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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Slaughter on Why Women Can't Have it All

My former civ pro professor, Anne-Marie Slaughter, just published a big article (the July cover story) in the Atlantic that is lighting up the board on Facebook this morning. The piece is called: Why Women Still Can't Have it All.  Unsurprisingly, it offers up her reflections on the difficulties of being a high flyer having a career and parenting. It's a long and breezy article; I'm not sure there's much there that hasn't been said in one way or another before, and yet, some things still need to be said again and again, with different nuances and inflections. On the question of what is to be done, I'm quite sympathetic to the suggestions that should allow for more tele-commuting, less face-time, longer school sessions over the summer and better daycare options, etc. That said, I hope that the way in which we make work-life balance better in the future is not one that assumes repronormativity is the only goal to be optimized.

One more thing needs to be noted. Slaughter shows appropriate awareness that this is an article whose perspective reflects the lives of the highly educated and affluent. The distributive justice angle is admittedly complicated and largely omitted. 

Posted by Administrators on June 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM in Article Spotlight | Permalink


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Given that the recent census showed that 27% of women with advanced degrees, aged 40-44, are childless I'm not sure that it really is so important. If the number keeps growing and the most professionally ambitious women choose career over children, surely the top leader gap (if it persists) won't just be about failing to accommodate mothers.

Posted by: anon | Jun 24, 2012 5:51:34 PM

You had it right the first time I think -- your crossed-out phrase above, "being a high flyer," actually had it right. This article is not about "having a career and parenting" in general, and it doesn't purport to be. (People who imagine that this is somehow about "working" vs. "stay at home" mothers didn't read the article very closely.) It's about the very highest flyers, and that's its entire subject.

The situation at the very top matters, though -- not because all that many women or men are in those jobs, but because they run the world. It's important for various reasons to have women well-represented among our top leaders, and for that reason, we need to think structurally (more than this article did, but it's a start) about the special case of Joan Williams' ideal worker problem at the very top.

Posted by: Joey | Jun 23, 2012 12:30:13 PM

It sounds like the author's husband did more than his share of the family work.

But the key paragraph, which goes to a large part of the divide between second wave and third wave feminists, is:

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

This more or less rejects the possibility of a female ideal worker (i.e. one able to devote full attention to work because a non-working partner is avaiable to take on all childcare and household responsibilities, as well as providing emotional support and stability). The question of whether such a worker is actually the most productive is an empirical one, but I think the author is a bit too optimistic in declaring he isn't. It just seems a little too nice and neat for reality to match exactly what we would have wished for.

Posted by: Brad | Jun 22, 2012 12:36:48 AM

I heard this story on NPR. I am not sure what to make of the idea that the government job would not permit her to have it all but a teaching position would. Was it actually the commute that got to her. If so, that is not really an example of not having it all. More flexible hours in teaching might be a better one or is it that professors just do not work as many hours. What concerns me in all of the cases in which the women are married is Where are the husbands. How about a little heart to heart with dad about the nature of the partnership they formed? Is it off limits for dads to buck it up a bit?

Posted by: Jeff | Jun 21, 2012 6:53:10 PM

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