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Why Women Still Can't Have It All
June 21, 2012 9:49 AM   Subscribe

"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." Anne Marie Slaughter, the former policy director for the State Department and professor at Princeton University, has written a nuanced essay for this month's Atlantic Monthly, about the feminist generation gap and work-life balance at the top levels of government and academia: Why Women Still Can't Have It All.

When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).

The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange [...] I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).
posted by lunasol (125 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Well, to be fair, men can't have it all either. It's just that no one expects them to even try.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:52 AM on June 21, 2012 [140 favorites]


Part of this, too, is the State Department. I have some close friends who worked at State (under HRC, though I suspect that this is the case in other administrations), and you are basically on-call 24/7, dealing with constant crisis. If you go home to have dinner with your family, that could mean you aren't there to make the call that might stop a warlord from riding through a village. It's no job for anyone with a life.

In the larger world, I would love to see it become the case that staying late at work instead of going home to your family is regarded as weird and creepy. But I fear the competitive advantages of not caring about anything but work are going to remain too substantial for that to become the case.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:58 AM on June 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Well, to be fair, men can't have it all either. It's just that no one expects them to even try.

I kind of think, too, that the compromises men have to make have been so worn into the social fabric that it is difficult to even think of them as compromises and not just being the way things are. Wendell Berry has a great bit about how nobody, anywhere, describes a man as "liberated" just because he goes to work every day.
posted by gauche at 10:03 AM on June 21, 2012 [40 favorites]


So I had mixed feelings about the piece, but this struck me as extremely important:

To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. Consider the number of women recently in the top ranks in Washington—Susan Rice, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Michelle Gavin, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle—who are Rhodes Scholars. Samantha Power, another senior White House official, won a Pulitzer Prize at age 32. Or consider Sandberg herself, who graduated with the prize given to Harvard’s top student of economics. These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure.

These really are outstanding and remarkable people with significant resources. I've long believed that we set up a notion of professional success to match a male-centered world view (and explicitly one that assumes the labor of others will go towards supporting and sustaining these people, labor that is never seen as equally valuable as the work done by the successful archetype). Instead of expecting women to conform to this standard of success, it's imperative to challenge what it means to be successful in our society. Easier said than done, of course.

One of the best examinations of the definition of success in America is Scott Sandage's Born Losers, which traces the 19th century's changing cultural definition of failure. We too quickly associate professional success with personal success and we assume it's always been this way. We can decide for ourselves what it means to be a successful person - and it shouldn't anticipate someone feeding you, taking care of your kids, and giving up on their personal life to support yours. After all, how can those people be successful unless they find someone else to give up their own ambitions?
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [23 favorites]


I don't see that it's the fault of feminism that living the entire country away from your children makes it hard to be engaged in their lives. She kept on talking about feminism having betrayed her as if she'd gotten a shiny brochure from the International Women's Rights Guild with a coupon for a life of challenge and personal fulfillment.
posted by winna at 10:05 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule

Are the majority of working people working the kind of schedule she talks about facing working with the State Department? We're not all working for the President or the Secretary of State; it's not totally surprising to me that doing so would involve incredible work/life balance sacrifices.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:08 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Demanding career.

Family life.

Sanity.


Pick any two, gender not relevant.
posted by gagglezoomer at 10:17 AM on June 21, 2012 [44 favorites]


Wendell Berry has a great bit about how nobody, anywhere, describes a man as "liberated" just because he goes to work every day.

That's because nobody spent 1700 years telling men they couldn't. Instead, we now tell men they are liberated and progressive when they stay home to care for their own children.

Wendell Berry is 78 years old, and it shows.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:18 AM on June 21, 2012 [17 favorites]


Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies
posted by Navelgazer at 10:19 AM on June 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


Well, to be fair, men can't have it all either. It's just that no one expects them to even try.

While not denying that expectations for men and women are different, I think men are expected to both be successful in their careers (as defined by status and/or salary) and to be active and involved in their family lives as husbands/fathers. It's not like society is praising men who miss little league games so they can work 60 hours a week.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


~nobody, anywhere, describes a man as "liberated" just because he goes to work every day.
~That's because nobody spent 1700 years telling men they couldn't.


True.
The world spent the entire span of human history telling men that they had to go to work.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:22 AM on June 21, 2012 [16 favorites]


It’s all fine and well for a tenured professor to write about flexible working hours, investment intervals, and family-comes-first management. But what about the real world? Most American women cannot demand these things, particularly in a bad economy, and their employers have little incentive to grant them voluntarily. Indeed, the most frequent reaction I get in putting forth these ideas is that when the choice is whether to hire a man who will work whenever and wherever needed, or a woman who needs more flexibility, choosing the man will add more value to the company.
Would that there were some kind of group or organization that could force employers to hire more people when workloads exceed the nominal work day/week or start flexible scheduling for folks whose personal lives are as or more important to them as work.
posted by mfu at 10:23 AM on June 21, 2012 [45 favorites]


That's socialist talk, mfu!
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:25 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Remember folks, it isn't just women who have to make this trade-off. Professional women are the most obvious targets of how modern economies work.

I recently returned from my spousal leave to be primary care-giver to my child (as is my right as a new father in Canada) earning only a fraction of my previous pay (as the primary earner, no less.)

Guess who was passed over for promotion when he came back, even though I busted my ass to make good? Business has its own wheels and timelines, and even though I worked hard for a quarter and a half, I get no promotion or bonus or any other biz perqs.

But, let's face it: realistically the company had no grounds for giving me /anything/. What had I done for them lately? I understand this, but I don't have to like it.

This happens all the time, and it is women who get the worst of it.
posted by clvrmnky at 10:28 AM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The world spent the entire span of human history telling men that they had to go to work.

Huh. I wonder who's been in control of "the world" and "society", and who decided that men would be the ones to work and therefore have power? Hmm.
posted by palomar at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


It's not like society is praising men who miss little league games so they can work 60 hours a week.

Well, not quite, but a woman who works a demanding job and, therefore, misses a game or a recital or doesn't cook or do house work is bad. On the other hand, a man who works a demanding job but goes to a game or a recital or cooks or does house work is good. There's a different baseline expectation, which causes, it seems, an enormous amount of strain on women.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:30 AM on June 21, 2012 [22 favorites]


Reminds me of the time when I first read about how salaried (exempt) pay came to be, since it seemed to outright circumvent the 40 hour work week/overtime. The idea was, IIRC, if you work in a project based job, there would be some weeks you work less than 40, and some more, so your work was to pay you a regular dollar amount and ensure you still got paid the same even if the employer didn't have as much work for you that week, cuz chances are, they would have more the following week.

Or something like that.

Anyway, we can see how well that worked out (for men and women).
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


"Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”

I wish someone would tell more women that the careers they are not choosing, the ones with computers, would allow them to have this. I work in IT. I have a completely flexible schedule, though there are some sectors of IT where people are overworked and have to be on call all the time. But overall there are lots of jobs in IT where you can make decent money and set your own hours. Maybe if women were told this, they would be more likely to chose to study computer science or related fields.
posted by melissam at 10:31 AM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families

Interesting that Sec. Clinton did a little end-run around the 'get in before the boss, leave after the boss' culture, with the help of teleworking. While telework seems to offer an easier way to solve work-life balance issues, a lot of times it ends up with the expectation that one will work from home or the road constantly.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 10:32 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


The world spent the entire span of human history telling men that they had to go to work.

Are we forgetting they did for women as well; just that men could have jobs that were more than menial? It's not like we've had stay at home mom's that only took care of the kids for most of our history. They've been in the fields, making clothing, in factories, etc . . . for as long as men.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:33 AM on June 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


ThePinkSuperhero: "Are the majority of working people working the kind of schedule she talks about facing working with the State Department? We're not all working for the President or the Secretary of State; it's not totally surprising to me that doing so would involve incredible work/life balance sacrifices."

Yeah, for whatever reasons, the State Department is known for being a meat grinder. I'm sure this varies from office to office, but you also need to remember that the State Department does a whole lot of really important and time-critical work. State Department jobs carry a lot of prestige in academic circles, and there's intense competition for jobs there. This undoubtedly attracts a certain type of candidate, and has a significant influence on the agency's culture.

Admittedly, I only skimmed the article, but it sounded very familiar to a number of other stories, where "high-profile" folks have walked away from high-ranking government positions, as they were unable to contend with the culture and/or dysfunction of that agency. Although I'm sure that there still is quite a bit of endemic misogyny present at the upper-levels of the Federal government, I have a feeling that that's only a small part of the story here.

"I just became the boss of a big federal agency, and couldn't deal with the culture, so I'm leaving DC" op-eds are a dime a dozen. Pulling in random blokes off of the street (even very smart ones) isn't always a great strategy for running a federal agency.

Her points about the work-life balance ring a bit hollow to me, as well. The issues that she's facing don't seem to be terribly specific to women; in today's working world, any professional with children and a spouse who is also a professional is going to encounter a very similar situation to what Anne Slaughter is talking about. I suspect that a whole lot more men than women will be able to relate to her story.

Sidenote: I work in a TV studio in the legislature, and we're about 50/50 men/women. Admittedly, the upper management and engineers are all men, but a 50/50 gender ratio across all positions (excluding engineering which is a whole different problem) is almost unheard of in the broadcasting industry. Everyone who works here agrees that this makes for a much nicer work environment than the private sector. There are parts of the government that have gone out of their way to be equitable, and it's paid off.

Hopefully, we'll start getting more equitable at the upper levels too. Fortunately, I think that's only a matter of time. Unfortunately, I don't think there's very much that we can do to speed things up when it comes to reforming upper management.
posted by schmod at 10:34 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh. I wonder who's been in control of "the world" and "society", and who decided that men would be the ones to work and therefore have power? Hmm.

Kings, Queens, dictators, and aristocrats. They forced people to work, and it didn't come with power.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:37 AM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


I never get these divisions. I would have been bummed if either of my parents missed "the big game" or whatever. Both my parents worked sane jobs. Of course, you're not reading about their regrets in The Atlantic.
posted by 2bucksplus at 10:38 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Huh. I wonder who's been in control of "the world" and "society", and who decided that men would be the ones to work and therefore have power? Hmm.

Because nothing says "power" like punching a clock!
posted by enn at 10:39 AM on June 21, 2012 [9 favorites]


we now tell men they are liberated and progressive when they stay home to care for their own children.

I can't really tell if we're supposed to be indignant about that or not. Because doing that was really not an option for my father's generation (there would be massive social disapproval), and now it's a (socially validated) option. It's a great gain that feminists made for men.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


What, exactly, is it supposed to mean to "have it all"? And why are we supposed to want it? If it means achieving high rank in a career and being actively involved at home, is it really so surprising that most people don't have enough bandwidth for both? Yeah, I know that society has traditionally assigned men the career slot, and women the home slot. But that still means neither one is having it all.

For me, it's not even a choice. Keep the fancy titles and plaques and "prestige." Let me enjoy my home and family for more than a few minutes after waking up or before falling asleep.
posted by Longtime Listener at 10:41 AM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


It's not like society is praising men who miss little league games so they can work 60 hours a week.

Except for the Nobel Prize committee, the MacArthur Genius Grant selectors, partners at law firms, management at financial institutions, editors at publications all over the country, software companies, and so on.

See, to make it it far in nearly every professional capacity, we expect men to work long hours and we praise their success. We only later talk about work-life issues, once that success is established.

When was the last time someone looked at a MacArthur Genius Grant winner (male) and said, that guy is a huge failure, he should be ashamed? Society pays lawyers and bankers a lot of money, it's not like they're seen as deadbeats.

We may simultaneously scold these men for missing out, and sing Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle, but it comes after we have praised them.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:42 AM on June 21, 2012 [27 favorites]


Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families

So, assuming that her staff have an average commute of 30 minutes (which, frankly, is being overly optimistic for DC), and that she expected them to arrive and leave at exactly the same time as her, they're leaving home at 7:30 a.m. and getting home at 8:30 p.m. (which, come on, is not realistic at all). So, pretending for a moment that they have children (since "families" implies that), when are they getting to spend morning and evening time with their children?
posted by The World Famous at 10:42 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


See, to make it it far in nearly every professional capacity, we expect men to work long hours and we praise their success. We only later talk about work-life issues, once that success is established.

Yes yes yes yes yes
posted by The World Famous at 10:43 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are the majority of working people working the kind of schedule she talks about facing working with the State Department? We're not all working for the President or the Secretary of State; it's not totally surprising to me that doing so would involve incredible work/life balance sacrifices.

Yeah, that's the thing that struck me as fairly odd about this article--it seems to bounce around from talking about the concerns at the very tip-top of power structures ("That is exactly what has Sheryl Sandberg so upset, and rightly so. In her words, “'Women are not making it to the top. A hundred and ninety heads of state; nine are women. Of all the people in parliament in the world, 13 percent are women. In the corporate sector, [the share of] women at the top—C-level jobs, board seats—tops out at 15, 16 percent.'") to issues affecting the broad bulk of professional women, like leaving the workforce altogether to raise children. But those strike me as fairly distinct, although of course related, issues. The latter, it seems, can often be addressed with fairly simple remedies, and indeed the article shows that companies themselves can find this beneficial (e.g., the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office).

But even she concedes that "in-person meetings can be far more efficient than phone or e-mail tag; trust and collegiality are much more easily built up around the same physical table; and spontaneous conversations often generate good ideas and lasting relationships." It's not therefore surprising that people who climb to the top of the ladder at large companies, law and consulting partnerships, and the like are people who have made enormous sacrifices in work-life balance, and it strikes me as fairly naive to believe that you can 'solve' that issue by things like telecommuting, useful as they are. The person who can work 70 hours a week while their partner largely handles 'domestic' matters is simply going to be somewhat more productive, and right now for a variety of reasons, it's usually the male partner who is that person.
posted by dsfan at 10:43 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


She lost me very early in this article. In fact, here's exactly where she lost me: " I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book."

This is after she gave up on "having it all," and went back to being merely a Princeton professor and mother.

I think maybe her idea of "having it all" is a little too literal and maybe kind of silly. I don't think when most people argue that a woman can "have it all" they mean that she can do absolutely anything, anywhere, and still have a family. When I was a boy, I was told I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. I think even then I knew I shouldn't take that promise too literally, even given my entitled status as a white male. Later, I heard the more useful observation that you can have anything you want in this life, but you can't have everything. You only have so much time and energy, and you have to choose. Pursuing some things, like higher education, will mean sacrificing other things. I think men, especially "successful" men, have always understood this. Or at least the people who have always written novels, songs, and screenplays about successful men have always understood this. That guy in that song about cats and cradles had to make a choice between family and career and live with the consequences.

So, with all due respect to somebody who is obviously uncommonly good at succeeding in life, I can't help but feel the real problem here is an unreasonable expectation that you can live a life without mortal limits.
posted by Max Udargo at 10:44 AM on June 21, 2012 [20 favorites]


Her points about the work-life balance ring a bit hollow to me, as well. The issues that she's facing don't seem to be terribly specific to women; in today's working world, any professional with children and a spouse who is also a professional is going to encounter a very similar situation to what Anne Slaughter is talking about. I suspect that a whole lot more men than women will be able to relate to her story.

Schmod, you're right. But women still more traditionally take on a larger part of parenting roles. Not in all families, of course, but a lot, so when dad misses a little league game, dad is absent. When mom misses it, no one is there to take the kid to the game. Yes, I'm generalizing, and yes in many families it is more equal on the child care front. But my point is that I think people notice it more, and expect it more from women, and to an extent, for a good reason.

On the other hand, I think employers need to be more flexible with their employees hours for both genders, it's a real problem, and in this economy, its only going to get worse. Part of me thinks it was engineered. ridiculously high unemployment means much less chance to move. I can't count the number of people who I've heard had their bosses say "You should be thankful you even HAVE a job." in response to reasonable workplace concerns.

Similarly, women do seem punished more when they want some kind of flexibility. I know someone who is going to be demoted after she has her baby and goes part time. The same company has played fast and lose with others going part time without a problem. And its the second or third time I've heard of this exact thing - the woman going part time to spend time with their family gets demoted, even though the job itself is not one that requires someone to be in the office 40 hours a week. In fairness, a man likely would too.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:48 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


We may simultaneously scold these men for missing out, and sing Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle, but it comes after we have praised them.

Well, why not? We are the public; we care about what people do that is useful to us. If someone is a fantastic surgeon or an innovative entrepreneur or a skilful diplomat or a brilliant artist, but it takes them 80 hours a week to be those things, why shouldn't we appllaud them? Other people couldn't do as much if you gave them all the time in the world, and we as a society reap part of the benefit of their excellence.

If to be a successful public human requires a private sacrifice, why would you not expect the public to revere that person more, if anything, than one who devoted much if his time to private pleasures and cares?
posted by Diablevert at 10:55 AM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


Sad White Babies with Mean Feminist Mommies

I like Valenti, and she's right about the picture, but accusing the Atlantic of a "reviving the tired feminist-baiting question 'can women have it all'" when she hasn't read the piece (and she admits that she hasn't) seems terribly lazy. I think it's a much more thoughtful piece than that gives it credit for.
posted by naoko at 11:00 AM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


If to be a successful public human requires a private sacrifice, why would you not expect the public to revere that person more, if anything, than one who devoted much if his time to private pleasures and cares?

I think the point is that when women are successful public humans, much is made about how the most important thing in their lives is being mothers, because otherwise they get flak. Tons of flak.

The intense French media campaign against Marie Curie in 1913 is probably the most outrageous example, but we see it all the time on a less egregious level. Look at all the crap Hillary Clinton got for her mothering style while she was First Lady--how much crap did Bill get for his fathering style?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:03 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Realistically, someone whose teenage child has frequent mid-week emergencies that require the immediate physical presence of BOTH parents is not "typical" and I think she is annoying for implying that women are throwing her under the bus for saying so.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


We may simultaneously scold these men for missing out, and sing Harry Chapin's Cat's in the Cradle, but it comes after we have praised them.

Well that was my point, by scolding men for missing out on their family lives, to the extent necessary to be successful, we are expecting both men and women to "have it all." The father who works too much and isn't there for his kids, but learns that his kids are more important than work and quits his fancy job is the plot of basically half of the family movies produced since 1985. The other half are the same plot, but with a mother who works too much. There's a genderedness to how the criticism expresses itself, but both men and women get it.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:04 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Huh. I wonder who's been in control of "the world" and "society", and who decided that men would be the ones to work and therefore have power? Hmm.

It was me, right?
posted by Hoopo at 11:07 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men),

What? No, this is not typical. She is really being bonkers as hell in this article. The vast majority of working women and men don't have that job. She lives in a bubble. She was living in a bubble in academia and then she just hopped into a different bubble.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:08 AM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Also, and this is the last thing I'm going to say about this article because it's dumb, I don't particularly WANT the people in the State department who are doing critical work to be taking time off during the day for haircuts and dry cleaning and shit like that. The real issue here is that she has no stay at home spouse to be taking care of all these things for her and that is definitely a gendered problem, but the very fact that a super intense and important government job doesn't have enough flexibility for you to be going to soccer games whenever you feel like it is not actually a problem that matters to the majority of women.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:11 AM on June 21, 2012 [18 favorites]


There are multiple levels of things here.

One is that the piecemeal liberation of women has, in many ways, just meant "we expect you to keep doing what you'd been doing, and now we expect you to do all this other stuff too". And a lot of this pressure comes from women, and from women who are quite progressive and feminist, which is sad and an issue that doesn't get talked about nearly so much, but let's face it: a lot of the supposedly-positive role models we've created for modern women are not mortal human beings, and no actual human being can pull off running a small business, going to law school, sitting on the board of a major corporation, running for Congress and raising two kids alone all at the same time.

Another is that, yes, "family or career" is a choice that unfortunately applies to many people, regardless of the bits they have between their legs. I have male friends who've deliberately changed jobs or changed career tracks because their existing jobs/careers did not include the ability to spend time with their kids. This is slowly becoming more acceptable, but too slowly; we still have a very strong expectation that mom has right of first refusal on being the stay-at-home parent and that dad's job is to work and provide and support mom's choices. That's not privilege for dad, and if you think it is, talk to some dads who are caught in that situation.

Aside on that:

Huh. I wonder who's been in control of "the world" and "society", and who decided that men would be the ones to work and therefore have power? Hmm.

One-dimensional views of privilege are as toxic as denial of privilege.
posted by ubernostrum at 11:21 AM on June 21, 2012 [11 favorites]


[insert clever name here]: "Schmod, you're right. But women still more traditionally take on a larger part of parenting roles. Not in all families, of course, but a lot, so when dad misses a little league game, dad is absent. When mom misses it, no one is there to take the kid to the game. Yes, I'm generalizing, and yes in many families it is more equal on the child care front. But my point is that I think people notice it more, and expect it more from women, and to an extent, for a good reason."

Huh? Unless we're directly talking about maternity, what's that good reason? That men can't be good stay-at-home parents, or that society doesn't expect them to?
posted by schmod at 11:24 AM on June 21, 2012


I think the point is that when women are successful public humans, much is made about how the most important thing in their lives is being mothers, because otherwise they get flak. Tons of flak.

I agree that's an issue, and maybe if that's all we as feminists want to solve we can manage that one in our lifetimes.

I would say the related issue that is far more intractable is the simply stated one of not being able to be in two places at once. Maybe Slaughter was the arcing coming of George F. Kennan and could have had a profound positive influence on the direction of America's foreign policy, something that affects the lives of millions; we'll never know, because taking that job required her to be a bad mom and she couldn't bear that.

That's putting it bluntly, maybe cruelly. But: you don't get to raise kids twice. You want to be around for them when they're little, you want to take that time? Then certain things will be closed off to you, because other people will be willing to make the other choice.

We have an expectations problem, an attitude problem, in that society condemns that selfishness in women and celebrates it in men. But even if we change society's attitude toward neutrality on that point, it doesn't solve the problem.

There's some powerful Darwin mojo mixed in there, too. Most people want to have kids. So now we have this untenable bullshit where Platitude One says, It is to be applauded when women are as ambitious as men, we are all equal, good on you for manifesting that! And Platitude Two says, successfully raising a child is one of the most important things you can do in life, and by the way it is very easy to fuck up and if the kid's messed up it's all your fault, in order to be a good person you need to make them Job #1. We like to pretend that these platitude can co-exist, that if we could just come up with some program or support service or something everyone could do both things at once and it'd be fine. But: you can't be in two places at once.
posted by Diablevert at 11:27 AM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


By most definitions, she is having it all - a highly successful and demanding career plus a family with kids. The thing that seemed to be the problem was living in DC, which makes sense. It is very difficult for anyone to live hours away from their children. I'm not sure it's fair to say that the State Department gig was "high-powered" but the Princeton gig is not, that seems a bit disingenuous. I would argue that she does have a successful high-powered career and a marriage and a family. The argument of this article could be- it's not possible to be totally geographically mobile if you have kids and a working spouse.

Also, there is the question of paid domestic help. As a Princeton professor, or a commuting State Department official, what kind of paid help do they have that makes this possible. They may not have any help, but many people with these kinds of careers have various help in the form of child care, house cleaning etc, and much of it is performed by low paid mothers (often immigrants) who are also working and raising children. There are a lot of unfortunate race/class assumptions in this article that make me pretty uncomfortable.
posted by cushie at 11:31 AM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


Please don't let us make this a divisive "My sex has it harder than your sex" thread!

The whole point of this article was that we should not be putting pressure on young people to feel that if they were just committed enough to a successful career AND a happy marriage AND raising children, just the act of will would make them able to do so, when in fact it is incredibly difficult to have any of the above, let alone all of them, with the way American society is right now. She hits a little hard on how tough it is for women in particular, and I don't agree with her 100% about everything, but I really feel the general argument applies to both sexes.

We just don't accommodate family life well in this country.

She suggests some common sense approaches I like, for the most part. Employers setting the stage by allowing flexible office hours as a given, rather than the exception to the rule, just makes sense today. We have so many ways to connect that the physical, butt-in-chair presence in the office is not a necessity much of the time. I think 60+ hour work weeks need to be done away with, too, as people continuously pushed past their reasonable limits are bound to be less productive during those extra hours, anyway.

She also suggests conferences should be scheduled during school hours, rather than work evenings. While I like this idea in principle, I feel it would be a bit problematic to implement, because we are globally connected now. My spouse's conferences, for example, are often done in the evening because he is dealing withpeople on theother side of the world, with a 12 hour or better time difference, so our 8 pm is their 8 in the morning. Also, ee are so backward that I'm sure someone will just decide the answer is to make longer school days for kids so their hours jibe with work schedules, and I don't think teachers should become full-time babysitters, or that more hours = better education.

Making "family leave" the accepted practice, with all employees entitled to take a specific period of time off to care for a family member, not just new parents after the birth of a baby, is another good idea, that some employers offer already. While short-term it puts a burden on the company, pragmatically, more and more us will be having aging parents to care for as we are all living longer. That's just a fact of life, and we should be adjust for that ow rather than later.
posted by misha at 11:32 AM on June 21, 2012 [13 favorites]



One-dimensional views of privilege are as toxic as denial of privilege.


Exactly, which is why I find the "but men have had to work since the dawn of time, where's our pity party" sentiment to be a little silly. Sure, men have had to work since people came to be. But so have women. And to pretend that only one sex has been dealt an unfair hand is, frankly, the most toxic bullshit possible.
posted by palomar at 11:44 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


misha: "Making "family leave" the accepted practice, with all employees entitled to take a specific period of time off to care for a family member"

How about just giving employees more time off, period? Doesn't need any specific strings attached to it.
posted by schmod at 11:46 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


How about just giving employees more time off, period?

More time than what?
posted by The World Famous at 11:50 AM on June 21, 2012


I think 60+ hour work weeks need to be done away with, too, as people continuously pushed past their reasonable limits are bound to be less productive during those extra hours, anyway.

This, this, this.

It frustrates me to no end that in all the punditry and wailing about the unemployment rate, nobody, but nobody, ever points the fingers at employers who just refuse to hire enough people to do the work that needs to be done. If you need all your employees to work 60+ hours/week, then you need more employees. Not only is it unproductive to push people this hard, it is just plain inhumane.

But nobody in power really cares, and the workers are (probably justifiably) too scared to upset the apple cart.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 11:51 AM on June 21, 2012 [37 favorites]


Where's my pity party?
posted by gagglezoomer at 11:51 AM on June 21, 2012


You want 12-A, next door.
posted by Longtime Listener at 11:54 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


It frustrates me to no end that in all the punditry and wailing about the unemployment rate, nobody, but nobody, ever points the fingers at employers who just refuse to hire enough people to do the work that needs to be done. If you need all your employees to work 60+ hours/week, then you need more employees. Not only is it unproductive to push people this hard, it is just plain inhumane.

Don't you see more of this in Europe, where companies aren't responsible for providing health insurance for their employees? For a company, a new employee versus new hours for an existing employee should be more or less equal, but it's not because we expect them to pay for benefits, too.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 11:54 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think that keeping the unemployment rate high is a deliberate strategy, too. You end up with a workforce of terrified people who refuse to Rick the boat at all out of fear, and if one of them snaps you have an army of overqualified people beating down the door to take their place. If you're an amoral bastard who's insulated from the situation due to having already gotten yours then it's an ideal situation.
posted by winna at 11:54 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


It goes without saying that people who refuse to Rick the boat also refuse to rock the boat.
posted by winna at 11:56 AM on June 21, 2012 [14 favorites]


To be sure, the women who do make it to the top are highly committed to their profession. On closer examination, however, it turns out that most of them have something else in common: they are genuine superwomen. Consider the number of women recently in the top ranks in Washington—Susan Rice, Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Michelle Gavin, Nancy-Ann Min DeParle—who are Rhodes Scholars. Samantha Power, another senior White House official, won a Pulitzer Prize at age 32. Or consider Sandberg herself, who graduated with the prize given to Harvard’s top student of economics. These women cannot possibly be the standard against which even very talented professional women should measure themselves. Such a standard sets up most women for a sense of failure

World-wide culture combines the social striving and drive of 40-50 individual communities with presentations of success, beauty and creativity typical of one in ten million type individuals. This is the result.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:57 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Scandinavian countries that offer decent childcare and other services also have a lot more women in government and other stressful positions.

It's not about women, it's about the STRUCTURE of society.
posted by jb at 12:00 PM on June 21, 2012 [8 favorites]


But sometimes they roll the boat. Especially if their name is rick.
posted by wuwei at 12:01 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


The young rope rider: Realistically, someone whose teenage child has frequent mid-week emergencies that require the immediate physical presence of BOTH parents is not "typical" and I think she is annoying for implying that women are throwing her under the bus for saying so.

The point was that her kid was in crisis and she had a couple meetings just around that time because of that. Actually, though, I think that teenagers having issues is pretty damned common. I have two that (knock on wood) are doing fine just now, but I can tell you that all my friends with teen kids have at one time or another run into issues the parents felt they needed to handle together, even the divorced parents presenting a united front.

I don't see her saying women are "throwing her under the bus", anyway, just that they tend to dismiss the real problems women with careers and family face every day. It's akin to saying, "Women have been doing this for centuries, it's totally natural!" to an exhausted new Mom with post-partum depression struggling with breast-feeding. Pretending a problem doesn't exist doesn't make that problem go away.

This is the last thing I'm going to say about this article because it's dumb...

....The real issue here is that she has no stay at home spouse to be taking care of all these things for her and that is definitely a gendered problem


Arrrrggghhh! Yes, she does! Her spouse IS a SAHD to their kids!

Again, I don't agree with everything she says, but at least read the article before calling it "dumb"!
posted by misha at 12:03 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


//Arrrrggghhh! Yes, she does! Her spouse IS a SAHD to their kids! //

She said her husband was filling the role as primary on site parent. I thought she implied that her husband was also employed by Princeton.

//(even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington)//
posted by COD at 12:07 PM on June 21, 2012


Her spouse is not a SAHD. Her spouse is also an academic who is also employed at Princeton.

The problem is, to me, that people aren't as a whole accepting of the fact that they have to pay for what they want. I'm not talking about credit card debt for your tv, I'm saying: there's a cost, to every choice, in time and energy and other choices not made, and you will not know what that cost is until you are paying it. But it's there.
posted by jeather at 12:09 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


Sure, men have had to work since people came to be. But so have women. And to pretend that only one sex has been dealt an unfair hand is, frankly, the most toxic bullshit possible.

yyyyyes and no.

There's always kind of been a division-of-labor thing - there were the jobs that men did and the jobs that women did. Both jobs were hella tough, and both genders worked their asses off, but still, labor was gendered. One of those jobs -- "child care" -- fell to women.

Then over time we got to a point where the jobs that men did were deemed more "important" in some way. Labor was still gendered, and both genders were working hard, but the jobs one gender did were deemed more societally important or something. And the other gender....nope, not quite as big a deal.

And gradually the gender roles got even more crystalized, and the perceived importance of both genders' jobs got more polarized, to the point that women's work wasn't really perceived to be "work" anymore. (Dis the Victorians all you want for trying to preserve the role of woman as "angel in the home" -- at least they also believed that that particular job of running a home was pretty damn important.)

So we got to the point that:

a) There was a sharp divide between "men's work" and "women's work," and
b) "women's work" wasn't really perceived as "work" anyway.

The problem is, with that binary, you don't have a place for the men who would prefer to be the one to stay home with the kids, or the women who don't want kids. If you have a man who wants to be the stay-at-home parent, people look at him funny for doing "women's stuff", still. We're getting better about not freaking out if a woman does "men's work," but there's still this unspoken expectation that she takes on the childcare too.

Ideally, every couple should be negotiating a unique arrangement on their own, independent of societal expectations:
Sally: Well, we both want kids, so that's good. But I'd really rather not give up my job as the CEO of Widget-and-Plunk Inc.
Bob: Actually, that's okay, because I've always wanted an excuse to slow down my own work. I can handle the bulk of taking care of the kids while they're little, maybe start a garden.
Sally: You know, I think we can handle that. Perfect!

---

Dick: So what do you think about having kids:
Jane: ....I can't figure out how to balance it with my veterinary practice. You?
Dick: Same here, can't figure out how to balance it with the legislature. Are you okay with that?
Jane: Yeah, I think so. You?
Dick: ....Yeah. Okay, cool!

--

Francie: Honey, we gotta have a talk about money - you know how I wanted to quit my job? Well, I'm pregnant, so I don't think I can.
Johnny: Well, I have some news too -- I just got my dream job with a huge new salary!
Francie: Oh thank God, I can get out of that place! I can't WAIT to do over the den as a nursery!
And many other examples.

Everyone's different and people should do what works for them. The problem is, we have to fight through all these societal hurdles to get TO what works for each of us. If we all just left all that alone we'd probably do okay.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:14 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Her suggestion that people can push careers up and "easily" work to age 75 is just insane, even if we focus just on professional women.

One thing I wondered reading the essay was what about her parents and her spouses' parents? For many people in their late fifties and early sixties, caring for elderly and declining parents starts taking up a huge amount of time.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dick and Jane don't seem to have resolved anything - or are they just not having kids?
posted by naoko at 12:17 PM on June 21, 2012


Bulgaroktonos: "For a company, a new employee versus new hours for an existing employee should be more or less equal, but it's not because we expect them to pay for benefits, too."

"new hours" -- Pretty sure most places aren't paying overtime anymore...
posted by schmod at 12:20 PM on June 21, 2012


Dick and Jane are indeed not having kids.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:21 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


We all just work too fucking much. Women get the short end of the stick for all the reasons we all know, but men don't really benefit either. We work too fucking much because the worth of our incomes keep going down and downsizing and a weak job market make us scared to stand up for ourselves, and even worse, because deep down we think working ourselves to death makes us better, more noble, people. Which is bullshit.

This lady had an important job that didn't allow her to have a life. Why don't they hire more people so one person can cycle out more often? Why are we such a nation of Boxers?
posted by emjaybee at 12:25 PM on June 21, 2012 [13 favorites]


I think that keeping the unemployment rate high is a deliberate strategy, too.

This is addressed by economist Michal Kalecki's classic essay Political Aspects of Full Employment:
Indeed, under a regime of permanent full employment, the 'sack' would cease to play its role as a 'disciplinary measure. The social position of the boss would be undermined, and the self-assurance and class-consciousness of the working class would grow. Strikes for wage increases and improvements in conditions of work would create political tension. It is true that profits would be higher under a regime of full employment than they are on the average under laissez-faire, and even the rise in wage rates resulting from the stronger bargaining power of the workers is less likely to reduce profits than to increase prices, and thus adversely affects only the rentier interests. But 'discipline in the factories' and 'political stability' are more appreciated than profits by business leaders. Their class instinct tells them that lasting full employment is unsound from their point of view, and that unemployment is an integral part of the 'normal' capitalist system.
posted by enn at 12:30 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


I posted this because it resonated strongly with my own personal experiences working in politics. I myself don't know if I want children, but a few years ago, I looked around my field and realized that I could not find a single senior-level female campaign professional who had children. Not one.

And I talked to women in other demanding fields (like journalism and the hard sciences) and they said the same thing. These are fields where the rewards are more personal than financial, at least until you reach the top. Women at big law firms face the same challenge, but they do make enough to hire a full-time nanny, even if that's a hard choice. But if I wanted to climb the ladder in the world of political campaigns, I would not be able to have children. Period.

I decided, for a variety of reasons, to get off that particular ladder, and I'm glad I did. I know lots of people who decided for personal reasons to stop working on political campaigns, both men and women, and I agree that "work-life balance" is not solely a female issue. But there's no escaping the fact that, in all my years of working on political campaigns, living in DC, meeting hundreds of people in that world, I never met a single top-level political professional who was a woman with children. Men do both in politics, women don't.
posted by lunasol at 12:31 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


or are they just not having kids?

Evidently. Which is not really realistic with most human's life goals, but to be human seems to have a lot of living crammed into a very small number of years. It also has to be balanced that most of us are not vets and politicians, but say, supervisor in a call centre and 'account manager', so not only do you get potentially massive hours, but the salaries just aren't the same sort of trade off if you give one up.
posted by Phalene at 12:34 PM on June 21, 2012


My favorite part is how this particular woman has the choice to change jobs, but the title of the article tries to speak for all women.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:36 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tenured at Princeton with a happy family is having it all. Tenured at Princeton, having a family, and working a high-powered job at the State Department is having 150% of it all.

(Though I think the Princeton thing is perhaps a red herring, since the core problem is combining high-powered jobs like working for the State Department with family, regardless of your fall-back career. In fact, academia is one of the places where you are actually a bit more able to be a high-powered woman and still spend time with your family, particularly if you manage to put that family off until after tenure. But jobs that require 60-80 hours of in-office work obviously preclude a healthy relation to your family regardless of your gender.)
posted by chortly at 12:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [4 favorites]


My favorite part is how this particular woman has the choice to change jobs, but the title of the article tries to speak for all women.


I took the point of the title to be, this was a line she used to mindlessly parrot, but even someone as driven and accomplished as she came to a point where that wasn't enough, the structural necessities of the job could not be accommodated without sacrificing her private life. Point being that her enormous privilege blinded her to this, and that if someone in her enviable position can't make it work, it's going to be hard as hell for normal people.

I gathered this impression from the lengthy sectio on the first page of the article where she talks about how she knows how privileged she is and how other people don't have the same opportunities.
posted by Diablevert at 12:44 PM on June 21, 2012 [6 favorites]


> or are they just not having kids?

Evidently. Which is not really realistic with most human's life goals...


Erm, my point was that there are indeed men and women who don't actually want kids. Not all women want to be mommies, and the hope is that instead of making them feel weird for not wanting to be mommies, that they can find men who also in turn don't want to be daddies and then they both can be all, "cool, we'll just be the stylish aunt and uncle instead and work on careers the way we wanted to do all along anyway."

Looking skeptically at a childless woman and saying that her hopes "aren't really realistic with most human's life goals" is another way of trying to expect her to have it all. "Not trying to have it all" could also involve not having kids, and it should be okay if that's your choice.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:45 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that two income households were a matter of choice rather than an economic necessity.
posted by OmieWise at 12:49 PM on June 21, 2012 [12 favorites]


Erm, my point was that there are indeed men and women who don't actually want kids.

Right, but you didn't have Dick and Jane say "I don't want kids!" "I don't either!" "Perfect!" - this would be fine, but it's a much easier decision that what they actually said, which was that they couldn't figure out how it would fit into their professional lives. For the couples who do want kids and two careers, the solution seems to be a bit trickier to find.
posted by naoko at 12:51 PM on June 21, 2012


Yes, let's ignore the fact that maybe I'm simplifying things for the sake of the discussion we're actually having and pick holes in my analogy.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:52 PM on June 21, 2012


That last comment was to OmieWise.

Naoko:

Right, but you didn't have Dick and Jane say "I don't want kids!" "I don't either!" "Perfect!"

That should have been clearer, you're right.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:53 PM on June 21, 2012


Talking about two people who don't want kids at all is hardly relevant to the discussion we're actually having on an article about how to balance children and work.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:54 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, let's ignore the fact that maybe I'm simplifying things for the sake of the discussion we're actually having and pick holes in my analogy.

I apologize, I didn't mean for it to come off as nitpick-y. I'm asking a serious question, and I think one that is actually at the heart of what she's writing about: how does a couple who both want careers and children balance it all (and share the work fairly)? Is it possible?
posted by naoko at 12:55 PM on June 21, 2012


On preview...oh, ok.
posted by naoko at 12:56 PM on June 21, 2012


I thought it was a nice article. She could have been more forceful and a little shorter/tighter.
posted by polymodus at 12:57 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yes, let's ignore the fact that maybe I'm simplifying things for the sake of the discussion we're actually having and pick holes in my analogy.

Actually, my comment was not in response to yours because I hadn't read yours. Sorry! I just always think of that when this conversation comes up about "having it all."

To pick on my own comment: The situation is much more complex, obviously, since work is one of the things that brings us fulfillment, and I'm a pro-work feminist. But women working is a matter of necessity much more often than it is a matter of choice.
posted by OmieWise at 12:59 PM on June 21, 2012


I've never really bought the argument that it was Feminism that told women this big lie that they could have it all. Does anyone know more about the origin of this phenomenon?

As I understand the history of feminism, it was to give women more choices in their lives and to push for valuing the often unpaid work that women do. I have not read any feminist work that promised that women could easily combine motherhood and career. In fact, I would say our current model of "motherhood" as an all-encompassing sacrifice for your children is untenable with careers - and that's because of the kinds of gender roles feminism wants to address, not because feminism said "look, you can do everything at once!"
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:59 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that two income households were a matter of choice rather than an economic necessity.

It's both. I work with men who could support their whole family (wife and kids), but their wives work anyway for a number of reasons. Some find staying at home boring and socially isolating, and others actually love their jobs.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops, you just basically said that.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:03 PM on June 21, 2012


The article is about the difficulty of having a kids and a career, so the stuff about people who do not want kids is fine but also kind of a derail. I don't really get it either, because even without kids most people want some kind of life outside of work. When life is all work, well, I cannot really relate to that. I guess it works for some people, but it certainly is not what this article is about.
posted by caddis at 1:04 PM on June 21, 2012


how does a couple who both want careers and children balance it all (and share the work fairly)? Is it possible?

Well, it depends on the job and the couple in the specific. My point -- and this addresses your comment too, TPS -- is that rather than spending all spend our time getting hung up on thinking of these things in broad strokes, expecting women to try to do it all and looking at them a little funny if they don't, or looking at men funny if they want a slower and more home-based life, is that if we just left everyone alone, everyone would work things out all on their own.

Someone upthread pointed out that we tend to tut-tut men who sacrifice spending time with their kids for careers, and we shouldn't, because there just are some jobs that take that kind of commitment. Similarly, there are some people who prefer to make that kind of commitment to a job alone, and would rather forgo having kids. And ideally, the men like that would find the women like that. And the men who want to stay home with the kids could find the women who want to have kids but also want a career. And the women who want to stay home with the kids could find the men who want to have a career. And all the shades of types of careers inbetween could find each other.

So no, I don't know how a couple who both want careers and children can balance it all -- because I don't know the couple, and I don't know the careers. Nor is it my place to try to tell them. Nor do I want to tell them. What I do want, though, is to create a society in which they have as much leeway possible to figure out the unique solution that works best for them, without interfering with criticism about how they're not spending enough time with their kids or spending enough time at work or having enough kids or having too many kids or having no kids or whatever.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:05 PM on June 21, 2012


Why can't women have it all? Easy: because I'm already married.

BOOM.
posted by Fister Roboto at 1:12 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


The article is about the difficulty of having a kids and a career, so the stuff about people who do not want kids is fine but also kind of a derail.

Well, not totally, right? I mean, and it gets back to what people have mentioned about the article being pretty sharply focused on a small group of people, a lot of these positions are fairly or absolutely fixed in number--there are 435 representatives, there are only ~X many tenured professors at Princeton, etc. So policies like granting someone with a child a one-year extension on the tenure clock, if they help families with children, necessarily harm singles and couples without children. That may still be a valid societal choice (for however I'm biased, I don't have children but probably will want them someday), but the two can't really be separated. If someone is, for example, an assistant professor who doesn't want children but wants to slow down for a year or two to take care of an elderly parent, I could easily see her looking at policies designed to help families and being frustrated, and not without reason.
posted by dsfan at 1:16 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, why not? We are the public; we care about what people do that is useful to us. If someone is a fantastic surgeon or an innovative entrepreneur or a skilful diplomat or a brilliant artist, but it takes them 80 hours a week to be those things, why shouldn't we appllaud them?

I guess I'm arguing that it's more useful to us as the public to rethink this attitude, as it's currently causing a lot of damage. We shouldn't put these people up on a pinnacle and say "this is what success looks like" even if we do think it's valuable for society to have this.

And I'm also skeptical that anyone needs to work that hard and these long hours don't ultimately cause more damage (doctors being a particularly obvious example of long hours causing more mistakes). I think there's a certain machismo built into these careers, which is not surprisingly because they are pretty closely tied into our notion of an alpha male. And "real" men work late and make sacrifices, etc etc.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:17 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interview: Anne-Marie Slaughter on Family and Career, and Actually Having Both
posted by homunculus at 1:40 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It frustrates me to no end that in all the punditry and wailing about the unemployment rate, nobody, but nobody, ever points the fingers at employers who just refuse to hire enough people to do the work that needs to be done. If you need all your employees to work 60+ hours/week, then you need more employees. Not only is it unproductive to push people this hard, it is just plain inhumane.

Hiring additional employees is a luxury most companies don't have. Why? Weak aggregate demand.
posted by downing street memo at 1:54 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


Krugman did this wonderful little synopsis of the last 30 some years of economic history. Basically the story is that all the wealth started getting concentrated in the top %, so middle class people compensated by working two jobs per household instead of just one, just to stay afloat, then after awhile that didn't work, but real estate prices were rising so people could take money out of their homes, just to stay afloat. Then that stopped working, so they went into straightforward debt to do it, then eventually that didn't work, then the economy broke.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:07 PM on June 21, 2012 [10 favorites]


(I'd love a link to that, Chekhovian)
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:13 PM on June 21, 2012


the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed.

... or have a half-decent (or even better, fully decent) partner? (I know she addresses that "myth" but it's not a myth.)

As long as a woman can work under 40 hours a week and be a "top professional," the above assumption is patently false.

My wife is not superhuman, nor rich, nor self-employed. I would certainly call her a top professional. But she couldn't do it if I didn't pick up the kids and make dinner every night ... right, honey?

If you're talking about the level of directors of national policy uh, sure, those people have to make personal sacrifices.

What, exactly, is it supposed to mean to "have it all"?

Absolutely nothing. If you are breathing and have laughed today, that should be enough.

The basic premise of the article is that women shouldn't adapt to a man's world but instead affect change to have the world accept the female condition as part of its default, but boy do they spin that premise around.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:15 PM on June 21, 2012


(I'd love a link to that, Chekhovian)

I can't speak to the Krugman resource, but this is a video (some years old by now) of Elizabeth Warren talking in detail and at some length about the same topic.

I'm also not Chekhovian, so I suppose technically this isn't responsive at all.
posted by gauche at 2:18 PM on June 21, 2012


(I'd love a link to that, Chekhovian)

Ummm, IIRC its from a video of a speech he gave in Portland? circa 2009-10? I think it was on currentTV's website? I'll have to hunt it down at some point, but I went on binge at one point and watched every Krugman video I could find, so I may be blurring the details.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:27 PM on June 21, 2012


Looking skeptically at a childless woman and saying that her hopes "aren't really realistic with most human's life goals" is another way of trying to expect her to have it all. "Not trying to have it all" could also involve not having kids, and it should be okay if that's your choice.

Se the point I was trying to make was not that choosing not to reproduce was not a viable, happy option, but that treating it like a viable default for everyone wasn't solving the problem- basically setting up the either/or situation creates the dynamic that denies women the opportunity to have children in an unequal fashion to men. No matter what you do, someone always ends up with their family model not being respected- hell you don't need to choose high powered careers to avoid making babies, indeed you can simply not have any interest in little humans. But for those who do want babies, most people aren't deciding to make partner at the law firm or drop a sprog, they're trying to make ends meet where the 'parent' side takes a hit in social respect and mobility, indeed in the US they make have difficulty with things like acquiring a credit card.

And it's not realistic to harken back to a hypothetical one worker family, because the reality is that people of both sexes have always worked, only a lot of pink collar professions like nursing used not to be compensated, and a lot of stuff has been altered by labour saving devices, including the sewing machine, plastics and washing machines and modern dye and detergents. The reality is that both parties are probably working and -nether- has a high prestige career, indeed they're likely to have a put-dinner-on-table-and-maintain-roof job.
posted by Phalene at 2:51 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


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

even though my husband, an academic, was willing to take on the lion’s share of parenting for the two years I was in Washington


I get that her husband is a tenured professor, but my impression from the above was that he took time off while Anne Marie Slaughter was in Washington to be an SAHD.
posted by misha at 2:53 PM on June 21, 2012


husband is a tenured professor...my impression from the above was that he took time off while Anne Marie Slaughter

They must liberal types right? For Profs in technical fields, "taking time off" means not coming in on Sunday evenings.
posted by Chekhovian at 2:59 PM on June 21, 2012


or have a half-decent (or even better, fully decent) partner?

That's really uncommon in terms of division of domestic labor, though. A substantial part of the reason women struggle so mightily with work-life balance is that their domestic load is mightily unbalanced:

Getting married increases women's domestic labor, whereas it decreases men's... The average married woman in the United States did about three times as much cooking, cleaning, laundry, and other routine housework in the 1990s as the average married man. Household work continues to be divided according to gender, with women performing the vast majority of the repetitive indoor housework tasks... Studies have also consistently found that mothers spend more time than fathers in feeding, supervising, and caring for children... [ Source ]

I realise there are many men who do not meet this stereotype, but they pretty much all have to be members of MeFi because the statistics tell us they are very rare.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


A substantial part of the reason women struggle so mightily with work-life balance is that their domestic load is mightily unbalanced:

Not just that, but women who outearn their husbands actually do more domestic labor than working women who earn less than their husbands. This is one of the single most depressing statistics I know.

For more on this topic, I recommend Julie Brines, Economic Dependency, Gender, and the Division of Labor at Home, although there is plenty of more recent scholarship that affirms this empirical finding.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:21 PM on June 21, 2012 [5 favorites]


A substantial part of the reason women struggle so mightily with work-life balance is that their domestic load is mightily unbalanced

Absolutely. But it is surely not impossible to balance it. I.e. I might suggest changing the head from "why women can't have it all" to "why women don't have it all" (though I find the fundamental conceit ridiculous.)
posted by mrgrimm at 4:02 PM on June 21, 2012


(I'd love a link to that, Chekhovian)

The gut says it was in this talk. I don't have time to really go through it minute by minute right now, so if someone wants to that...it would be great...Even if I've remembered the wrong blackbackground, its still going to be a good talk for you watch anyway.
posted by Chekhovian at 5:17 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's interesting how disconnected from the realities of family life and a normal work-life balance many of our top government officials must be. I liked this from the article:

Think about what this “standard Washington excuse” implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one’s vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation’s capital, despite the ritual commitments to “family values” that are part of every political campaign.

She continues that thought later:

Perhaps leaders who invested time in their own families would be more keenly aware of the toll their public choices—on issues from war to welfare—take on private lives.

As someone who fully subscribes to the tenets of Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work, I also found a lot of what she wrote about the culture of overwork refreshing. I've found this to be very true:

Workers who put their careers first are typically rewarded; workers who choose their families are overlooked, disbelieved, or accused of unprofessionalism.

And I definitely know people who fit the following definition:

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.

This is exactly what we've noticed about those people, too:

I have to admit that my assumption that I would stay late made me much less efficient over the course of the day than I might have been, and certainly less so than some of my colleagues, who managed to get the same amount of work done and go home at a decent hour.

I just wish the people I know who are like this would reach a point where they could admit that, or even recognize that this way of doing things can have massive repercussions. In my line of work, I find that people who work this way still make mistakes (probably more mistakes than average, actually, because they allow themselves to be pulled in too many directions while inefficiently multitasking during the day), and they often end up dragging down the process at the last minute because they underestimate the time cost of changes or additions.

Knowing the baseline scientific facts that support 40-hour work weeks, that there are in fact very tangible and real laws of human endurance that, like the laws of physics, limit what we can effectively do as human beings, I've often wondered how it is that doctors and nurses are called upon to be, well, on call such insane hours. When you consider that our healthcare costs in the U.S. are among the highest in the world, yet our health outcomes are some of the worst among developed nations, as well as how costly (and tragic) medical mistakes can be, it kind of makes you wonder whether our healthcare system shouldn't possibly try to make work-life balance more of a priority. You would think that the people who understand human physiology better than anyone would understand that there are limits to human endurance, no? But doctors are on this treadmill, too.

I guess I wonder how you start to break this cycle. From what the author of this piece is saying, it sounds like a lot of twenty- and thirtysomethings right now are at a point where they want to begin breaking the cycle of overwork, but as many of you have mentioned above, high unemployment (and a shrinking industry, in fields like mine) is making it almost more difficult than ever to push for workers' basic rights, much less begin to tip the balance toward equity, understanding, and flexibility in many workplaces. Mass unionization is unlikely to ever happen again, the Occupy movement doesn't seem to be making much change happen in terms of workers' rights...so what is the answer?

I think that as the writer notes on a personal level, just applying sheer force of will to these problems, just trying harder, isn't the answer. It's sort of like recycling: You can be the best recycler ever on a personal level, making sure you get every scrap of waste paper, plastic, metal, and glass into the recycling bin, composting, etc....but that's still not going to save the environment. Corporations, governments, etc. have to get on board and make changes in order to make a difference. Not that we should give up on trying to create change in smaller ways, especially given that a huge percentage of business in the U.S. is done on the small-business level, but as with becoming more environmentally friendly, there are always companies that will refuse to treat their workers better or just do better on any level until something makes them do so.
posted by limeonaire at 5:28 PM on June 21, 2012 [7 favorites]


Speaking of the environment, I know sustainability has become such a buzzword these days, but that's the way I think of work and relationships these days: They need to be sustainable. Crunch mode isn't sustainable. "Having it all," in the way it's been defined by some, isn't sustainable. Infinite growth isn't sustainable. When you think about work-life balance that way, as a sustainability problem, a lot of things tend to clarify themselves.
posted by limeonaire at 5:33 PM on June 21, 2012


Re: her bias towards the upper-class who have a housekeeper, she directly addresses that a lot of her person woes are specific to white, upper-middle class professional households. And women not in that situation have it even harder in terms of negotiating a work/life balance.
posted by schroedinger at 5:49 PM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


if a woman want to "have it all" i good strategy would be to marry a man who is willing to sacrifice his career for her's. you want to be a lawyer? great, but think twice about marrying the cute guy in your contracts class because HE ALSO WANTS TO BE A LAWYER. marry the guy who wants to be a middle school arts teacher. don't marry someone who won't agree to the distribution of domestic work that you want. but, my experience is that women who want to have big professional careers also want a husband who also wants to have one.
posted by cupcake1337 at 6:58 PM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]


The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that two income households were a matter of choice rather than an economic necessity.
It's more complicated than either your "trick" or its negation would suggest. Two income households became an economic necessity in part because they became a matter of choice. From an economic perpective, equality in the workplace basically doubled the supply of hired labor without increasing the supply of capital, so of course we'd expect the price of the former to plummet in terms of the latter.

(note before I'm misinterpreted: "X had a bad side effect" is NOT the same as "X was bad")
posted by roystgnr at 6:58 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


I worked at an organization she has worked at. I left, in large part, because the culture made it so hard to be the parent that I wanted to be.

A co-worker told me that a year after I left, my former supervisor (in her late 20s, a few years younger than me, she was childless) said to a new employee, "Oh, k8t, she always had to leave early to get her child from childcare and was always having to take sick time to take care of her child. [eyeroll]."

Seriously, WHAT THE FUCK?

I'm glad that I'm back in academia. While I work 60 hour weeks, I have a lot more choice as to when those 60 hours are.
posted by k8t at 8:14 PM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


From an economic perpective, equality in the workplace basically doubled the supply of hired labor without increasing the supply of capital, so of course we'd expect the price of the former to plummet in terms of the latter.

I don't think this is actually the case. The way I see it, women were always part of the labor supply. It's not like they sat around all day, doing nothing but consuming outputs (like kids do!). So if a bunch of woman switch from one profession (the so-called "homemaker") to another, there hasn't necessarily been any major change.

I don't even think this is necessarily a gender issue. Really, this is about consumption. Americans simply consume too much. They eat too much (meat), have too many children, spend too much on houses and schools and other basics, spend too much on unnecessary crap, and, as this article clearly demonstrates, even consume too much of their jobs.

The market is eager to encourage this rampant over-consumption both by providing credit in various forms and providing "solutions" in the form of specialization. So women like the author who over-consume end up having to go out and consume even more -- of specialized technologies and labor like assistants and nannies and the like. This idea of having it all is really just another way of saying, consume it all, go out and purchase everything, no matter the cost. And that's the problem, right there.

This sort of widespread over consumption leads quickly to an interesting failure mode. It's a runaway process, consumption can breed ever more consumption (usually via higher prices and profits but there are other transmission mechanisms), until people are going massively into debt just to purchase assets they don't need ie they're wildly speculating with other people's money.

The one good thing that may emerge from the current crisis is that it will essentially break the American over-consumption habit. People will simply be forced to eat less, have less children, rent, spend less on schools, and not work so hard. The market will teach Americans what they simply cannot grasp themselves: you can be plenty happy and consume a great deal less.

Krugman did this wonderful little synopsis of the last 30 some years of economic history. Basically the story is that all the wealth started getting concentrated in the top %, so middle class people compensated by working two jobs per household instead of just one

This is a big part of it but it doesn't fully explain why prices for so many basic things like healthcare, healthy food, education and even nice shoes have simply skyrocketed in America. Perhaps we've over the last 30 years was a big shift in consumer habitats which led, necessarily, to a great deal of insincere demand. A bubble, even. And now that's bubble's over and people -- not just women, but absolutely everybody -- is going to finally understand that if everybody tries to "have it all" then the result will be total collapse and nobody will end up with anything.
posted by nixerman at 12:43 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I chose to give up a career for more time with my family. The older I get and the more materially successful and professionally fulfilled my friends get the more I doubt my decision. I wonder if they look at me and my daughter and feel the same.
posted by fullerine at 8:14 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I feel like I've written about this somewhere on mefi before, but I was struck by the part of this article where Slaughter writes about normalizing family commitments in the workplace.

When I was a law student in the 1980s, many women who were then climbing the legal hierarchy in New York firms told me that they never admitted to taking time out for a child’s doctor appointment or school performance, but instead invented a much more neutral excuse.

[I've been given this advice on a number of occasions. ]

When I became dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, in 2002, I decided that one of the advantages of being a woman in power was that I could help change the norms by deliberately talking about my children and my desire to have a balanced life. Thus, I would end faculty meetings at 6 p.m. by saying that I had to go home for dinner; I would also make clear to all student organizations that I would not come to dinner with them, because I needed to be home from six to eight, but that I would often be willing to come back after eight for a meeting.

I'm in grad school, and I have a male professor who schedules everything through a google calendar that's shared with his lab and anyone else who might need to make an appointment with him. Each semester there is one afternoon a week that is blocked off after 3:30 for a carpool pickup. He vocally challenges his grad students who engage in 'time macho' (I love that term) and argue for evening meetings 'since we're all here anyway'. I have other mentors who refuse to schedule evening meetings for family commitments and say so, and one who is taking her sabbatical year locally to avoid disrupting a child's slightly complicated school needs. As someone who both wants to stay in the field and might want to do so with a kid in tow, their examples and willingness to be public about their family lives are hugely important to me.

This kind of advocacy for *changes in workplace culture* are so very different from the examples I often see given of women who 'have it all', as though my ability to manage my work and family life is incumbent just on my ability to work hard enough and want it badly enough.

I was hugely dissappointed by the end of this profile of a female professor in the New York Times a little while ago. She's a guiding light in the field, and apparently what we should know about her in the end is that she made all her kids' Halloween costumes. (I should note that I know this professor, and have not ever seen her using her own experiences as indication that all is well for women in academia.) And this is close to what I'd want in my own life - but pointing to successful examples just doesn't feel like enough anymore, and I appreciate the ways that this article explores that.
posted by heyforfour at 8:37 AM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I enjoyed the article. Slaughter doesn't quite come out and say it directly, but it seems clear to me that her time at the State Department made her realize just how good she has it at Princeton, both personally and professionally. She acknowledges that she's been part of the problem: "I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in."

It was (relatively) easy for her until it wasn't easy anymore.

I laughed at her discussion of how an employer will value an employee who runs marathons, but not one who takes care of his or her family. Last year I attended a panel discussion of public accountants, hosted by an undergraduate student group. The panel was a mix of partners and a couple of senior accountants, all from the Big-4. One of the younger panelists (30ish?) was really preaching the party line about the great work-life balance, and as an example cited that he's sometimes able to take 3 day weekends to travel to Some Awesome City to run a marathon. One of the professors in attendance pushed the discussion a little further, to the discomfort of all the panelists, and asked them directly about their family life - are they married or partnered? how has their career impacted family life? and so forth. All were married, except for the marathon runner. The one woman on the panel, a partner, said that she had never had children and left it at that. The men on the panel all had stay-at-home spouses and said that having a stay-at-home spouse made their careers possible and it was really so great that their wives were so understanding of the hours they worked. And this is accounting, not geopolitical turmoil.

I talked to some of the undergrads later and it seemed they missed the point -- they heard the "travel to cool cities for marathons" part but not "it's really hard to see my family."
posted by stowaway at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


As long as a woman can work under 40 hours a week and be a "top professional," the above assumption is patently false.

Where is this a thing? As a job-seeker, I would very much like to know!

husband is a tenured professor...my impression from the above was that he took time off while Anne Marie Slaughter

They must liberal types right? For Profs in technical fields, "taking time off" means not coming in on Sunday evenings.


Just for everyone's reference, her husband is political science professor and widely published scholar Andrew Moravcsik, and he is also kind of a big deal.

me: I like Valenti, and she's right about the picture, but accusing the Atlantic of a "reviving the tired feminist-baiting question 'can women have it all'" when she hasn't read the piece (and she admits that she hasn't) seems terribly lazy. I think it's a much more thoughtful piece than that gives it credit for.

Although to be fair to Valenti, the fact that the Atlantic is publishing a Caitlin Flanagan article in the same issue doesn't exactly work in their favor.
posted by naoko at 11:43 AM on June 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anne-Marie Slaughter and the fiction of 'have-it-all' feminism: The former State Department high-flier is right, and feminism needs to tackle work-life inequity, not blame its victims
posted by homunculus at 12:35 PM on June 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Something no one has mentioned on here is the role part time work could play in this debate. For women it seems to be an option in many (generally female-dominated) careers to work part time, and so they can balance family commitments with a job. The catch for them is that this only applies to certain employers and certain industries, that family commitments don't always coincide with Mom's days off, and that the part time work is a job, not a terribly good career option because of the tendency to mommy-track part time employees.
For men working part time is theoretically an option as it is for women, but in my experience men almost never work part time, even when they work at the same employer and in the same industry as hordes of part-time female employees.

I think if we could make it culturally acceptable for men to work part time as often as women do, and help part-time women employees to be taken seriously then "having it all" (albeit in small doses) would be a lot more possible.

Of course, for some people (like the low paid, single parents and single people generally) working part time will never be an option because it doesn't pay enough.
posted by EatMyHat at 9:56 AM on June 23, 2012


The New York Times: Elite Women Put a New Spin On An Old Debate

AP: "A first-person lament by a former State Department official on "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" has attracted more visitors to The Atlantic website in a 24-hour period than any magazine story the site has ever published."

Juliette Kayyam: What I learned from my cameo role in Anne-Marie Slaughter's article about working moms
posted by zarq at 1:26 PM on June 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Salon runs a pair of responses:

Can Modern Women Have It All? A new Atlantic cover peddles one of the most dangerous myths about modern women

Stay-at-home dad no more
Taking care of my kids gave me purpose. As they head to school, I'm wondering what I want to be when I grow up
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:47 AM on June 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


bitchmedia: Having It All: Anne-Marie Slaughter engages with critics without being an asshole
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:14 AM on July 4, 2012


WaPo Opinion: Women who don’t have anything close to ‘it all’:
This is the reality that faces millions of working women. More than 70 percent of all mothers and more than 60 percent of mothers with children under 3 are in the workforce. Two-thirds of them earn less than $30,000 a year. Nine of 10 less than $50,000. In the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson’s powerful image, “They catch the early bus,” or, in Vasquez’s case, the late bus. They work out of need, whether they want to or not. Half are their family’s primary breadwinner.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:40 AM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Motherhood is now the single best indicator that an unmarried middle- class woman will end up bankrupt."

"with advertisers geared to young affluents, celebrating a lifestyle that few can afford, the reality of most working mothers is too seldom discussed in the media"

amen.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


the state: Girl power and having it all: 'Be something, they said. Don’t worry about having it all, they said, but for now just have something.'
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:32 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


Caitlin Moran on How to Be a Woman, How to Be a Feminist
posted by homunculus at 8:50 PM on July 16, 2012


Anne-Marie Slaughter on The Colbert Report
posted by homunculus at 9:14 AM on July 17, 2012


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