When I did my very first blog interview with Canada AM’s Marci Ien five years ago, I asked the “work/life balance” question, to which she gave this brilliant reply:
“My family, my friends and my job make me happy, and I want all of it. I’m not going to be as hard on myself as I have been in the past; I don’t believe in balance. Everyone always asks me about this, and I really don’t. I’m not perfect, maybe I’ll get two out of five things right one day, because we can’t do it all. It’s not fair. I’m allergic to balance!”
I don’t think I asked it again, in the same way, after that. However, that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad question.
A few months ago, Jennifer Garner gave a speech at the ELLE Women of the Year event where she shared that she and husband Ben Affleck had recently both spent a day doing press junkets. While she was asked about balancing work and family by every single reporter, all day long, Ben was not asked once. Instead, he was asked about the breasts of one of his costars.
The thing is, when I (and I believe the majority of female interviewers) ask this question, it is not a judgment, and not meant to be negative. For me, it’s “You’re like me, with kids and employment – do you have the same struggles? Can we bond over this? Do you have any tips that might help me? Can your perspective help me do better in some way?” I always ask about their work, but while my readers may not identify with the specific project we’re discussing, they will almost always be able to connect to the “mom” side of the woman. Whether we’re humble bloggers or A-list journalists, we want to please our readers and ask the questions they want answered. Which perhaps says something about those who posed the breasts question to Ben Affleck.- and what they think of their readers.
It’s kind of like the go-to “Who are you wearing?” question asked of women ad nauseam throughout the awards season. Reporters assume viewers want to know. (Quite frankly, while I love checking out the fashion, I truly do not care “who” they are wearing, but I get that it’s an art form and an industry, and the question must be asked.)
When I ask women how they juggle work and family…
What I don’t mean: You shouldn’t be trying to have both.
What I do mean: I’m trying to have both, and so are many of my readers.
What I don’t mean: You’re getting it wrong.
What I do mean: Are we getting it wrong?
What I don’t mean: You should be worrying about this more than your partner.
What I do mean: We may be worrying about this more than our partners.
What I don’t mean: You should feel guilty.
What I do mean: Do you feel guilty? Sometimes we do. Or we don’t…but then think we’re supposed to.
However, I know that the question can sometimes hurt. Cityline host Tracy Moore posted on social media a few months ago that an older woman (not a journalist) approached her at an after-hours event and lamented something to the effect of “It seems like you’re always working – when do you ever see your children?” Ouch.
While Jennifer Garner asserted that she thinks it’s time to change the conversation, she didn’t say that we can’t ask women about their families. Perhaps what would be the most refreshing change is if we also asked men about theirs.
P.S. I’m hoping to interview Jennifer in the future, and I promise not to ask that question. Or anything about any of her costars’ breasts.