In case you missed it, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” in the current issue of The Atlantic is an unnecessarily lengthy rant about the failure of the feminist movement to produce more incredibly wealthy, successful academic women like herself. The piece opens with her attending a dinner with the Obamas and spends about a quarter of the 13,000 words listing her impressive professional and personal achievements, which include time at the U.S. State Department, delivering hundreds of speeches, and working as a Princeton professor. She recently left (part of) her career in order to sometimes stay home and raise her teenage sons (and what’s this? They’re rebellious?) before they leave home.
Slaughter writes about telecommuting as a revolutionary option for busy women:
“...in 2009, Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who shares the parenting of his two young daughters equally with his wife, made getting such access at home an immediate priority so that he could leave the office at a reasonable hour... I wonder how many women in similar positions would be afraid to ask, lest they be seen as insufficiently committed to their jobs.”
You know which women wouldn’t be afraid to ask for telecommuting access at home? Probably most of them. We don’t need a Facebook CEO to tell us it’s okay to leave work at 5:30 and have dinner with our children. Making a statement that implies women are “afraid” to do things goes against the very spirit of the feminism Slaughter claims to cherish. Feminism can never be successful as long as there are women writing about women being afraid of things.
Slaughter is impressed that:
“Louise Richardson, now the vice chancellor of the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, combined an assistant professorship in government at Harvard with mothering three young children. She organized her time so ruthlessly that she always keyed in 1:11 or 2:22 or 3:33 on the microwave rather than 1:00, 2:00, or 3:00, because hitting the same number three times took less time.”
No busy soccer mom has ever thought to hit 2:22 on a microwave because it’s faster than hitting 2:00, right? Oh, wait: I do that all the time! Even without being a Harvard chancellor. And I don’t even consider it ruthless time organization. It’s more plain old convenience meets laziness for me, and I’m guessing the professor in Scotland and I aren’t the only people, regardless of occupation or gender, who practice this sneaky microwave time-saver.
Slaughter tells readers that Elizabeth Warren, who’s running for the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts, has figured out she can get her writing done when her kids are still asleep and then “learned to do everything else with a baby on (her) hip.”
A bulletin for Slaughter: you don’t have to run for national office to figure out how to get things done with a baby on your hip. Women (and men) all over the world in a variety of income classes are getting shit done with babies on their hips every day.
Slaughter actually dictates a specific schedule she thinks women should adhere to so that they can achieve her high level of life success:
"It is reasonable to assume that she will build her credentials and establish herself, at least in her first career, between 22 and 35; she will have children, if she wants them, sometime between 25 and 45; she'll want maximum flexibility and control over her time in the 10 years that her children are 8 to 18; and she should plan to take positions of maximum authority and demands on her time after her children are out of the house."
Plan to take positions of maximum authority? Really?
This irritates me-- and not only because it is condescending of her to suggest life schedules for women that are not even reflective of her own experience. I’m about a decade younger than Slaughter, I have four kids, and I work at home as a professional writer/editor. I have worked outside the home rarely over my last 18 years as a mother, but I’ve been able to maintain a career, if not a HIGHLY! SUCCESSFUL! one like Slaughter. I don’t really want to get into a mommy wars smackdown here because it’s been done to death. But no woman should judge another woman’s choices. Period. As in:
Let’s make a deal, Anne-Marie. I will not sit here and judge you for whining about having missed the first decade and a half of raising your children because you were a career-obsessed workaholic, and I do not expect you to judge me for the fact that I don’t make much money because I choose to attend some field trips or try to be on the front porch sometimes when the bus comes. Believe me, I’m no great mom and I’m no great journalist. But I do embrace a level of realistic expectations in my life that will create the least amount of guilt and disappointment and the maximum number of happy moments.
This whole thing is the Hillary Clinton cookie debate again. I think it would be fab if Clinton became the first woman President because she worked like a dog her whole life, but I don’t want to be judged by her for liking the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies once in awhile. Are my contributions to society (as a chief elected official in my small town, as a Girl Scout leader, as a blogger) less important because I didn’t follow the nose-to-grindstone path obsessed with shattering the ridiculously overrated imaginary glass ceiling?
In terms of Internet reactions, there’s basically a mushroom cloud full of rants (just like this one!) about The Atlantic piece, pro and con. I choose to ignore any such reaction pieces written by men because seriously, if you have a penis I have little interest in what you have to say about issues affecting those of us with vaginas. Take your Mr. Mom whiny bullshit elsewhere.
One cool reaction piece by Kelsey Wallace at Bitch magazine intelligently states:
“The very notion of having "it all" sounds so ludicrous to me that I can't help but put it in quotes.”
In addition to pointing out an overemphasis on the having of it all being overfocused on the having of the babies, Wallace also asks "Why aren't we asking whether or not men can "have it all"?
I'm also in agreement with the piece over at Forbes, where Maha Atal reminds everyone:
"Feminism is about equality. Repeat that until it sinks in.
Feminism means giving women equal opportuniyy and fair pay at work. It means a world where taking time off to be a parent is considered equally legitimate for men and women. It means, fundamentally, a world in which men and women have equal access to the full spectrum of human experience."
In fact, in all the articles I’ve read in response to Slaughter’s piece, I haven’t seen one where a woman agrees that the concept of “having it all” should be entertained in any conversation. I think Rebecca Traister at Salon says it best:
“The Atlantic’s cover story, depicting a toddler in a briefcase clutched by a headless woman in dark hose (whom I can only assume is Diane Keaton from 1987’s “Baby Boom”) puts me in mind of a modest proposal: Working women should eat their babies, thus simultaneously solving the problem of childcare and what to make for dinner.
No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again.
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle…
It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall…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… that’s to blame.”
One main point Traister makes, with which I completely agree, is that Slaughter’s article isn’t all bad—it’s just been packaged badly by The Atlantic, whose editors apparently took a cue from Time magazine when the latter ran a half-baked breastfeeding article and sold tons of issues of their ever-thinning print version by depicting a woman breastfeeding a four-year-old on the cover.
Are print magazines really so desperate to sell copies that they take whatever article they have lying around that’s been written by a woman, slap a controversial photo and headline on it, and throw it on the newsstand, hoping just to help cover the cost of all that ink and paper? Of course.
Look, though the word has developed a partially negative connotation due to certain whiny, dyke-y rageaholics, I consider myself a feminist. I grew up with the “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man” commercials that informed me in no uncertain terms that my goal in life was to get a career (not a job) while also cooking a fantastic meal for my sexy man followed by, Diane-Keaton style, throwing motherhood into the mix. One of my life's role models was my cool lesbian aunt, who, in between smoking pot and playing Grateful Dead on her guitar, thankfully took a big part in my upbringing, even buying me a subscription to Ms. magazine at age 12 in case I started believing that my mother’s full time housewifery was my life’s only option. So I hear you, hanger-wavers. I’m on your team politically, and we agree on most things.
But what annoys me about extremism in the feminist movement is its hypocrisy. The bra-burners of the 70s didn’t ask much—just that my generation not choose motherhood because the 1950s were hell and you need to have a career and not babies! And then, if you want babies, you can put them in daycare (which should be more affordable) and feed them formula (because day care centers and men can’t breastfeed when you’re at work!). The hypocrisy lies in insisting that women have choices, and then becoming irrationally angry when we don’t make the choices we’ve been instructed to make. I feel like our generation needs to write a big apology to the old-school “feminists.”
Dear Feminists: We failed. We’re sorry. Please stop acting like Republicans and telling us what to do with our vaginas. Please stop judging us for not having the careers you said we were supposed to have and just LEAVE US THE FUCK ALONE! Sincerely, Modern Women
Boomer feminists are forever whining about today’s hipster moms who choose near-zombie-apocalypse-prep level homesteading. You know what? These crunchy organic moms knitting baby sweaters from backyard alpacas and canning fresh veggies from the garden, homeschooling, or raising goats and turning their milk into cheese? Let them rock it out! They don’t want to be a high level politician or a corporate attorney? Good for them! Sorry, feminists! Women don’t all define success in the same way.
Do I think women should be equal? For the love of Jezebel, of course I do. But I do not think women make less than men because men are out there causing women to suffer financially. I think that as a gender, we as women are going to get what we settle for in terms of salary. Nobody is holding us back from anything. We are going to make our own damn choices about career and work and motherhood and staying at home or working our asses off or going back and forth between those two things (the actual reality of why our salaries are lower is perhaps that we are choosing this winding path). Every time I see feminists writing about women’s inequality, I feel like they’re setting it back a notch themselves. You know when we’re going to be equal? When we decide to be equal.
Maybe it’s simply time for women to assume equality.
Fuck “having it all.”
As women, I believe we are happy when on a good day, we have some of whatever “it” is, but it’s exactly what we want.
Mary McCarthy (@marymac on Twitter) blogs at pajamasandcoffee.com.