Reading List || The Atlantic: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter

27/06/2012 § 2 Comments

Image via The Atlantic.

By now, you’ve probably heard a bit about the controversy over Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic, in which she discusses the familiar difficulties surrounding the achievement of a successful work-life balance for high-performing, elite females.  Currently a professor at Princeton University and most recently the Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, I have been familiar with Slaughter for some time (mainly due to my work in political risk and the fact that I actually work quite closely with the gentleman that held the Directorship at Policy Planning before she did — so there’s a bit of a weird work/life crossover in this post).

Slaughter believes initial steps towards women truly “having it all” are a few key practical adjustments to working arrangements and — perhaps even more difficult — changing the way that women feel about working.  The latter, a realization that came sharply into focus when she decided to leave the public sector and DC, to return to her professorship and family in New Jersey:

“A rude epiphany hit me soon after I got there. When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped.  All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

Slaughter’s op-ed is a long read, but I urge you to read it.  As a single, professional woman without any children, ostensibly busy “concentrating on my career,” it gave me reason to examine my current priorities and wonder what I would do when (if?) the time comes for me to incorporate motherhood into my life, about the assumptions I operate under (Nanny? Of course), how much I might actually be willing to reorient my life and why I felt a kind of knee-jerk resistance to doing so.  I definitely doubt that anyone — men and women, alike — can read this op-ed without being affected.  Understandably, since being published on The Atlantic’s site last Wednesday night, it has gone on to be the most viewed article in the history of the magazine.

For further discussion, Slaughter’s op-ed has also inspired a number of passionate responses (e.g., Jodi Kantor’s piece in The New York Times, Rebecca Traister’s piece at Salon.com, Katherine Rosman’s piece on The Juggle for WSJ.com), and Slaughter will be doing a live Q&A with readers on The Atlantic’s site on Friday 29 June at 11am ET, which you can find here.

Also on the list:
The Wall Street Journal:  Lauren Mechling remembers a few “unprincessy” heroines (Ramona Quimby! Harriet the Spy!) in honor of Pixar’s first girl lead, the fiery haired archer princess Merida in Brave.

The Wall Street Journal: Michael Spector on the “singular, unmistakable worlds” of Wes Anderson.

WWD: Mini menswear crush!  A first look at Brooks Brothers’ costumes for Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby.

The Financial Times: Monocle’s editor-in-chief Tyler Brûlé on how (not) to apply for an internship.  Best line: “My favourite letters are the ones that say there’s a willingness “to fetch coffee, work late and even empty the bins.”  Fantastic! The global economy is now safe thanks to your commitment to gingerly rolling up your sleeves and doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing.”

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§ 2 Responses to Reading List || The Atlantic: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All ~ Anne-Marie Slaughter

  • becky o. says:

    While my professional achievements are no where near what Anne-Marie Slaughter has accomplished, she makes some really profound points about the difficulties of juggling work and life that resonates with all working mothers. After years of focusing on my professional life, I got married and had a baby at the age of 35. It’s been 3 years since my daughter was born and since then, I have transitioned to working part time. I know my decision to do so has definitely affected my career advancement. But as a whole, I think it’s the best decision I have ever made as there is nothing better than being able to be with my daughter esp. during her younger years.

    • Hi Becky,

      So happy to hear that your are secure in your decision to adjust your work schedule to care for your daughter. While I don’t yet have children and cannot speak from the experience of being a mother, as a daughter I am very glad my mother decided to stop working to care for me and my two siblings when we were very young. I definitely believe that the early years are some of the most important years.

      I think one of the ideas that struck me most in the article was the remarkably simple idea that school schedules could be changed to adapt to normal working hours — why hasn’t this been done?? Why have we enshrined arbitrary hours as the normal times to start and end school?? Why hasn’t anyone thought to change this??

      Many thanks for your thoughts and my best to you and your family!

      Best,
      M.

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