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:

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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.

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

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.thecatholicbeat@gmail.com Gail Finke

    I don’t know the name of the episode, but one that really struck me was about Liz and some old male friend, and their having made a bargain a long time ago that if they weren’t married by a certain age, they’d marry each other. In the end she turned him down, even though he was nice and stable and wealthy and wanted children, with a stirring speech about how she was worth more and she was going to hold out for love. And then she went home to watch late night TV and found a new station — the other plot of the episode, which was replacing a failing network with “porn for women.” It was a handsome guy looking straight in the eye of the viewer saying, “Have you had a hard day? I know how hard you work and how no one appreciates you. Tell me all about it…” And she sits down happily to eat take-out and watch an actor on television pretend to want to talk to her all night long. I thought it was a very clever and thought-provoking episode, and like many of their episodes it made you wonder who (if anyone) the writers thought was supposed to be right.

    [That's this episode. In fairness to Liz, she and Wesley Snipes do hate each other and were only thinking of marriage because they were both tired of being alone. So, she was right to hold out for love. It's actually very sad, but very hopeful, too. The porn for women clip is here -admin]

  • dry valleys

    Liz Lemon can have me!? She doesn’t seem able to handle a husband and children, or even living with a man, but then I don’t have any great wish for homebuildiing either. We could just be friends and a bit more besides. Somehow I can’t imagine her being an especially thrilling lover (unless those neuroses can be put to more productive use) but that’s still better than not having one at all. And I think, though I’m not sure of her age, that she is a decade or slightly more older than I am, so she can boast to her friends that she is a cougar now. :)

    If that strikes you as an example of 21st-century selfishness and immaturity, I’d just say that this is the kind of attitude that prevails now that three decades of neoliberalism have made it nigh on impossible to sustain a nuclear family of the kind that most readers of this blog grew up with. Lack of decent working-class jobs, the need for two earners in the family if it’s to stave off destitution, outsourcing, and now the fact that the old middle class are facing the old working class’s fate (bet they wish now that they weren’t so callous and complacent about their short-term gains at in the 80s) have brought this on.

    Responsibility will only come back when it becomes possible for the majority of men to earn a decent salary and provide for their families, which is not going to happen so long as this order lasts.

  • ace

    The sin of avarice…

    Greed… for just, like, everything

    “Those who want to be rich [or have it all] are falling into temptation and into a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires which plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money [or substitute whatever else you want and/or your list of wants] is the root of all evils and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith and have pierced themselves with many pains…” 1 Tim 6: 9, 10

    In Dante’s Inferno, one of the punishments for [granted, a particular type of] this sin is head and chest stuck in a hole, legs emerged out, feet covered in oil, jutting upward in the air and on fire… And, in the Purgatorio, the punishment is lying face down on the ground unable to move. Purification by humiliation, I guess… But one could easily think of a temporal punishment here on earth, like progressive paralysis of muscles similar to end-stage Parkinson’s…

    So hard for me to learn moderation of my wants… and it can even be as simple as want of knowledge or want of time for myself… How covetousness can sneak in everywhere, even in one’s piety which should not just be God’s delights for ourselves, but should train us to be kind, merciful, and generous to others as an expression of our love for God… Also, as one of my priests mentioned, a prayer of one of the desert fathers… Lord, let me do good, and give me the grace to not know it…

  • Jennifer

    Somebody smart said that we might be able to have it all, we just can’t have it all at once. But I agree, it’s just a troublesome question that invites grumbling and dissatisfaction and makes even the meaningful things seem sour.

  • ace

    So, you had to include the link to the porn for woman clip, didn’t you? And then, dry valleys’ comments…

    Anyway, the link led to further YouTube perusal and an ABC clip about individuals doing amateur sex for money. It showed the interview of a young couple (ages 24 and 21) in a “committed relationship” who are parents and who do live sex on-line in their bedroom to make ends meet. They support their 20 month old toddler daughter this way, a daughter who is going to be in school one day… They make $1,000/week doing porn, work about 3 or 4 days a week for roughly 3 hours a night starting around midnight – West Coast time, I think. (The hosting web site charges up to $8/minute and retains about 75%.) One of the drawbacks the couple mentions? Sex outside of work does not really happen…

    And then too, PewSitter had a link showing that we now have GM babies through IVF with genes of 3 parents (for women who had problems conceiving; genes from 2 women & 1 man).

    We just shouldn’t want things so bad… even things we want out of our “needs” for financial security or family fulfilment or ???

  • noe

    A come-on?…Nebach (look it up). How are people even really defining “it all”? Where I’ve come from, let’s just call it “Orthodox Judaism” – Orthodox Jews – who are about 10% of 1.75% of the US population – are (Charedim aside, but increasing numbers of them as well), predominately double-income, many are professionals – who MUST earn as a household (averaging 4+ kids), in the top 7% OF THE NATION to afford religious school education (thousands per child per year), college for most of the kids, kosher living, living in communities very close to synagogues, etc. To do so comfortably – in the top 3%. Those are religious obligations they have to abide as well as the economic obligations. I understand that it’s hard – but try telling committed, observant Jews ANYTHING is “too hard!”

    And simply repeating the refrain “you can’t have it all” only feed a generation of single professionals and unmarried DINKS who agree!!! Do people honestly think “you can’t have it all” will me MORE marriages, an end to abortions and the return of the Cleavers? There is so clearly the other option; no kids, no settled family, unrestrained sex lives and more money to spend on myself. And people have been making that decision for a long time now *because they agree* that you ‘can’t have it all’. This sort of either/or speaking only empowers them to stick to that choice, not see a frugal, fruitful, faithful family life as a serious option.

  • dry valleys

    That’s the point, isn’t it ace? They aren’t doing what they do in order to eat unicorn burgers and be flown round in their own personal fleet of helicopters, they’re doing it to provide for their family, and that’s fundamentally because there are no longer honest means of doing so for the majority of people. Sure, someone will come along with an anecdote to say otherwise, but the facts of falling real wages, rising unemployment, barely existant social mobility and the fact that the only thing that grows is the Gini coefficient can’t be bucked.

    I ddon’t say things flippantly, of course I would have a relationship with someone like Liz Lemon in the way I described but you have to ask yourself why such people have suddenly croped up. It isn’t because a wave of evildoers has risen up and decided to do villainous deeds, but a legacy of conscious decisions taken over the decades but principally in the 1980s.

  • ace

    @dry valleys…

    Of course, both adults in a household generally have to work… and it’s not necessarily the fault of neoliberalism, as there’s blame enough to pass around for all sides. How about outsourcing? How about automation? How about corporations being considered people? How about the cost of financing elections for either or all sides? How about the decrease in the real minimum wage given the increased cost of living? How about rising gas prices and rising profits for gas companies? … And, the consequent high cost of everything else such as groceries and clothes (even with thrift stores and WalMart)? How about high mortgages and/or rent increases, even as residential real estate prices fall (but only those who can pay cash up front eligible for the bargains)?

    Take the example of the young couple doing porn: They work maybe 12 hours a week (instead of 40 + at least another half time job). They make $1,000/week. The hosting web site makes $3,000/week or $12,000/mo off just one couple! But, the couple at the present time, was making no moves to go out and get at least supplemental honest wages, however low those wages might be.

    And, a household with 2 college degrees, (one PT work) is supposed to compete with that… and neither of the young couple even have trade school? Try the PT job in our household paying $9/hour, now back working for the same company worked for in 2006 (after the other agency where the pay was $11/hour + $3/hour more on some jobs let a bunch of workers go). And, back in 2006, the company returned to was paying $9.50/hour + $2/hour more on some jobs. But, the multi-state company has to take profit! OK, a business does have to make profit, but if the business is local, they don’t have to take as much and are able to pay the workers more…

    So, there’s your anecdote… Only 1 low rate cell phone with minimum features in this household, 1 vehicle over 100,000 miles, the other low miles, but both bought used, mortgaged house valued under $200,000 when the median value in our town is @ $238,000… And yes, I do have sympathy for those starting out and younger than me, but there are lots of us regardless of age who are struggling… yet still come before the Lord grateful for what we have, praying for those who have less, and yes, convicted that we have to do even more to help others…

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    You forgot to blame Thatcher, Valleys! Surely she’s at least partly responsible, right? :)

    /Okay, that was Sarc.

    I this statement, “You can’t have it all!” is raising quite a few hackles. The Anchoress has touched on a sore spot, here.

    I used to live in a very wealthy Southern California enclave. Divorce, family breakdown and sexual promiscuity are, by no means, exclusively problems for the poor, and I do not believe they’re caused by poverty, or capitalism. What does cause them? I don’t think we, as a society, are ready to face the answer to that, just yet.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    I’m still kind’ve puzzled as to what “Neoliberalism” actually is. Oh well. . .

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Most women, like most men, work not to “Have it all”, but because they must. Even many married women these days are expected to hold down a job, to help out with the family income—whether they want to, or not.

    With the dissolution of the family, easy divorce and many men just saying “No” to marriage, women must get a job, or face welfare, and poverty. Ever rising taxes, more and more programs to help the “Needy”—and now, Obamacare of top of it all—many women have to work just to pay taxes, and avoid the IRS coming after them. Or, like the Anchoress, they have a gift, they need to share, and develop. God gives talents to females, as well as males, after all. There’s really nothing about “Having it all”, here, or women trying to act like men. And it’s rather unfair to compare any, actual female, to Liz Lemon. Liz is a fictional character (played by a woman who makes her living as an actress). She doesn’t do anything unless her scriptwriters tell her to. she’s over-the-top, she’s not real.

    There seems to be a rising anmosity against women in general these days, be they moms, working women, etc. (Unless the subject is birth control/abortion; then, it’s “Oh, we must have these programs for womens’ health! Those who disapprove, just hate women!” etc.)

    Considering the rising influence of Islam, I find this trend disturbing.