According to Anne-Marie Slaughter (Princeton professor and former Obama Administration Official), for decades the feminist credo has assured women that we can and should strive to ‘have it all’ – ‘all’ being the opportunity to both pursue a challenging and rewarding career AND raise a happy and healthy family. But in her article for The Atlantic last week, Mrs. Slaughter lets us in on a little secret: we can’t.
The catalyst for her discovery of this truth? The pursuit of her high profile career left her unable to be there for her son during the formative years of his adolescence, and inspired her to choose family over her career ambitions.
‘A return to the dark ages!’ she hears the feminists (who paved the way for her career success) protest.
It is of course a ridiculous protest… but one we can unfortunately admit to hearing ourselves now and then (and we don’t even have children yet!)… that little voice whispering triumphantly ‘Not only can you have it all but you shouldn’t settle for less!’ As if our decision NOT to ascend the career ladder to the top would somehow be letting down that generation of women who fought to give us the opportunity.
Slaughter’s 12,000 word essay goes on to make the case for why those nagging voices are wrong, and why our entire system needs to change. It is a well thought-out (though lengthy) piece of writing with some fantastic points backed up by great examples. And brought up a couple questions for us…
Can anyone have it all?
This is hardly a gender issue. Men have a choice to make as well, and while some men may gladly work long hours before staying at home with the kids, others have always had to make the same sacrifices Slaughter complains of. As one reader commented:
“As a man, I have made many decisions to prioritize family over work, and you better believe that they have come with the same costs that a woman would have incurred. Women who are otherwise very intelligent and sophisticated seem unprepared for the idea that they have to make some kind of choice. Strangely, I don’t know very many men who ever thought they could have career excellence and parental excellence.”
We agree. It was silly to expect we could be superwomen…and silly to expect the same from men. It’s called compromise.
Do we owe the feminist movement anything?
We are the first to admit that those voices are of our own creation. The movement fought to give us the same CHOICES as men, not for us to become them. We should feel all the more empowered to be able to sit down with our partners and decide together the parenting situation that will work best for both our careers and our kids. Doesn’t our freedom to choose still pay homage to the years of progress made?
We’ve reflected on the dilema of parenthood and work-life balance here before and our own expectations of what that balance might look like have certainly evolved. While Jessica Jackley seemed to be a shining example of a mother-to-be, determined to ‘have-it-all’ by means of a flexible working environment, a great startup team, and a partner willing to take on equal parenting duties, her venture was recently forced to shut down. Hopefully not due to Jackley’s inability to balance her career and her newborn twins, but it’s not out of the question – nor should it be.
In a video interview about the article, Slaughter mentions that the hardest sentence to write was the one in which she admitted to wanting to be home. So difficult, it didn’t even make it into the first 7 drafts. Perhaps something to do with the reactions she got from her colleagues when she made the decision to leave Washington - “It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington” and “I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”
For us, this is an interesting and important point she makes – The decision to invest time in family is devalued in the workplace. The predominant work culture makes it hard for middle class women AND men (let alone lower class families) to juggle work and childcare, and looks down upon taking time out to focus on raising children.
We believe, as Slaughter does, that with changes to the system, to the way businesses are run, it is possible for both women and men to balance their families and careers. And we believe this is already happening, particularly with our generation. We are seeing a move from the belief that the more hours you put in, the better you are at your job (how counter-intuitive!) to flexible hours, video conferencing, and working from home. But we also believe that a shift in societal values that recognises and respects a commitment to family as much as a commitment to a career is of deep importance, regardless of gender.
What do you think? Have you ever felt the need to ‘have it all’? How do you balance your work-home life? Do you see a shift in today’s attitudes towards traditional feminism?