Last week, Anne-Marie Slaughter, former director of policy planning for the State Department, wrote an op-ed in Atlantic Magazine titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In her article, Slaughter describes how, after two years working at her high-profile dream job, she resigned, citing the need to be more present in the lives of her teenage children. While she was outwardly living the quintessential feminist dream – first woman to achieve her professional standing, working for Hillary Clinton, equipped with a supportive and flexible husband – Slaughter insists that the supposed work-life balance idealized in feminist philosophy is full of false hope. Even in 2012, among the most liberal and well-educated sectors of society, she says, women can’t have it all.
The internet exploded with different reactions to this article. While many female professionals felt their career-family struggle was finally given an honest, not idealized voice, others were irate that Slaughter reduced generations of progression in the women-in-the-workforce effort to a mere “Eh… I don’t think so.”
I have a lot of opinions about this article. I appreciate a person, any person, who can honestly, bravely articulate a controversial, presumably unpopular opinion. I very strongly agree with Slaughter’s final point – that there need to be more comprehensive policies in the workplace that accommodate people – men and women – with families. But my criticism of Slaughter’s article is not that she thinks we can’t have it all, but that the “we” is exclusively women.
What happened to dads? The past few decades have seen enormous progress from a society where women’s only options were to get married and raise a family to one where women are dominating test scores, college admissions, and degree attainment. Naturally, any discussion about workplace equality and family obligations has always centered around women, but why, this far along, is it only women who are trying to have it all? At what point does the conversation shift to the other fifty percent of the population? If women are crossing the line from their age-old, one-dimensional role as domestic caregivers, shouldn’t men also be transitioning out of their age-old, one-dimensional role as breadwinners?
A huge underlying assumption in the “having it all” debate is that mothers are more naturally, instinctively inclined to care for their children than fathers. That by result of hormones, evolution, 19th century hysteria, and the sea turtles laying their eggs according to the tides of the moon, it is the natural order for women to be the ones making sacrifices for their children. I’m not a mother, so I can’t refute the “maternal instincts” mantra 100% accurately. I’m also not a scientist, and therefore can’t sound as technical or douchebaggy when I make an argument against essentializing parental roles. But, despite the mind-controlling powers we seem to attribute to uteruses, the point is that fathers are parents too and, despite which parent is feeling more hormonally attached to their child, it is still equally the father’s responsibility to be present in the lives of his children.
I know many, many awesome dads who make career sacrifices for their kids. Even on a larger scale, workplace policies have come a long way to include paternity leave and a variety of other family-oriented accommodations for parents of all genders. But looking at statistics (many of which are cited in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article), if a woman steps out of a high-profile job to spend more time with her family, she is almost always replaced by a man; the assumption being, of course, that hiring a man equals a safeguard from family-related flakiness.
I think it’s time that women stop trying to have it all, not because we shouldn’t have the privilege of balancing career success and family life, but that because men should have that privilege too. It needs to become more socially acceptable for men to voluntarily make the type of career adjustments that women are used to making – and being criticized for. Everybody, man or woman, straight parent or LGBTQ parent, single or attached, should have the privilege of having it all, and it has to start with everybody in the equation being willing to challenge their assumptions.