Why Women Still Can’t Have It All: A Different Take on Feminism

| June 26, 2012 | Comments (0)

In an exhaustive cover story that appeared in July/August issue of The Atlantic, former director of policy planning at the State Department from 2009 to 2011, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote about “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” Despite the fact that working on foreign policy was her “dream job,” she went back to the academic world after only a two-year stint because “juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.”

Ms. Slaughter acknowledges that her decision to step down from a position of power to be with her family and attend to the needs of her teenage son experiencing a “rocky adolescence” is not in consonance with what is required of career professionals in the country. For example, she cites the culture of face time as still being prevalent. She states that “the belief that more time equals more value…. [provides] exactly the wrong incentives for employees who hope to integrate work and family.”

In a reaction, however, one reader, Clare of MN, believes that Ms. Slaughter completely misses the point: “The real problem is not one of work/family balance. The real problem is that we value money and the economy over children (or any human being, for that matter) in this culture.”

The battle cry of feminists who insist that women can “have it all” is couched in “half-truths,” continues Ms. Slaughter. One of these is the idea that “having it all depends primarily on the depth and intensity of a woman’s commitment to her career.” Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg calls it the “ambition gap.” But for Slaughter, it is something as “mundane” as conflicting school and work schedules and the importance of working in the office all need to be resolved.

It is also wrong to believe that having it all is possible if you marry the man who supports your career decisions or that they can juggle career and family if she just sequences when to have children. These are half-truths because, according to Slaughter: “If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that.”

L of Colorado asks: “If feminism was about empowering women’s choices, why can’t we just observe that currently young women are choosing family over work in droves and leave it at that. Why must we criticize them for doing so?”

Ms. Slaughter concludes: “If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too.”

Ms. Slaughter’s article has certainly “put a new spin on an old debate” says Jodi Kantor of the New York Times. But for Rebecca Traister, the idea of “having it all” is one of the most dangerous myths about modern women that must be dispelled. She calls it a trap: “Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame.”

Tags: balance, dream job, Facebook, family, feminism, , work and family

Category: News In Review, Women in the World

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