“Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

19 Jun

My July/August issue of The Atlantic came today, and it features an article so incredible that I can’t wait until it’s posted online to share it (The full article is now available online).  Anne-Marie Slaughter intelligently, and finally, steps outside the harmful, foolhardy assumption that a woman’s success is entirely a function of her own ambition, and confronts the hard truths that our society is structured in a fashion that is not conducive to “having it all.”  It’s time to move beyond blame (both of self and of others) for not “having it all,” and work on fixing those social roadblocks that make it so damn near impossible.

While I clearly can’t reproduce the whole article here, here are some amazing excerpts:

But precisely thanks to [the progress of women now in their 60s, 70s and 80s], a different kind of conversation is now possible.  It is time for women in leadership positions to recognize that although we are still blazing trails and breaking ceilings, many of us are also reinforcing a falsehood: that “having it all” is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.  As Kerry Rubin and Lia Macko, the authors of Midlife Crisis at 30, their cri de couer for Gen-X and Gen-Y women put it: “What we discovered in our research is that while the empowerment part of the equation has been loudly celebrated, there has been very little honest discussion among women of our age about the real barriers and flaws that still exist in the system despite the opportunities we inherited.”…And although women as a group have made substantial gains in wages, educational attainment, and prestige over the past three decades, the economists Justin Wolfers and Betsey Stevenson have shown that women are less happy today than their predecessors were in 1972, both in absolute terms, and relative to men.

*     *     *     *     *

Yet instead of chiding, perhaps we should face some basic facts.  Very few women reach leadership positions.  The pool of female candidate for any top job is small, and will only grow smaller if the women who come after us decide to take time out, or drop out of professional competition altogether, to raise children.  That is exactly what has Sheryl Sandburg 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.”

Can “insufficient commitment” even plausibly explain these numbers? 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 talented professional women should measure themselves.  Such a standard sets up most women for failure.

*     *     *     *     *

These “mundane” issues– the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office– cannot be solved by exhortations to close the ambition gap.  I would hope to see commencement speeches that finger America’s social and business policies, rather than women’s ambition, in explaining the dearth of women at the top.  But changing these policies requires much more than speeches.  It means fighting the mundane battles– every day, every year– in individual workplaces, in legislatures, and the media.

*     *      *      *     *

The flip side of my realization is captured in Macko and Rubin’s ruminations on the importance of bringing the different parts of their lives together as 30-year-old-women:

“If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of a mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12- hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.”

Women have contributed to the fetish of the one-dimensional life, albeit by necessity.  The pioneer generation of feminists walled of their personal lives from their professional personas to ensure that they could never be discriminated against for a lack of commitment to their work.  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.

Ok, enough of my quoting the article.  Go out and pick it up.

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16 Responses to ““Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter”

  1. Joan June 19, 2012 at 9:58 pm #

    The article is sooo worth reading. Please pick up The Atlantic and consider the point of view presented by Ms. Slaughter.

    • BeezusKiddo June 19, 2012 at 10:13 pm #

      I’m glad you liked her article as much as I did! I’m considering circulating it amongst the attorneys at work.

      • BeezusKiddo June 19, 2012 at 10:20 pm #

        The way I said that sounds weird…I’m considering circulating it because I work with a number of attorneys (both male and female) who are very interested in these kinds of issues, and want to see women succeed, so they would likely be interested in the article.

  2. Christie Thompson June 20, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Whoa. Must find this article immediately. I was actually looking for it online and found your blog post. The title of the article had me a little jarred but sounds like Anne-Marie Slaughter really tackles some serious issues. Thanks for the post!

    • BeezusKiddo June 20, 2012 at 10:08 am #

      I, too, was jarred by the article’s title. It seemed like it was going to be all doom and gloom, but it’s not at all. It’s very realistic and practical. I don’t know if the Atlantic will end up putting it online (it’s very long, almost 15 pages), but it’s worth the couple bucks if you can pick up the magazine at a local newsstand or bookstore.

  3. Jessica June 20, 2012 at 11:11 am #

    I opened my mail this morning and this article hit me hard! Definitely what I’m feeling as an attorney–even one that is self-employed trying to find my way through life to that perfect “balance” that was not my mother’s or my mother in law’s ideal. Definitely an article that should be shared widely. Glad you loved it too!

  4. soniabgill June 21, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Thank you for bringing this article to my attention and sharing it with me. What a fantastic article, through and through, and some absolutely jarring statistics in it about the lack of families among high-powered women versus men, the latter of which have made it to the “top” with families.

    I love that Ms. Slaughter is challenging us to redefine what it means to be a working woman in a powerful position (no matter where our power lies…even those of us with a small circle to influence can still be influential!). I’ve shared this article and your post with a few friends as well.

  5. gkrns October 24, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

    I agree, I tried and failed. I thought I could do it all, I was taught you should be strong and never need to depend on a man. I did it all, I have an advanced degree, waited until 43 to have a child. Have a Masters Degree, Own my home, Traveled the world for my job, Divorced (I could do it all and didn’t need a man, Right? Wrong. I can’t! I see that I was sold a bunch of B@#$ @#$T! The truth is I’m exhausted, after years of thinking I could do it all and currently a 54 year old, unemployed, broke, professional, single mom of an 11 year old, with a beautiful house I’m losing, and can’t believe the situation I’m in.

    Sadly, I don’t know anyone with children who is a successful professional and doing it all themselves. We still need men. The professionals with big salaries have stay at home husbands and every one of my smart, well educated, intelligent friends have a husband who makes more than they do, Many of my friends have chosen to be stay at home mom’s with advanced degrees collecting dust. If divorced they are collecting a significant amount of child support to supplement they’re incomes.

    Here are some obstacles:

    – Employment schedules
    My corporate job was so not accommodating to motherhood and especially. single motherhood, I was continually reminded me my job wasn’t 8-5. When I explained / reminded them I was a single mom and needed to be home and could work at home. My boss, a single mom. told me her son used to sleep under her desk. I told her my daughter would not be sleeping under my desk.
    – Childcare schedules and cost.
    I spent a thousands and thousands on child care to be able to make sure she had great care and to be able to cover my daughter from 7-6 and so I could speed down the freeway to get to work or pick her up on time – she was usually the first dropped off and the last picked up.
    – I was often distracted during the day my daughter’s needs, or unable to work late for lack of care and because I wanted to spend time with her on nights and weekends? Why would I have a child if I didn’t want to raise her?
    – I’ve spent another boat load in court trying to get support because my ex doesn’t pay child support because he works under the table and courts aren’t set up to deal with complex situations and the alternative is 10’s of thousands of my savings and retirement spent on lawyers.

    Now what?

    And BTW we share the same birthday as you (year and date!)

    • BeezusKiddo October 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

      Wow, I can’t even fathom how hard it would be to be a single mom in a corporate environment. I’m incredibly lucky that although I work a lot of hours, my firm tends to be pretty accommodating about how/when I work. Even still, raising a little one is a two-person task. I wouldn’t phrase it necessarily as “we need men,” but I think the task of raising a child takes SO MUCH effort and energy, that if you are also working, you can’t handle it all yourself.

  6. Ethical_ November 21, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    Was “having it all” ever really the key to women’s happiness? http://www.the-spearhead.com/2012/11/16/the-missing-ingredient-to-womens-happiness/

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter. […]

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    […] and Kantor also discussed Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, and brought a new angle to it that I hadn’t much considered.  Quindlen pointed out that […]

  4. Anna Quindlen, Jodi Kantor and the 92 St Y « BeezusKiddo - December 17, 2012

    […] and Kantor also discussed Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, and brought a new angle to it that I hadn’t much considered.  Quindlen pointed out that […]

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