Why Women Still Can’t Have It All
Eighteen months into my job as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a foreign-policy dream job that traces its origins back to George Kennan, I found myself in New York, at the United Nations’ annual assemblage of every foreign minister and head of state in the world. On a Wednesday evening, President and Mrs. Obama hosted a glamorous reception at the American Museum of Natural History. I sipped champagne, greeted foreign dignitaries, and mingled. But I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier and was already resuming what had become his pattern of skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him. Over the summer, we had barely spoken to each other—or, more accurately, he had barely spoken to me. And the previous spring I had received several urgent phone calls—invariably on the day of an important meeting—that required me to take the first train from Washington, D.C., where I worked, back to Princeton, New Jersey, where he lived. My husband, who has always done everything possible to support my career, took care of him and his 12-year-old brother during the week; outside of those midweek emergencies, I came home only on weekends.
As the evening wore on, I ran into a colleague who held a senior position in the White House. She has two sons exactly my sons’ ages, but she had chosen to move them from California to D.C. when she got her job, which meant her husband commuted back to California regularly. I told her how difficult I was finding it to be away from my son when he clearly needed me. Then I said, “When this is over, I’m going to write an op-ed titled ‘Women Can’t Have It All.’”
She was horrified. “You can’t write that,” she said. “You, of all people.” What she meant was that such a statement, coming from a high-profile career woman—a role model—would be a terrible signal to younger generations of women. By the end of the evening, she had talked me out of it, but for the remainder of my stint in Washington, I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet. I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved. But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could.
Before my service in government, I’d spent my career in academia: as a law professor and then as the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Both were demanding jobs, but I had the ability to set my own schedule most of the time. I could be with my kids when I needed to be, and still get the work done. I had to travel frequently, but I found I could make up for that with an extended period at home or a family vacation.
I knew that I was lucky in my career choice, but I had no idea how lucky until I spent two years in Washington within a rigid bureaucracy, even with bosses as understanding as Hillary Clinton and her chief of staff, Cheryl Mills. My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30 train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home. In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began—a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people’s drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month. And I had it better than many of my peers in D.C.; Secretary Clinton deliberately came in around 8 a.m. and left around 7 p.m., to allow her close staff to have morning and evening time with their families (although of course she worked earlier and later, from home).
In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.
There are a number of reactions to this article. Echidne is probably the best one.
I don’t know why this is framed as a feminism issue. I want to have it all too.
I want to be in perfect health, and never gain weight no matter what I eat. I want to be in great shape without having to work-out. I want a full head of hair that never needs to be combed and I want a bigger shlong.
I want a great job that pays really well. I want to go in late and leave early. I want nothing but innocent clients and I want to win every case. I want a great boss and a bunch of swell co-workers.
I want a super-model beautiful spouse who is a great cook, homemaker and sex goddess, and who is always horny whenever I am and who orgasms early and often and thinks I am the world’s greatest lover. She should always be in a good mood, and never tired, cranky or PMSing. I want kids that are always happy, get good grades and never get sick or in trouble.
I want bills that are always paid, a lawn that never needs to be mowed and every electronic toy on the market. I want more hours in a day and perfect weather all year round.
That’s what I want, but like my grandma used to say “It ain’t always what you want you get the most of.” She also said “The secret to happiness isn’t getting what you want, it’s wanting what you get.”
There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a year and so many years in a lifetime. You have to sleep sometime. Life is a bunch of trade-offs. You have to balance work, family and social activities. If you work long hours you have less time for sleep, family and your social life.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is very lucky. She has options most of us don’t have. I don’t begrudge her those options or the success she has had in life. I wish I had her problems.
But her problems aren’t unique to women. A lot of people, both men and women, have it far worse. Millions of people have jobs they hate but can’t afford to quit. They want to spend more time with their kids but can’t. They spend their lives on a treadmill, running and running but not getting anywhere.
Anne-Marie Slaughter needs to quit worrying about having it all and learn to be happy with having enough.
Well, on first read it seems to me she has serious time management issues. Coming in early and staying late on a regular basis- why? Sure there will be times when you have to do that- a special project approaching a deadline, a crisis etc. But day in and day out, every week, all year?
If she thinks her work hours were bad and that she did a disservice to her son- perhaps she should live a year in my daughter in law’s boots? Try being a Mom and running a FOB in Afghanistan for a year. But then she and my son are not raising kids who are liable to slack off on homework- they have the luxury of calling the Grandmothers to come help out if needed. Guess Ms Slaughter has no such “luxury.”
I am older. And I can honestly say I have had it all but at different times of my life. I do not think you are supposed to have it all at once. Life is a series of stages and I wish these rather anal women (and some men) would just enjoy what they have when they have it. Nothing lasts forever and it is not supposed to.
We have a culture that puts enormous pressure on people to meet unreasonable standards of success in almost every aspect of our lives. Why do they buy into the unreasonable and almost universally false standards? When I read stuff like this I think of a rather self centered, insecure, overwhelmed woman who had bought into the rather vapid expectations of a marketing culture. Take this pill to stay young and skinny, go to this gym to stay fit and healthy, listen to our tape for rebellious teenagers, take this leadership tape to suck up to your boss, give money to this candidate to be part of the cool crowd, buy robo-cleaner to suck the filth out of your house, take another pill to make it all go away. When will she learn to say enough and no more?
Having a career military spouse certainly didn’t give me all I ever wanted, but it was enough. My heart was into mommy and wife stuff, and certainly felt lucky I could stay home. After 12 years we bought our first house, one that we could qualify for on his salary alone. It was a choice for me, and a happy one.
Too many of my friends wanted McMansions and new cars which meant the wife needed an income too. When babies arrived, along came day care expenses and time management nightmares. I didn’t envy them at all. I had enough 🙂
Speaking of SAHMs, Ann Romney was lucky to have that choice too. She’s certainly been slammed for being rich and privileged giving her all that fulltime paid help so she could sit on her velvet cushion and eat bon-bons all day.
What I didn’t know, Mitt donated his inheritance to charity, so what money they have was earned. In that respect, Ann was the power behind the throne 😉
Jack Welch said as much a few years back and took a lot of flack for it.
There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences.
He said you have to decide what you want. If you want the intense career, then that’s what you want. If you want a job and a family, then you can’t have the intense job–you have to have a less demanding (and hence theoretically, less rewarding) job.
To some extent, the same choice exists for men. The ones who get both are those whose wives have (consciously or not) agreed to allow it. Jack also admits that he sucked at family life, he doesn’t really know his children, and everything good about them is due to his wife.
The only way that I see this as “a woman’s issue” is that the ways men and women balance their work-life issues are judged differently. When I was working in the high-tech industry, if a meeting ran into the 5 o’clock hour, if a man said he had to leave because he had to pick his kids up at daycare, he was a wonderful, caring dad, but if a woman had to leave early, she was the reason women could never make it to the top. When my daughter and son-in-law were trying to work out who would do the drop-off in the morning, and who would do the pick up at night, I strongly suggested that he be the one who needed to leave to get the kids. By then I had become a teacher where no meetings run past the daycare pickup time because the job is presumed to be filled by women. I promised my son-in-law that if he did this for my daughter, I would pick his child up if he ever had a meeting important enough that leaving it or missing it would damage him at work. In six years, I have picked up their kids twice. But my daughter is often kept at work too late to pick the kids up.
Everything in life is a trade-off. Always has been, always will be. Sometimes people either luck out or plan it so that the kids/work thing is somewhat less of a trade off for them than for others. And? This is news?
Also, regarding men and women and raising children, I’m going to make a statement here that may get me burned at the stake:
In general , women are better at raising small children. The female of almost any mammal species is, with a few exceptions. Note that this does NOT mean that any individual man is worse than any individual woman at it. Or that every woman will be good at it, or will want to be. But in general? Yep. It’s science. Sorry, but it is. Evolution gives women all sorts of hormones flooding her brain and body, and bonding mechanisms specifically designed to create attachment and make caring for that child a priority. Men may love their kids with all their hearts, but no, they do not have that evolutionary advantage when it comes to raising them from infants. Women are advantaged there.
Which is a huge reason why I get sick of the brand of feminists who wish to treat child-rearing by women as some patriarchal plot, and busily try to tear down and poo poo the idea of its importance, treating it as just another chore like vacuuming. Because what they are insisting on is women giving up and de-valuing a role where we have a clear advantage and a lot of power.
I don’t wish to live in a world where any woman has raising children as her only option. I don’t wish to live in a world where a father cannot stay home and raise kids if that makes sense for that individual.
But I am not all hepped up on artificially creating and insisting upon a world where child-rearing is all carefully “equal” across the board, either. Because IN GENERAL (not in the specific) men are not as good at doing that as women are.
Traditional feminism has given modern women a real can’t-do attitude with its constant focus on negativity. I see it in the workplace all the time. Saw it again just this week.
I was hired at my job by a female Department Chair who was clearly out of her depth. She was constantly kicking cans down the road, maybe one day kinda thing. I met our new Department Chair this week, a guy, and his goal is have such an excellent adjunct faculty pool that other colleges in the region want to pull their full-timers from it. The old DC would never have even considered such a goal. She was just trying to keep up with the status quo; he wants to rock it. And it desperately needs to be rocked.
The old department chair gave a lot of credence to the constant complainers, often the older women with less tech skills who were always complaining about the increasing online requirements. The new DC has no such time for complainers. The full-timers who are close to retirement will, I think, soon start to retire under the weight of greater expectations, making room for qualified adjuncts like me with all the requisite tech skills AND a CAN-do attitude to move up into roles that will help this guy do what he wants to do. But the division is already gendered; it’s almost all women versus almost all men. It’s sad, but I am taking advantage of it every chance I get. I am a woman with a can-do attitude. You tell me what you want to happen, and I will make it happen if it is legal.
I love the new guy. We were supposed to have a 20 minute meeting; it turned into an hour as we totally geeked out on how to reach out audience: our students. Sadly, now I have to be glad that a woman was unseated to make room for this dynamic guy.
5 years ago I quit a job after my male boss told me that my issues with breaking through the status quo to provide more dynamic services to my client base was “the cost of working with women.” 5 years later, I am sadly concluding he was right. Anyway, sorry for rambling.
having worked in a job that sometimes if there was no one to relieve you , you stayed another 8 hours and raised 4 kids, I do understand what she is talking about.
I started working in the late 1950s when if you were married with children many thought you should be home with your kids and you were just working for extras. When i did marry and start having kids, I made the choice to work 2nd shift and my husband work 1st shift so one of us would be home with the kids and we only needed a baby sitter for about an hour a day. There were many women just like me who were working and raising kids. We were the ones who had the medical and it was not just extras we were working for.
When I went to work for the railroad it was not a 9 to 5 job with weekends off. It was crazy hours and sometimes you did not get two days in row off.
For years my kids resented my choices. As they got older and had kids they began to understand more.
Choices have consequences and rewards. If you are lucky the rewards are greater than the consequences . But nobody get it all. sorry about that it is called life and choices
as jobs are lost more and more women will have to make a choice stay home or find some kind of job to help feed the kids and keep the family together. Most likely these will NOT be good paying jobs. Hopefully the families will pull together and do what they have to do.
Halfway into Echidne’s post and I’m already frustrated by her whining over why is feminism the only “old social justice movement” to blame for not having reached its goals, as if she’s whining, “Where is MY exemption from responsibility!!!!!11!”
That’s the wrong way to go. Women are accountable. Now let’s make that happen for other social justice groups who are standing in their own way. Because it is happening all over the “old social justice movements.”
OT but Politico has suspended the reporter who said Romney is only comfortable around white people. He was twittering without a helmet also. Maybe these little talking heads are finally going to be held accountable for shooting off their mouths and saying any absurd thing that pops into their minds while hanging with their pals.
backtrack wants it all too
I just saw that and I can’t stop laughing. Read the comments. Hoo boy. They must be in a really big money hole. They sound like my local PBS station during pledge week. Next the Obama campaign will be asking for old cars.
no old cars left. cash for clunkers screwed that up
Serves two purposed: allows him to raise money in a non-traditional venue, and allows progressive bullshit artists to get up their family’s faces. Typical, cynical stuff from the Obama campaign.
Isn’t this in the same vein that no one should get Mother’s Day gifts because someone died somewhere. The guilt pandering to take the fun out of everything is so typical. I don’t think that worked either. Trying to eradicate joy out of human beings is hard.
I just front-paged this shit.
“Anne-Marie Slaughter needs to quit worrying about having it all and learn to be happy with having enough”
I totally agree. Actually I’m sick and tired of well off, successful women, complaining because they want to be full time, at home mothers, too.
However, it is an injustice that women are forced to choose between being a parent and having a profitable career. Most men don’t face this choice. Nobody tells male politicians they should be at home taking care of the kids. Nobody blames them for working late, nobody asks them if they have childcare arrangements. Schools don’t call and demand they leave work and come talk about the kids. There is still an uneven division of labor when it comes to the home front. Most women are expected (and manage to DO) 85% of the housework and 75% of the parenting. They pay for this responsibility with lower wages, slower careers, and less financial opportunity. Things are changing. More men are getting involved with day to day parenting rather then just being a weekend father. More men are starting to participate in household chores. But there is still a huge gap in the division of labor and the vast majority of most women’s work is unpaid.
Hey Myiq, help me makes sense of this: http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-high-speed-enviro-20120621,0,5470593.story
Just what’s he doing here? I can’t make sense of it. Is he pandering to environmentalist, or cutting them out of the process, or what?
Looks to me like he’s giving up on a boondoggle. To qualifiy for Uncle Sugar’s money they have to start construction by December.
BTW – It would have run right thru my hometown.
it is a boondoggle that this economy can not afford at this time. People in California are so attached to their cars that the ridership would not be there.
Someday I would love to see highspeed rail in this country. One each up and down both coasts and a couple cross country.
Right now more emphasis needs to be put on commuter rail. In southern California it is not extended inland enough and people can not get to it. That should be a priority before the highspeed trains.
As you can tell , I am spoiled , I came from the east coast where I could get a train to work no matter what shift i worked. Out here that is not avaliable
lol- here in NW PA we have to have a car. There is limited bus service in the bigger town 8 miles away- but it serves ONLY the town- does not come out here.
And for going to Erie or Pittsburgh? Well you could take Greyhound- but it is cheaper to drive the 100 miles to Pittsburgh or the 40 miles to Erie and back- even with gas prices so high and paying for parking in the city. Seriously and for real- one way to Pittsburgh is $50! And it stops about a hundred times- so an hour and a half trip takes three hours.
I lived in Philadelphia and then moved to the suburbs. The local trains ran with working people in mind. workers of all shifts when I had to go to New York to work, I still could get transportation no matter what shift I worked.. Until I moved to California, I thought that all commuter rail lines did that. It was real culture shock to find out that they did not.
Was not a big fan of Slaughter at State, but appreciate her tackling this topic with more nuance than Elizabeth Wurtzel and Rebecca Traister this week. Liz and Rebecca don’t mention parenting in their rants…for men or women.
Unless I miss the point of the Slaughter article (which I heard about on a radio interview), isn’t she herself saying that she has learned/realized that one can’t have it all? And isn’t she herself telling
her readers to give up on and stop worrying about having it all?
(Based on the radio interview, not reading the article; to be sure.)