Why Women Still Can’t Have It All (Atlantic Magazine)

Why Women Still Can't Have It All

In the July/August 2012 issue of Atlantic Magazine Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department under Hillary Clinton, discusses the struggles of working mothers.  She questions if, and suggests that, feminists have sold young women a fiction about “having it all.”

As someone who is a gender specialist by training with a professional career that requires international travel, I have been struggling with balancing career with motherhood myself.  The more engaged I become as a mother, the more I seek “alternatives” to traditional work, like blogging 🙂 and consulting in my career where I can accept and turn down contracts that fit my schedule.  This is better harmonized with my role as a mother.  I know that I need something to keep me engaged beyond being a mother, but at the same time I realize that a traditional career is not for me.

The truth is, we still live in a society that doesn’t put family or parenthood as a priority anywhere near our national economic priorities.  I personally think that the two can and should mutually co-exist, but we’re far from that.  I am now in the midst of a personal revolution, working to shed the ingrained beliefs I have held most my life growing up in a post-feminist era bombarded with messaging that I can- and should- “have it all.”

I think one of the important messages she is trying to get across is that those of us that are struggling to juggle career with motherhood should be open about talking about it so as not to perpetuate the myth that our generation has grown up with.  I know so many women my age who feel that if they take a break from work or are not working in their traditional line of work they are “failing” in some way, mostly because of this expectation, I think, that we all be super women.

Anne-Marie Slaughter talks with Hanna Rosin about the struggles of working mothers.

From the Atlantic Magazine article:

“It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

EIGHTEEN MONTHS INTO my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.

As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House. She has two sons exactly my sons’ ages, but she had chosen to move them from California to D.C. when she got her job, which meant her husband commuted back to California regularly. I told her how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”

She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet. I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved. But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could.”

Read the rest of the Atlantic Magazine article here.  It is a long, but worthwhile, read.  It concludes on this note:

“I continually push the young women in my classes to speak more. They must gain the confidence to value their own insights and questions, and to present them readily. My husband agrees, but he actually tries to get the young men in his classes to act more like the women—to speak less and listen more. If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.

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.”

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