, requires so much of her. She knows, instinctively, that she can’t have it all.

But because she is constantly checking off all the things she must do before she can officially “have it all” and therefore be happy, she takes joy in almost nothing beyond her work. Everything beyond work is hard, but sandwiches are easy; they require nothing of her.

I thought of Liz Lemon this week, as I was reading some of the responses to Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in Atlantic Magazine in which she posits that women still can’t have it all.

Nancy French says men can’t either, while over at Black, White and Grey, sociologist Margarita A. Mooney argues thatwomen can’t have it all, but we could have it better with an interesting chart.

I thought Elizabeth Duffy had the most thoughtful take on the issue:

As a Catholic woman, I’ve realized time and again that—as I reject the contraceptive bedrock of feminism—there really is no place for me in this debate. But I sort of enjoy watching it from the outside, seeing the different ways that “choice” becomes a stumbling block rather than the cure-all it was meant to be.

On one side of the divide, choice has drawn some stay-at-home mothers into a competitive quest for maternal perfection: choosing to forgo work in favor of family becomes its own kind of career, proving to ourselves and our peers, over and over again that we’re fulfilled, that we’re making enough of a difference in the world—with our excellent food choices and our homeschooling and the super kids we’re producing—to topple any mere career ambition. “We’re doing just fine, thanks, as you can see by the pretty pictures I’ve posted on my blog!”

On the other side of the divide, evidenced by Slaughter’s article, choice makes women incredibly puzzled about their roles both at work and at home. Is there a balance? If so, how do I get it? I know, let’s talk about changing work policies, and getting more women into the highest levels of their profession so that they can effect change from the top down. In other words, let someone else solve the problem, so the onus isn’t on women to make their own brutal choices for or against their families.

Having a choice is a huge responsibility, and the schizophrenic tone of this conversation suggests that women feel more burdened by choice than liberated.

Read it all and share it with your friends. An interesting conversation for the weekend.

No, we can’t have it all; the whole idea is a come-on, like the shiny product you crave because it is marketed so slickly. All “you can have it all” does is make people ask, “then why don’t I?” and then look to the government to create artificial means toward that end. It makes women doubt themselves, question their lives and feel dissatisfied with their choices, their gifts, their accomplishments. The idea that one can have “everything” and give up nothing is just a lie. As Chesterton said, “when you choose anything, you reject everything else.”

It’s one of those uncomfortable truths. If I choose to blog all day long, I reject being with my family in order to live within my own thoughts.

If I choose an abortion in order to pursue “having it all”, I have rejected a human life in order to pursue mere ambition.

If I choose ideology over faith, I have rejected eternity, for a passing moment.

We cannot have it all. But if we did, we’d still want a ham sandwich.

UPDATE: No, you can’t have it all, SSPX

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About Elizabeth Scalia