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Monday, June 25, 2012

Parenthood for the 0.5%

When Dan posted about Anne-Marie Slaughter's piece in the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can't Have It All, I was intrigued but did not rush to blog about it.  Slaughter's experience reflects a pretty rarefied slice of life.  Dan described Slaughter, a Princeton professor and former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, as a "high flyer."  Me?  If I fly at all, I travel coach.  I have school-aged children and teach at a non-elite law school.  My initial reaction to the Slaughter piece and its reception was fatigue, or maybe even a little boredom.  It's difficult to combine engaged parenting with "high government office"?  Yup.  It would be easier on working parents if we abandoned our norm of "the ideal worker"?  Check.  Employers should experiment with expanded leave policies and demand less face-time?  Amen.  I agree, as currently constructed, professional and family life can create, as Slaughter says, "unresolvable tensions."  In fact, it can seem like a set-up.  My major reaction to her piece, however?   Slaughter's concerns are not the problems of most parents, men or women. 

Slaughter describes her post as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department as "a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men)."  She's referring there to the long, inflexible hours, but, sorry, no.  That job's not typical.   In his initial post, Dan noted that Slaughter's piece did not engage issues of "distributive justice."  Actually, Slaughter links the lack of female representation in positions of power to the problems affecting women in other walks of life.  She writes, "only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create  a society that genuinely works for all women."  Really?  That will solve the problems of middle- and working-class families?  Of course, I would prefer to see more diverse representation in all positions of power.  But the greatest divisions that I see are between have's and have-not's, not between men and women.  Slaughter argues that "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."  In our current economic situation, that seems a bit of a non sequitur.  She acknowledges that many mothers "are worrying not about having it all, but rather about holding on to what they do have."  That rings true.  And it also seems like a far more compelling set of issues. 

Posted by GiovannaShay on June 25, 2012 at 10:18 AM | Permalink


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Anon sequitur's comments *are* deeply sexist. Do men "choose" to work to increase their household income? Would we question it if they did? Why assume that there are certain women who "choose" to complicate their lives by trying to work and balance family obligations? As Ellen suggests, work may be a source of intellectual stimulation and pride--something that we take for granted for men but begrudge for women. For many others, working outside of the home isn't a choice at all.

But yes, I agree that this debate has grown tiresome. But not because of the questions Slaughter has put on the table. It's tiresome because it feeds the ridiculous rantings of those who cling to the retrograde vision of the breadwinner and the housewife. Enough already.

Posted by: Anon | Jun 26, 2012 12:20:46 AM

Anonolicious: I said "deeply sexist" - not "deeply sexist towards women." I agree with you that the assumptions implicit in Anon Sequitur's argument also reflect a cultural sexism that limits the choices of men - i.e., that men are not understood to have the choice not to work outside the office while raising kids. The same sexism means that women are taken less seriously as professionals because their choice to be a professional is understood as just that - a revocable option, exercisable only by one gender, pursuant to which they can drop out of the workforce for years and become dependent on a man while raising children.

Posted by: A Woman | Jun 25, 2012 6:03:34 PM

Thanks, Anonolicious. Ultimately, my point is that no one can "have it all." Period.

Posted by: Anon Sequitur | Jun 25, 2012 4:50:35 PM

And, just to preempt a cheap tactic, no, I didn't mean to suggest that staying home with children does not count as "work," but rather use the term "work" for purposes of this discussion to simply mean "work outside the home."

Posted by: Anonolicious | Jun 25, 2012 4:32:19 PM

"Ridiculous," "deeply sexist," "absolutely disgusting." This king of language is silly in light of Anon Sequitur's actual argument. Obviously, if a man is "provided for" by a high-earning woman, and he nevertheless works in light of an understanding between him and his wife that he can stay home with children if he wishes, he is "choosing" to work. Of course we don't normally say that a man is "choosing" to work because we don't often think of men as having a choice in the first place. So, A Woman, ironically, your post seems glaringly, even if unintentionally, undermined by a type of cultural sexism that limits the choices of men, while flipping that sexism around to claim that the assumptions implicit in Anon Sequitur's argument are "deeply sexist" toward women. Why must language and reason be tipped on its head in discussions like these?

Posted by: Anonolicious | Jun 25, 2012 3:50:42 PM

Women might work to be financially independent (or at least less dependent) even if their spouse is a high earner.

Too bad there isn't pay parity, if there were you could argue that it really makes sense to choose which partner will work and which one will put his/her career on hold or on the back burner to raise a young family without reference to earning power.

Posted by: Alex | Jun 25, 2012 3:18:39 PM

I think it's ridiculous to suggest that working should be optional for women, such that an upper-class woman who is provided for by a man is "choosing" to exercise her option to work. We don't see working as "optional" for men whose wives earn high salaries. Anon Sequitur's argument is deeply sexist, suggesting that if a woman is married to a high-earning man, her salary (however high or low it may be) is secondary, optional, and expendable. Of course this is not accompanied by any notation that men who are married to high-earning women can "choose" to work or not. Absolutely disgusting.

Posted by: A Woman | Jun 25, 2012 3:13:18 PM

When you talk about women who "choose" to work, you are making a HUGE and mistaken assumption about why women "choose" to work. Of the women who could afford to stay home, many choose to work because it is intellectually stimulating, it provides them a sense of accomplishment, they love their jobs, and it is less lonely. I would guess that very few women who can make the choice as to work or not are doing it to have more money.

Posted by: Ellen | Jun 25, 2012 2:54:40 PM

Regarding "choosing" to work, DKM did not read my initial comments very closely. I am in agreement that most women do not have a choice but to work. To repeat my initial sentence: "Perhaps this is unpopular to say, but women who 'choose' to work to increase their collective household income (i.e., could opt to stay home and live a bit more humbly on a single salary) seem to be the only ones in a position to complain about not being able to 'have it all.'"The element of choice was only associated with the fortunate few with a secondary high-earning breadwinner. Please read closely before ranting.

Posted by: Anon Sequitur | Jun 25, 2012 11:48:26 AM

DKM has taken my point out of context. I am not implying that anyone's position is so "awesome" that complaints are unwarranted. Instead, I am simply saying that "having it all" is an unrealistic expectation.

Posted by: Anon Sequitur | Jun 25, 2012 11:39:06 AM

Also, both the original post and particularly the first comment get my dander up, because they frankly come off as elitist and divorced from the realities facing working families. The idea that women, particularly those in lower-income families, ""choose" to work to increase their collective household income" is ridiculous and completely unwarranted by the facts.

Most women today don't "choose" to work, they are forced to by economic realities. Single incomes are rarely sufficient to cover the needs of an average family, particularly when you factor in the rising costs of retirement, health care, education, and the increasing risks borne by individuals (read: less insurance). Add in the uncertainty of at-will employment today, and the decline of the safety nets against unemployment, and it's hard to describe the decision to have the mother work as a choice.

Posted by: DKM | Jun 25, 2012 11:36:50 AM

Re: the original post.
I think the original post is creating a false dichotomy. In fact, women-related employment issues are much worse for working and middle class workers than they are for the elite. If you disagree with Slaughter's conclusion that putting more women into positions of leadership may be a necessary predicate to changing conditions for the working class, fine. But at least give a rationale other than "you're an elite, so clearly your lack of experience being a low-income worker invalidates your argument." To state the obvious, being a professor at a "non-elite law school" isn't exactly working on a shop floor.

Re: Anon sequitor
I frankly find your argument (and all the variations of it) tiring. I keep hearing that a) the United States has the best economic policies in the world, which spill over into making us so much happier than anyone else at any other time in the world; and b) that those of us who actually have the temerity to point out that in fact maybe things aren't completely awesome should shut up and stop complaining.

Maybe things are not as awesome as people like you claim, and maybe rather than simply sitting by (particularly as people like you continue to try to advance policies that exacerbate the problems described), we ought to try to fix it.

Posted by: DKM | Jun 25, 2012 11:29:25 AM

"But the greatest divisions that I see are between have's and have-not's, not between men and women."


Posted by: Anonolicious | Jun 25, 2012 11:15:49 AM

Yeah, if anyone expects to be able to have one of those burn-out high-level government official jobs in DC for a few years while also having a normal and successful family life with their family that is living a few hundred miles away in New Jersey, that person has a very unrealistic set of expectations -- whether that person is a woman or a man.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jun 25, 2012 10:42:37 AM

Respectfully, this "issue" has grown tiresome. No one can "have it all." When women in this echelon weren't working in large numbers, they complained about a lack of professional fulfillment. Now that they are working outside of the home, they complain about not having adequate time for their families. Life is about choices. Poor and middle-class women, and single parents, are forced to deal with the lack of time for their children on a regular basis. They don't have the luxury of pondering whether they "have it all," and a future female President won't change that. Perhaps this is unpopular to say, but women who "choose" to work to increase their collective household income (i.e., could opt to stay home and live a bit more humbly on a single salary) seem to be the only ones in a position to complain about not being able to "have it all." That slogan was part of an old Virginia Slims ad. It does not apply in the real world.

Posted by: Anon Sequitur | Jun 25, 2012 10:38:38 AM

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