I was all set to blog last week about fomer high-ranking State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter's provocative, well-written and timely Atlantic Monthly piece, Why Women Still Can't Have It All but somehow I forgot. Yes, just plain forgot. I was too busy decompressing from a busy week of work in Brussels and Berlin, organizing my daughter for for her first-ever sleep-away camp experience, and getting my son off to his first-ever day camp overnight that I forgot.
By the time I remembered I was supposed to blog about what The New York Times called "Ms. Slaughter's confession-slash-manifesto" it was 11:00 p.m. on Tuesday night and my husband and I were home alone without our kids - for the first time ever since childbirth - and, well, it just didn't seem like the right time to hit the computer to blog about balancing work, kids, and, marriage. Enough said.
Besides, what could I really say anyway? Slaughter tossed up a raft of data, opinions, and anecdotes about the issues facing (mostly elite, professional) working mothers designed to start a debate, and already been praised, denouced, interviewed, analyzed, canonized, villified and who knows what else by the time my CurrentMom deadline arrived (and passed). (Even the stock mother-with-baby-in briefcase photo that accompanied the article had been dissected online.) Frankly, I wasn't sure that there's anything more to say. (Google "Anne-Marie Slaugther" and "Atlantic" and you can sample the hundreds of articles, blogs and comments about Slaughter and having it all.)
But, I found myself, this week, still thinking about the article and the conversations it's called out. Whether it was Slaughter's confessional framing of her work-life issues (her teenage son's rebelliousness, her years of infertility, and her grueling commute), her descriptions of her glamorous-sounding but punishing "foreign-policy dream job," or just the fact that she tapped into a discussion already primed by actress Tina Fey's Confessions of a Juggler and Facebook executive Sheryl Sandberg's Barnard commencement speech, there's no doubt that Slaughter hit a nerve. And gone in deep.
I still don't think there's all that much that I can add, but I do want to take on the idea that the phrase "having-it-all" simply "airbrushes reality." Yes, I know that "having it all" is an outdated construct and that we, as a society, need to redefine what "having it all" means. But to the extent that "having it all" simply means having a fulfilling career, a loving marriage or partnership, and a close relationship with your kids, I don't agree with Slaughter that you can't. Sure, you'll need to make compromises (and maybe your partner will, too). And you may not - well, you likely will not (unless you're one of Slaughter's "genuine superwomen") get to the tippy-top of whatever ladder you're on - corporate, government, academic, law firm, etc.
But just because you're not willing to get up at 4:20 a.m. and commute to a job in another city and only return home on weekends after grueling 80 hour weeks, doesn't mean that you can't succeed professionally as Slaughter's own career makes clear. As Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus points out, the most "unintentionally funny" - and revealing - part of Slaughter's article is when she details her current, apparently more manageable gig, which consists of a full courseload, regular print and online columns on foreign policy, 40 to 50 speeches a year, regular appearances on TV and radio, and work on a new academic book.
Although I do agree with Slaughter that we need to "revalue family values" and come up with new policy solutions (or maybe not such new ones, think flexible scheduling, child care, parental leave, investment intervals) to allow professional women to succeed in the workplace, I worry about the topline message the article transmits. The take away for a lot of talented younger women may well be, "You can't have it all and you shouldn't bother trying." But the paradox is that unless younger women - and men - try to change our culture of work and family - whether they do it from the pinnacles of power or in more mundane jobs - working moms - and their families - will wind up with far less than all.
I don't know all the answers to the many issues Slaughter raises, but I am hopeful that lots of women - and men - are talking and thinking about them right now. I will interview one of them - another State Department official who penned her own Atlantic Monthly piece, nearly a decade ago, on "juggler families" - in the weeks to come and share her thoughts with you. For a sneak peek, see this profile from The New York Times.
In the meantime, Happy Fourth of July! I hope you are out doing something fun with your family!