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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 ( 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.

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.

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 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.

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.

I was left thinking about who defines what "Having it all" means.

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 ( 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.

Originally posted to CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 11:33 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (23+ / 0-)

    "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

    by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 11:33:44 AM PDT

  •  Great post, CorinaR. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CorinaR, ER Doc, worldlotus, Larsstephens

    I also very much like that last bit that you blockquoted.  Now I'm heading off to read the entire article.

  •  I was one of the youngest directors at a large DC (10+ / 0-)

    firm and remember during the week of Thanksgiving a colleague was quietly crying in her office.  She married two years prior and just came back from the doctor's office.  She was pregnant and according to her this would end her career at the firm.  While I remember the managing partners being concerned about her marrying, I suppose I was too naive to realize what she was saying at the time.  By Christmas she was reassigned to the equivalent of Siberia.  She tried to make it work but the managing partners didn't want a mommy at the firm.  It turns out a number of women faced similar issues.  Their story is the reason I went out on my own.  I didn't want someone else (directly or indirectly) influencing my decision as to when to marry or start a family.

    •  Yes ... (7+ / 0-)

      There that discrimination against women who want a family, but it also happens to men who want to participate in their family life. The whole notion of who defines "what is valuable and to whom" is what we need to address.  We have not really realized the feminist ideal if men are not equally free to make choices.

      "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

      by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:09:40 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Very true... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Domestic Elf

            Men don't face this problem nearly as much as women do; there's a certain element of, "Oh, isn't he a great guy..." when a man needs to take time for his children, but in many business environments, "when the chips are down" a man is expected to "get serious" and demonstrate his dedication to "what really matters" by minimizing his family responsibilities and concentrating on the job. That's only possible if one has a spouse who will tolerate shouldering the whole load at home.
              Very few women, of course, are able to find a guy who will take on the whole load at home, either taking primary responsibility for all the nanny/day-care problems or possibly doing the "house-husband" thing. These things can work well when a woman's near the top of the pyramid and financial resources aren't an issue, but it's a real problem for anyone starting out. That effectively closes the door on many career choices for a woman who wants children.

        -7.25, -6.26

        We are men of action; lies do not become us.

        by ER Doc on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 09:59:29 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  having it all-- horse $#~+ (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tarantula, FutureNow

    I don't know who ever coined that phrase.  No feminist I ever knew.

    Someone who did not want human rights, justice, compassion or solidarity to be part of the discussion.

    It's part of the whole "choice" mythology.  

    When did women ever have a choice to "work"  or  "have a family"?

    We all work, and unless we were raised in an institution, we pretty much all have a family.

    It's not a fake orgasm; it's a real yawn.

    by sayitaintso on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:10:55 PM PDT

    •  "Having it all" (0+ / 0-)

      Ironically, it would seem that such a state of being would preclude the need to make choices. Nice digs if you can score them....

      I'm not surprised that the younger women in the article find it scoff-worthy.

      My other car is a pair of boots.

      by FutureNow on Wed Aug 01, 2012 at 06:40:10 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's hard to have any kind of balance in life (5+ / 0-)

    the way it is structured.

    If I was king of the world, I'd solve unemployment in the USA with a 24 hour, 3 day workweek, no overtime allowed, no part-time allowed to avoid weaseling by employers.  Jobs don't provide benefits aside from sick/vacation time (health care, blah blah eliminated), the state does, with appropriate taxes.  If your time is required, even on-call, you are considered working.

    Each job currently covered by a professional who is working 60 hour weeks, gets covered by two people doing sane hours, and having half the week off, every week.  Service and factory jobs, same deal.  You get 6 days of full time work out of 2 people, instead of 5 days of long hours and wage theft for some people, and no work at all for others.

    Most of the overhead of hiring people is the benefits.  Lets make more of the cost of hiring somebody the actual wage, and minimum wage has to be set so one person making the wage is above poverty line.

    More people working  = more demand = better economy.   And everybody isn't insane from overwork, or depressed from lack of work.  Childcare is easier, because it's only 3 days a week, or in a two parent family, they can switch off if they prefer that to having days where neither parent works.

    What we are doing isn't working.   Productivity improvements mean less absolute people are needed to work most jobs.  Until this translates into a shorter workweek, we're going to be stuck at the industrial revolution era factory hours, with 40 hour week as a minimum.  (even so-called part time labor, if they're using wal-mart like scheduling systems have to be available more than 40 hours a week, and might not even get work in that time)

    •  I'll play devil's advocate (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      While I mostly agree with you, I do remember times in my life when I thrived on 60 hour weeks. I was a single parent by then and my boys were in their later teens but still at home. However, I loved what I was doing and once a year I did 70-80 hour weeks for a month.  What my boys said was that I was a better mom when I was working and enjoying what I was doing then when I had been at home.

      I don't regret my stay at home days when they were young, but I loved working and being good at my job.

      More flexibility for how we work and when, maybe?

      "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

      by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:27:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There needs to be some structure (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        CorinaR, ladybug53, kyril, tarantula, gulfgal98

        Otherwise all the jobs which require humans to interact with other humans don't work well.

        This seems to be the main driver of "in the office" time.  Likewise assembly lines don't work well if the labor force isn't steady.

        Some kinds of work can be done unevenly, and as somebody who has often worked long hours because I got focused on something, I understand the temptation.

        You describe a month of intense activity.

        What happens more often is that such heroic efforts become the norm, instead of a rare exception.

        And then people burn out, get sick, have marriages fail, abandon their friends and hobbies, etc and still are getting only the same pay/benefits they got on their 40 hour normal weeks.

        People won't self regulate.  Companies will screw as many free hours out of you as they can.

        I would much rather have people spend the kind of passion you spent in those 60 hour weeks on something that they don't have to do to get their paycheck.  This would be possible if people weren't spending essentially 5 of 7 days doing nothing except preparing to go to work, traveling to work, working, traveling home and doing daily chores that enable them to be fed, washed etc.

        Most of us also spend a good chunk of the other two days doing said chores and dealing with emergencies because work eats enough time during the week that chores don't get done and there isn't bandwidth for emergencies, illness, repairs, etc.

        Making a virtue out of a necessity is better than nothing, but I personally would rather spend my passion on something other than my paycheck, even though I tried my best to get a job that uses my skills, engages my interest and adds a little value to the world.

        •  As I said, I was playing devil's advocate (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I agree with you about most things.  But there is pressure from society (and ourselves) to be one or the other ... when it might not fit.

          The "half truths we hold dear" that tell us we SHOULD "have it all" and then accept only one definition of what that means.

          Thanks for helping me to clarify my thoughts ... because I am not I agreed with Slaughter on everything that she said.

          "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

          by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 07:04:37 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  I don't understand why a woman should expect (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CorinaR, ladybug53, FutureNow

    I don't understand why a woman should expect to do an extremely high-powered job without making the same choice a man makes when doing the same job.  No man expects to be a deeply-involved parent while doing a super high power job.  Why should a woman expect to be able to do that?  Both these things (the job and the hands-on-parenting) take a lot of time and concentration.  You cannot do both simultaneously.  You have to chose, whether you are a man or a woman.

    When we talk about freedom of choice, it does not mean "having it all."  It means being free to choose among different paths and different efforts.

    (To explain my perspective, I am a 68-year-old woman who chose after a lot of education to be a focused mother for several years and then to pursue an interesting career that made sense in my life, but which I did not expect to bring me lasting fame and/or fortune.)

    •  And that is what the article says (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      but adds that the pressure is "to have it all" according to how it is described by her peers. I am guessing now, but I think she was surprised at the pressure to "carry the flag" and how much it took for her to stick to what she needed to do to find satisfaction in both work and family.

      She talking about a certain socio-economic group ... educated and with some money.  So we will stick to that group. I once read an article about how machines had put more pressure on women. Back in the old days, this group of women (most of whom were stay at home wives) had help to wash clothes, clean house, cook, etc. But with the vacuum cleaner, the dishwasher, the clothes washer and dryer, she is now expected to do it all herself ... plus work and have a family.

      How do we change the cultural expectations surrounding work and family?

      "Life without liberty is like a body without spirit. Liberty without thought is like a disturbed spirit." Kahlil Gibran, 'The Vision'

      by CorinaR on Tue Jul 31, 2012 at 06:40:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  what it usually ends up meaning (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    CorinaR, tarantula

    is "I want to have it all, and then I will keep wanting, still, more, without end".

    I've been along that road and fortunately realized early enough - while I still have a life - that there's no such thing as contentment from having acquired enough position, education, material goods, respect etc.

    The only way to contentment is to find peace with some state of "achievement" somewhere along the line. "it's always harder for me"

    " Many of your fellow readers bailed out earlier because they didn’t want to be confronted with all the things they might choose to be grateful for. They wanted to wallow in their (in the grand scheme of things) “little” problems instead of facing the many privileges many of them have."
    One possible reason for why we always want more than we have: always wanting more
    It seems that one part of us is always looking to fill our consciousness “box” with problems, or rather to make the “box” smaller or bigger so that it is always exactly filled. And as long as we let this part determine the size of the “box”, no matter how well objectively things are going, we always will feel that we have huge problems to deal with.
    (I am not this blogger.... this is not a hollow attempt to pimp my own stuff)

    Many humans have forgotten what it means to really live - and perpetually chase promotion and "respect".

  •  I hated this article... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wufacta, tarantula, FutureNow

    but for a different reason than most.

    I don't wan't kids. This isn't some career sacrifice business... I honestly, genuinely don't want them.

    Since moving to the East Coast, I have been astonished at how bizzarre this view seems to many. I've been called selfish. I've been mocked and dismissed. I've met eyerolls and jawdrops. I've been told all I want are pedicures and cruises. (For the record, I've had one pedicure, to find out what it was like, and zero cruises...)

    Sometimes, people just don't want kids. I don't think the world is running out of humans....

    •  Don't let critics bother you. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      No one should be pressured into having kids. They are an amazing amount of work, 24 hours a day, for at least 18 years, and it's certainly not all fun.

      Anyone who is making you feel bad for not wanting kids may be trying to validate their own decision to have them. That's an immature kind of thing to do but very human.

  •  The article was great. (0+ / 0-)

    Thanks for reminding me of it with your good summary and quotes. I thought her points were perfect and well written. As an over-educated mom who has just survived the baby years staying at home, I have to say she is right on.

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