What a buzz Anne-Marie Slaughter has created with her Atlantic Monthly article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” I love that this article has stirred up so much reaction. For many years I have listened to women trying to balance work and family. Trust me–there are more families that don’t have it figured out than those who do. Ms. Slaughter came to DC for her dream job at the State Department. Being the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs sounded pretty dreamy to me. But then most people in the DC area are here for work– and some for their dream jobs.
When I was writing my book in 2003 and 2004, in addition to recounting the funny anecdotes, I knew there was a specific point I wanted to make. At the end of the book, the hard driven lawyer husband decides to opt for less demanding job (ironically, a government job) so that his wife can take her dream newscaster job. Someone needed to stand down. Families where both spouses put in 80 hours a week pay a real price. Parents are missing out on their children’s lives and most assuredly –no matter now great the nanny—the kids are missing their parents.
Now Ms. Slaughter points out that even with a hands on husband whose academic schedule allowed him to be the primary caregiver for their two children during the week while she commuted from Princeton to DC, the arrangement still didn’t quite work. Children can be unpredictable and challenging at any age, and they most certainly require “ face time.” She managed two years of commuting but realized that her family needed her more than the State Department did. Family trumped (dream) job. And now she is telling young women that the “you can have it all” idea posited by women of my generation may not be the truth. Feminists who worked so hard for equal work opportunities are not happy to hear what she has to say. I think we should give her credit for stating some truths and addressing how we can make societal changes that would benefit all families and allow for more work/life balance. As she states:
Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.
Looking at the big picture and envisioning changes is a step in the right direction. More telecommuting was one of her suggestions. That idea can and should work where “face time” really doesn’t matter. Another idea was to look at our school schedule and calendar. I second this heartily. Here’s why: There are no people to take care of children after school while their parents are at work. This lack of workforce is a national problem. If parents and children had similar schedules, the need for after-school care could go away. Why are we still tied to a school calendar that accommodates an agrarian society? She also suggests that we redefine the arc of a successful career – one of many thought provoking concepts in her list.
Slaughter is not the voice of all women but should not be dismissed as an “elitist.” There is no one point of view that will resonate with or solve the problems for all working women. But her perspective on the balancing of work and family is both thoughtful and provocative. Hopefully, the resulting discussions will be catalysts for change. We need it.