Recently, I read a remarkable article by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor at Princeton, first woman director of policy planning at the State Department under Hilary Clinton and a mother of two: Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (http://www.theatlantic.com/...). In the article, she discusses the reactions she got when she told her peers that she was leaving her state department job because of the sabbatical policies at Princeton and also because she felt her son needed more of her time. Then she contrasts that with the reactions and questions she got from younger people and comes to some conclusions.
At six pages, the article is a bit lengthy but well worth the read.
The striking gap between the responses I heard from those young women (and others like them) and the responses I heard from my peers and associates prompted me to write this article. Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation. But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating “you can have it all” is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.She discusses what she calls "The Half Truths We Hold Dear": It's Possible if you just want it enough. It’s possible if you marry the right person. It’s possible if you sequence it right. But concludes that there has to be a culture change in "face time" (the amount of time you spend "at the office" physically, in how we value family, define success and define the pursuit of happiness.
I still strongly believe that women can “have it all” (and that men can too). I believe that we can “have it all at the same time.” But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured. My experiences over the past three years have forced me to confront a number of uncomfortable facts that need to be widely acknowledged—and quickly changed.
I am well aware that the majority of American women face problems far greater than any discussed in this article. I am writing for my demographic—highly educated, well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place. We may not have choices about whether to do paid work, as dual incomes have become indispensable. But we have choices about the type and tempo of the work we do. We are the women who could be leading, and who should be equally represented in the leadership ranks.I was left thinking about who defines what "Having it all" means.
Millions of other working women face much more difficult life circumstances. Some are single mothers; many struggle to find any job; others support husbands who cannot find jobs. Many cope with a work life in which good day care is either unavailable or very expensive; school schedules do not match work schedules; and schools themselves are failing to educate their children. Many of these women are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have. And although women as a group have made substantial gains in wages, educational attainment, and prestige over the past three decades, the economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson have shown that women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms and relative to men.
In my personal life, I absolutely LOVE being a mother, it is what I always wanted since way before I was physically able to have children ... yet I considered abortion when I found that I was pregnant and I was seriously depressed when I tried being a stay at home mom. I have made some medical decisions for my life that others would not choose to make: I refuse to consider either having an organ transplant or being an organ donor and I would willingly get an out of hospital DNR if I could get a doctor to cooperate ... yet I try to live a healthy life style and, if I can do it without too much pain and hoopla, would enjoy living to 95 (like my mother). I am considered the "poor one" in my family, but much of my poverty stems from decisions I made because of my theological, moral and political beliefs but am mostly OK with where I am. For instance, at one time, I was offered a very good job with a cigarette company but refused because I thought the tabacco industry is immoral.
I say that as a feminist I am pro-choice but to me, "pro-choice" is about much more that just reproductive decisions, it means that each one of us should have a choice in deciding what is best for our lives at a particular time. But are we ever really free to make our choices ... free of expectations (both society's and our own) and of limitations of resources (talent, finances, time). But right now, "the good" is often defined by advertising and myths and factors within our control that we have seceded to others.
It reminded me of the old joke about the Harvard MBA and the Mexican fisherman (http://www.funtoosh.com/...). Although the moral is supposed to be that we need to appreciate the simple things in life, for me the point is that each man needs to do what suits him. The MBA would probably go nuts hanging loose like the fisherman and the fisherman does not understand or want what the MBA values.
But Dr. Slaughter concludes more elegantly than I ever could:
We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.