MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for a visit to the Beauty Shop, where our panel of women journalists and commentators take a fresh cut on the week's news. Sitting in the chairs for a new do this week are Kelly Goff - she's a columnist for theroot.com and The Daily Beast. Veronica Miller is a contributor to XoJane and The Grio. Alexis Wilkinson is a student at Harvard University and president of The Harvard Lampoon. That's the school's undergraduate humor magazine. And Prachi Gupta is an assistant editor at salon.com, where she covers entertainment news. Welcome to you all. Thank you all so much for joining us.
ALEXIS WILKINSON: Hello.
PRACHI GUPTA: Good to be here.
KELLY GOFF: Thank you.
MARTIN: So let's start with a conversation that we seem to have - I don't know - every couple of months or so. Maybe it's every couple of weeks. I'm talking about the can-women-have-it-all discussion. This time it was sparked by the CEO - I know right - of PepsiCo, Indra Nooyi. She made comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival. She was being interviewed by the president of The Atlantic, David Bradley, and he asked her, can women have it all, and she talks about what happened when she came home early one night, early for her, with good news about a big promotion. And before she could get a word out, she says that her mom demanded that she go get some milk because they were out, even though, she said, Nooyi's husband had been home for hours. Let's listen to a short clip.
INDRA NOOYI: I said, I had great news for you. I've just been told that I'm going to be president on the Board of Directors and all that you want me to do is to go out and get the milk. What kind of a mom are you? And she said to me, let me explain something to you. You might be president of PepsiCo, you might be on the Board of Directors, but when you enter this house, you're the wife, you're the daughter, you're the daughter-in-law, you're the mother, you're all of that. Nobody else can take the place. So leave that damn crown in the garage.
MARTIN: Well, you know, got a big reaction, both in the hall and on social media, afterwards. And yesterday we talked about this with a panel of moms in our parenting conversation, but I wanted to raise this with people who have different family lives and just get your reaction to this, particularly from people who are, let's say, a little younger than Indra Nooyi and myself. And so, Prachi, I'm going to start with you because you said that you are also Indian-American as is Indra Nooyi. She's a nationalized American citizen, born in India. You said her comments kind of really pierced you as an Indian-American young woman. Do you want to tell us a little bit more?
GUPTA: Sure. Well, first of all I'm sad that the message that she took away from this is that she can't have it all because she's a woman, not because she's in a very demanding position of a CEO. But yeah, as an Indian woman I can really understand why she'd feel that way. She's trying to straddle two different cultures - on the one hand, show her kids growing up in America what an independent woman looks like, but also trying to seek the approval and exist within a culture that values very traditional gender roles for women. And I think that she's broken a lot of barriers, but she can't break every barrier on her own.
MARTIN: You feel like there's like a, what's the phrase that you use, like, dual expectations that don't actually always match up, right? And what are those?
GUPTA: Sure, sure. I think there's definitely a double standard for what a good mom looks like, especially in the Indian culture. I think patriarchy is - I mean I think American cultures are familiar with that concept too - but, you know, in the traditional Indian culture, women from Nooyi's generation and before her generation will really raised with the idea that you'll have an arranged marriage and you'll live in a house that will - of your husband's house and you'll assume to take the role of, you know, doing a lot of cooking and cleaning. And I think that that's a hard culture to break out or explain when you're straddling two different cultures like she is.
MARTIN: Kelly Goff what you think? How did you respond to this?
GOFF: Well the comments - I mean, those comments were obviously - it struck a chord with me like it did with, I think, every woman that heard them. But the comments that really struck a chord with me were the ones where she talked about how she didn't know that her daughters would say she was a great mom. And, you know, and so when I went on to read the rest of the article, I don't want to take up everyone's time - it's worth the read for those who haven't heard it - but there is a particular moment she talked about when her daughters called her office and how she has instructions for her assistant about what to say to them when it comes to various different scenarios they might call about. And that touched me because, you know, I have a really close relationship with my mom, as you probably caught on since I mention her probably every single interview I've ever done here. And part of that relationship comes from the fact that when I was little, there was a rule about me checking in and calling her office on a regular basis, so she knew I was save, and knew what homework situation was, and that's lasted into adulthood. My point is, I read this article - I read the comments and I didn't think, you know, Indra Nooyi is someone I want as my mother. I'm going to be honest. But I also am so happy, Michel, that we have her as a role model in terms of corporate America. And so for me, the take-away from this is I actually was thrilled she said all of this out loud because I would love to see more women do what men have felt comfortable doing for centuries, which is saying the following - you know, I don't know that I was the world's best father, but I'm a damn good senator, a damned good CEO, I sacrificed a lot in my personal life so that the country could be better etc. Which is something, remember, in the "Can We Have It All?" article Slaughter did. She said that Holbrook's son said, he wasn't there my baseball games because he was out saving the world. I don't think anyone thought we wish she was saving the world, I just wish it was allowable for more women to say, I made some sacrifices here and it doesn't make me a bad person.
MARTIN: I'm wondering why a person with that income doesn't have a housekeeper who's willing to go get that milk. I'm sorry, no offense but, I mean, if I had that salary, trust me I'd be having my own milk delivered. Peapod. Anybody heard of it?
GOFF: Fresh Direct.
MARTIN: They'll come to your house. So, there's that. What about you Alexis?
WILKINSON: Yeah, I mean I totally agreed with what was just said. I think that, sort of, can women have it all is such a dumb way to phrase that question because it's like, can women everything they've ever wanted or are they human beings who have to make sacrifices. You know, life isn't zero-sum. Nobody can have it all. The question is whether - it isn't whether we can have it all, but why we're not okay with or made to feel bad about only having enough. Like, why isn't it just enough that I'm a really good - you know, I have a good career. Why isn't it enough that I'm a really good mom? And also, it really bothered me when she said that she wasn't sure if her daughters would think she was a good mom. Because I had a single working mother who worked full time and I knew that she did that so that the lights stayed on. You know, I was grateful and proud that my mom wasn't a housewife like other moms. And maybe it's a cultural thing or something, but I would've never berated my mom for not being at the PTA or whatever, or something like that. It wouldn't have gone over too well. And, you know, I just think that basically nobody can have it all - not women, not children, not men, nobody, and so its just deciding what you what you value, and obviously Nooyi has made that choice and she and other women should stop feeling guilty about it, you know. And also let their daughters know that, listen, you know, your dad isn't at the PTA either. Why don't you go yell at him about that?
MARTIN: Yeah, well, how about that. When you said cultural, Alexis, what you mean? You mean the fact that you're African-American you think it was a bit - did most of your friend's parents work, moms work? And do you think that made a difference? You know what I mean? When you said that what were you thinking?
WILKINSON: Yeah. That's what I was thinking. I mean, in the sense that, like, most of my friends who had - especially if you had a single mother - she's working. How else are you live, you know? And it wasn't something you could ever hold over, you know, her head saying, that, you know, you should be doing with these other moms who don't have to work could do. And I think also just my mom really instilled in me the idea of being independent and that, you know, my father passed away when I was a toddler and, you know, she has a graduate degree and she had done everything right but sort of the idea that you still might have to end up taking care of yourself and everybody else around you - so be prepared to do that. And again, that was something that I was proud of, you know, held in my heart as something I wanted to do when I got older.
MARTIN: Veronica, what about you? What are your thoughts about it?
VERONICA MILLER: Yeah. I think Alexis actually just read my mind because I was having this conversation this morning and the fact is no one, man or woman, can have it all. You know, my dad was the one who was the breadwinner in our household but he was the one that had to make the hard choices because you want to raise a family. And so he was the one who had to, you know, choose to forgo a job opportunity or choose to forgo moving to another city for, you know, better income because he wanted to keep his family, you know, grounded. And my fiance is making the same decision right now because we are putting our relationship, making our relationship a priority - and the start of our relationship a priority. So he has to pass up things. What's annoying is the fact that no one can have it all but women are the ones who are expected to choose and who's choices are, you know, put under a microscope or spotlight and who's choices are judged. And so I agree with everyone else that I wish that, you know, we could accept that no one can really can have it all, human beings have to make sacrifices - and that includes women.
MARTIN: Wise beyond their years, wise beyond their years. If you're just joining us, we're in The Beauty Shop. We're talk about this week's hot topics with our panel of writers, Kelly Goff, Prachi Gupta, Alexis Wilkinson, and Veronica Miller. And while were on the subject of weddings - Veronica - notice how she just slipped in here my fiance and I. Congratulations.
MILLER: Thank you.
MARTIN: Yes. Best wishes. Congratulations to you both. But, you know, Kelly it's so interesting because you wrote a piece for The Root about couples wanting to tie the knot with lavish weddings. And I think a lot of people do know that the marriage rate in this country has declined a great deal in recent generations. And you're wondering - you're speculating - whether that could be that these wedding reality shows and this exposure to these kind of over-the-top celebrity weddings has somehow sort of dampened people's desire to get married because they believe that you can't get married unless you have kind of one of these over-the-top experiences. What made you think that?
GOFF: Well, for one because there's that new data - I really can't call it new, it really came out in 2012 - but it's really sort of attracted more of a second round of attention in recent months about why the marriage rates are so low because it's no longer race-specific - which is sort of how it's been talked about in terms of out of wedlock births being specific to the black community, really. It's now specifically across racial lines that marriage and having children within marriage is now one of the greatest class indicators in terms of having a college degree, regardless of race. And that's was really starting to change, that's what's becoming a reality with generation Y. And so it's no longer this, you know, black-and-white of poverty versus the no poverty. It's really college degree versus no college degree. And one of the things that they found in the data is that people are starting to acquaint the concept of marriage with a capstone, like buying a house. So they're saying it's like one of those things that you achieve when you can really afford to and you've ascended to a certain level. And one of the things I noticed in a number of articles about poverty is this phrasing kept coming up - we can't afford to get married, even when people had multiple children together, they would say we can't afford to get married. Well what does that mean you start to ask, right? Because the City Hall wedding doesn't cost a lot, a wedding certificate doesn't cost a lot and these are people who are supporting their children. And so one of the people that I quoted in my column who was in a New York Times series on poverty specifically said, I want my - my woman deserves to be on TV - that's what he said. She deserves that. And you look at the cost of weddings last year and they're almost $30,000. And so, you know, I don't have a big study to back up that this is the primary reason but I do think that you start to wonder that people are seeing marriage as something that can only be achieved once you can, quote, "afford to give yourself the wedding of your dreams." And I think that's a real tragedy. I really do. Because that's not what marriage is about - it's not about the big party, the big expensive party.
MARTIN: What about that? Veronica, I mean, honestly do you feel - also partly because you're also in fashion, I just want to mention this as well - do you feel like this pressure to have some big do that would be People Magazine worthy?
MILLER: It's not People Magazine worthy. Honestly, I want to get married in City Hall, we've started planning. I'm almost ready to throw all the spreadsheets and just do it. But my family and my fiance's family, if I did it, I'd have to go to hiding, I wouldn't be able to talk to anyone anymore. But it's not so much the People Magazine and the TV shows and things - I think it's the expectations from the people around you. So, you know, almost as soon as announcing that we got engaged I got engaged immediately the questions about what are your colors, what dress are you wearing, where you getting married, what food are you going to have - you know, all these expectations - the expectations for everyone to be invited -which is another, you know, thing to deal with. It's just everyone wants to - everyone has this opinion on what your wedding should be and forgets that it's about you. And so you as the couple have to manage everybody's expectations but still keep your sanity and still keep your budget in check and still make sure you're doing something that's true to the both of you. And it's just hard trying to manage all those expectations. And especially when you have a huge family like mine. Like, my guest list alone is cousins, aunts, and uncles and grandparents - all first generation. So it's just, you know, I'm learning to start telling people, I'll figure this out, I'll let you know when I figure it out and until then we are not going to talk about it.
MARTIN: Well, I'm sure they got a big room at City Hall.
MARTIN: Just briefly though on this, a Peer Research Center report yesterday found that a lot of millennials and people younger 35 don't think that marriage and children are a priority. Sixty-nine percent of people aged 18 to 24 felt that society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children, that's compared to 61 percent of people 25 to 34 people. Fifty-one percent of people, older people. Anyway, you can see the kind of declining sense of the priority of this. And I just wanted to ask, I don't know, Prachi did you want to take this? whether that concerns you or not?
GUPTA: Sure. I mean, I wouldn't say that that really concerns me. I think it sort of makes sense considering that traditionally - I mean, the family model has also changed in that period of time. Originally, that's what you did - you just, you - most couldn't afford an education and that's what you did, you had a family. And that also started a lot earlier. But now as we find that the model for people has changed and more women are also in the workforce I think that the family model and getting married would change, too. The don't think it's a negative thing, I just think it's a sign of all those other things changing as well.
MARTIN: Alexis, I have a final question. I just want to get your take on this, we only have a couple of minutes left - got ask you about Joan Rivers because you are also in comedy, as we mentioned, president of the Harvard Lampoon. You know, she's known for her kind of biting comments about everybody, including herself. And earlier this week, you know, she's promoting this new book "Diary Of A Mad Diva" on the cover she's rocking a fur coat. And so the interviewer, Fredricka Whitfield, from CNN asked her some questions about some of these things and this is what happened, here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF INTERVIEW)
JOAN RIVERS: You know, this whole interview is becoming a defensive interview.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD: No.
RIVERS: Are you wearing leather shoes?
RIVERS: Then shut up. You know what I mean, I don't want to hear you. You're wearing fur. You're wearing leather shoes.
WHITFIELD: I'm not an activist.
RIVERS: You're eating chicken. You're eating meat. I don't want to hear this nonsense. You know, I'm going. I really am going because all you've done is negative.
WILKINSON: I really like the gasp.
MARTIN: Fredricka Whitfield was quoted as saying, A. she thought she was joking until she actually literally walked out but I just have to ask, Alexis, what do you make of that? Of how she responded to that whole scene?
WILKINSON: I mean, well, first of all - however you feel about her know, she was and is an icon as a female writer and comedian. You know, she's amazing and I'm all for comedic license and being able to joke about whatever you want. If she just wants to sit back and, you know, you talk crap about people all day - let her do it. But the problem is you really can't get pissed when someone calls you on the problematic aspects of that, you know? It's an interview and Joan Rivers, of all people, should be used to people calling her a hypocrite. I mean, the woman makes a living making fun of people's appearances when, you know, she looks like a Dolly surrealist painting. Like, you know, getting called on your BS comes with the territory of comedy. And I'm just, I'm so disappointed that she couldn't just laugh it off. If she had just stayed and was angry the whole time that would have been so funny. Like, you heard the interviewer laughing, like, if she was just a pissed off old lady and was just, you know, being really defensive that would have been really funny and a great interview. But sort of walking out, you know, that's weak sauce. I'm disappointed in that.
MARTIN: Disappointed as a comedic writer yourself. What do you think? She was having a bad day or you think that she's just at a point where she thinks she shouldn't have to answer these questions? She can dish it but can't take it?
WILKINSON: Yeah. Maybe. Maybe she's just sick of it.
MILLER: To words: publicity stunt.
MARTIN: That could be.
MILLER: And it worked, it worked. She got more coverage for this book than the last three books.
MARTIN: Yeah, then we're talking about it. OK. Could be, could be. All right Alexis Wilkinson is a student at Harvard University and president of the Harvard Lampoon, the school's undergraduate humor magazine, with us from Pittsburgh. Veronica Miller is a contributor to XoJane and The Grio. She joined us from Philadelphia. Prachi Gupta is a assistant editor to salon.com com and Kelly Goff is a columnist for the root.com and The Daily Beast. They were both with us from our bureau in New York. Thank you all so much.
MILLER: Thank you.
GOFF: Thank you.
GUPTA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.