I’m blown away by this essay: “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” Finally, someone is saying what’s true.
The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, was a high-powered working mom in Washington who stepped off her career fast track to be with her teenage children. Then she wrote an essay, which was published in The Atlantic, saying the thing no one wants to say out loud, but secretly we all know is true.
“The women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed,” she says.
(I would like add they’ve been lucky, too. Meaning, lucky not to have children with the kind of health issues that would require them to stop. Also, some of them also have stay-at-home husbands, an extreme rarity, despite all the hype.)
She says our lot won’t change unless women in leadership positions speak out, and that having more women leaders would help solve the problem. I couldn’t agree more.
She has a critique for women like Sheryl Sandberg, who, despite the best of intentions, continue to perpetuate the myth that if women just “keep their foot on the gas pedal” everything will work out fine. (The implication is that it’s our own damn fault if we can’t do it all.)
Instead, the author says we need to take this conversation out of the realm of the personal, and look at the structural and cultural issues that are holding us back.
In this age of self-help, Republican pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps, DIY-determinism, cult of the individual, I find this idea enormously refreshing. No, it’s not about you. It’s about all of us.
“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.”
So what are we supposed to do about it?
After two years of writing about the work-family crisis, this is the question I find most vexing. My former boss, a working mom herself, asked me this question about a year after I left my job.
“It’s like you’re asking how to solve global warming,” I told her. “There isn’t one simple answer.”
She gave me a funny look.
But what I meant was, everything has to change—from government policies (Have you noticed that even Zimbabwe has paid maternity leave?), to workplace policies (How much sick time have YOU used up this year?), to the way men and women divide chores at home (No way are those Chore Wars over) to the way women treat each other (Want something to whine about?).
Slaughter appears to agree. She says we need to change the “culture of face time” (yet another spin on telecommuting and flexible schedules). She says employers should evaluate a job candidate who is also a parent the way they would evaluate a job candidate who is also a marathon runner. (Personally, I think what we do is harder. Even in extreme sports, you get to lie down when it’s over. Not so when your kid is throwing up at 2 am and you have a 7 am conference call with the team in Japan.)
She also says we need to redefine the “arc of a successful career.” This is what has so many women I know stymied—after taking five years to be home with kids, their resume is toast. Employers don’t want to hear that you took time off to do unpaid work.
She also has a lot to say about the pursuit of happiness, but I need to put my kids to bed, so I think you should just read the essay and then come back here and tell me what you think.
What do you think?
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