September 15, 2008

Can women have it all?

Something Like Life
Sept. 12, 2008

I HAVE tackled this question once before but, recently, the issue has come up again with the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the Republican Party’s vice presidential bet. No doubt, this was a wise move on the part of the party’s presidential candidate Sen. John McCain, taking a cue from Sen. Hillary Clinton’s earlier presidential push which garnered a groundswell of support from many women voters.

Let me say here and now that except for Palin’s $375-Kazuo Kawasaki rimless titanium eyeglasses, which really look fabulous that I need to get me some, I don’t like her much. Her politics are muddy (e.g. pro-ban of certain books, anti-abortion, anti-gays, influence-peddling, just to name a few), and I think she’s ill-prepared to take over as US president in case, heaven forbid, McCain is incapacitated for some reason. Sure, Alaska may be just a Bering Strait away from Russia, but it appears it's the only foreign diplomatic issue Palin may be familiar with. How confident would Americans be with Palin seated across the Hamas and Israelis instead?

Her politics notwithstanding, the question is whether Palin can be an effective VP and help McCain run the most powerful nation on earth, while nursing a four-month-old baby with Down’s Syndrome and assisting her daughter Bristol in caring for an infant soon to be born. “Just how many diapers can a woman change at the same time?” as Jimmy Kimmel asks (ha-ha). In other words, can a woman really do everything? Can we have it all?

Patricia “Diday” Zamora-Riingen is the epitome of many Filipina executives of this day and age—she is young, smart, career-oriented, married and with kids.

Riingen is the head of Western Union here, and also oversees the Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia branches. Her job requires her to be frequently out of the country for meetings with her counterparts or her bosses. Not only that, Diday also manages Dome Café, the Zamora family’s restaurant. (Diday is the daughter of former banker and political power broker Manny Zamora.)

She is married to Leo Riingen, president and CEO of Informatics Holdings Philippines, and last year’s president of the Camera Club of the Philippines. They met at Procter & Gamble when they were both just starting in their careers. Now they have three kids ranging in age from nine to 15 years old.

As Diday herself tells it, she is able to accomplish a lot in her career and her family life because she has a great support system. “Well, my husband runs his own business so he has a more flexible time....And my support in the house [i.e. househelp] have been with me for a very long time.” Leo, she said, is on-hand to attend the Parents-Teachers’ Association meetings and bring their kids to the doctor for their medical checkups, among other responsibilities that are traditionally ascribed to women.

But on weekends, Diday says, she is focused on her family 100-percent. She switches off her work phone, cooks breakfast for her kids and Sunday dinners, lunches with her mother and accomplishes the other domestic errands like doing the grocery. “I do the grocery. Leo has no patience for it.”

(Tish Leizens, editor-in-chief, Our House)

Another example of a female go-getter is Tish Leizens (neé Perez), a former colleague here in Manila who has written for a Conde Naste trade publication. She is married to Ed Leizens, the security manager of the New York Science, Industry and Research Library, who is supportive of her career. “He always believed I had the potential to make more money than him. He is okay with that because he is very comfortable about who he is. None of that Filipino macho crap.”

Together they publish an interiors magazine, Our House", which Tish edits and, in a way, is their baby as they are currently childless (but still working at it!). Tish says that since she left Conde Naste to publish her magazine, she is now relying on Ed’s paycheck.

She is quick to assert that “women can have it all”—but also qualifies it by asking, “Can you balance everything?” Especially for women in the US, this is not so easy. They don’t normally have the housework support we Filpinos are accustomed to. So she advises married women with children who want to pursue their career to “go ahead and get a nanny, or maybe your husband can be the nanny. Nothing wrong with that. You’ll be surprised that some men might not want to work and would be happy playing with the kids.” (According to the US Census Bureau, there were about 170,000 stay-at-home fathers in 2007, three times higher than what it was 10 years ago.)

So Tish thinks that women can set out to do whatever they want to do, but they must set their priorities. “Be clear on what you want and just go get it.”

Granted that American women may be more adept at multi-tasking, having been brought up without nannies and the household help unlike most of us here in the Philippines; that doesn’t mean they’re having a ball right now balancing career and a family life.

The same is true here at home. Filipino women have been easing their way into the corporate boardroom for a long time, but many find it tough to still hold on to their traditional roles of mothers and domestic engineers.

Fortunately, there is a growing number of Filipino men—especially among the younger generation who have grown up under a two-parent work/home setup—who understand the difficulties their mothers, sisters or wives struggle with on the home front, and are willing to share the domestic duties, as well. I have many girlfriends whose husbands get home before them and already have the night’s dinner on the table. No canned foods, mind you, but fresh, hot and made from scratch.

Can a woman have it all? Yes, she can—as long as she has the proper support system around her to make a go of things. Let’s not kid ourselves. If we try to do everything ourselves, we will be either physically dead before we’re 50, or end up in the basement of a major hospital or, worse, be addicted to happy pills just to numb the physical or emotional stress. That said, men can’t do everything themselves, either.

The trick is to find the right man who will help you achieve your career goals and be around to assist you at home. And my cynicism notwithstanding, I am happy to report that a number of my gal pals have found such husbands, so they do exist. (Yes, the strong sensitive Filipino male has finally arrived!) And, of course, find a great housekeeper. Between you and me, though, it may be more of a challenge to find the latter.

(My column, Something Like Life, is published every Friday in the Life section of the BusinessMirror. Photos from BusinessMirror and Tish Leizens.)

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