Thursday, July 26, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter on “having it all” (Professional Elites)

Great timing.  I’ve been writing about women in the workplace, and the conflicts between work and family.  Then Dr. Anne-Marie Slaughter writes an article for The Atlantic magazine entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”  The article is available at the link below:

I think Dr. Slaughter had a lot of interesting points, which I’ll be discussing in the next few blog posts.  I’m certainly glad that Dr. Slaughter wrote this piece, and it has received a lot of attention.  It has been discussed on-line, on the radio and on television a lot in the last couple of weeks.  That is good because this topic is one that typically gets overlooked for a variety of reasons.  I’m glad it is getting some attention.

There are several aspects of her article on which I’d like to focus. 

First, as many have pointed out, Dr. Slaughter is really in an über-elite place professionally.  She is a tenured professor at an Ivy League college, who while on leave from that prestigious institution, was serving in a high-level position at the State Department and reporting to Secretary Hillary Clinton.   In the modern vernacular, Dr. Slaughter is in the 1%.  Perhaps she is not in the 1% in earnings; professors and public servants aren’t typically impoverished, but they don’t exactly rake in the dough.  But in terms of professional prestige and power, Dr. Slaughter is certainly in an extremely fortunate place.  She isn’t schlepping on the bus to a minimum wage job.  She isn’t an accountant or lawyer working at-will on a contract basis with no job security or benefits.  She isn’t a Ph.D. supporting herself as an adjunct at the local community college.  Dr. Slaughter has tenure at one of the most prestigious and most stable institutions of higher learning in our country.  She had the opportunity to work for a time in a high-level government post without losing her job security at Princeton.  She is in an extremely enviable position professionally.  If she is the one getting attention for complaining that women have it tough, then people should be exploring what life is like for the 99% of her gender.

It should also be noted that Dr. Slaughter also has a husband who by her own words had “always done everything possible to support [her] career” and took care of their sons solo for two years while she worked in D.C. for the State Department.  Again, she is in a rarified position that most women I know do not share. 

I have a friend through work who (like me) is a mom to young children.  She and I talk about work-family issues, and we have shared that to some degree we both feel uncomfortable as role models for aspiring female lawyers who want to “have it all.”   Both while I was in practice and now that I’m an academic, I have had occasion to mentor younger women.   It has not been uncommon for such women to look to me as evidence that they can be professionals and have a family too.  But my friend and I are very cognizant that we are both in a very rarified position; our husbands have put their own careers on hold so that their wives could continue to pursue demanding careers.  With our husbands, my friend and I figured out fairly early that having two demanding careers in the family was not going to work for our respective clans.  The reason my friend and I are both uncomfortable being role models is that so few men are willing to make such sacrifices for their wives’ career.  I’ve seen different statistics, but typically it is estimated that only 1-4% of stay-at-home parents are male. 

It is not uncommon for men to have a stay-at-home spouse who liberates them from most housework, but it is extremely rare for women to have that kind of support.  Further, there are all kinds of empirical data indicating that women still do a disproportionate amount of the household work within families.   In essence, most women today are doing the work that their grandfathers did outside the home, as well as the work their grandmothers did inside the home—in an era when both grandparents did those jobs full-time.  One way to look at it is that women today essentially are handling what took two people to do full-time several decades ago.  That is just nuts.  No wonder women are exhausted, obese, medicated and/or disproportionately leave the workplace when it is financially feasible.  No wonder people shake their heads at kids today and feel they are lazy and rude.  No wonder kids today are obese and medicated.  We are not spending much time raising them; there are only so many hours in the day and there are too many other demands on our waking hours.  Something has got to give.  The status quo is just not working.

Much has been made by others of Dr. Slaughter’s position of privilege.  A lot of it had a tone of envy.  We love to denigrate those who are more fortunate than us.  My reason for flagging Dr. Slaughter’s relative privilege is not because I envy her.  (I actually feel badly for her in some ways, but that is a topic for another blog.)  In considering the policy implications of her article, I think it is important to note Dr. Slaughter’s privilege to realize that if she thinks things are so tough for the 1%, then we definitely need some voices to tell the story of the 99%, who have it even more difficult.  To some of us, Dr. Slaughter’s article comes off a bit Marie Antoinettesque.  She determines that having an elite position in the State Department is not family friendly, so she’ll have to settle for just being a tenured scholar at an extremely prestigious university.   At least she enjoys her work and has choices.  The mom slinging hash or scrubbing toilets for minimum wage likely can’t say the same. 

Job 24:21
They prey on the barren and childless woman, and to the widow they show no kindness.

No comments:

Post a Comment