Thursday, June 21, 2012
Dissent of the Year - Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"
Given the recent mothering critiques/shit-shows/desperate attempts to generate page views in mainstream print media, I had largely given up on hoping to find the answers to life anywhere in those once-prominent but now largely-irrelevant magazines my parents used to subscribe to back in the day.
It's exceptionally rare that I come across a piece I flat out do not agree with in many ways, but enjoyed reading anyway. Anne-Marie Slaughter's July cover story in The Atlantic Why Women Still Can't Have It All should have rubbed me the wrong way. The title alone makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit - my knee jerk reaction being so where's that cover story on "Why MEN Can't Have It All" - oh wait, they can. Thanks, Patriarchy! She never once directly mentions patriarchy, and it can't be that she's never heard of it. I think her silence as to "patriarchy" alongside her descriptions of the way "men and women are socialized differently" means she basically gets it, but is choosing not to sound too feministy in the hope of appealing to a mainstream audience, perhaps, perhaps...
Slaughter offers up her own musings on the challenges of having a high-profile government career and parenting her 14- and 12-year-old sons the way she wants to. Note we are not talking about Good Enuf Mothering here; she strikes me as an unacknowledged uber-Type A parent (maybe ESTJ-type?) who demands excellence in all areas of her life. My own mom is a bit like that, so let's just say I know them when I see them. I'll admit this aspect was enlightening to me - I'd always assumed the demands are greatest with infants/toddlers/preschoolers (especially those trying 3.5 year olds) and that parenting gets easier with time and the child's independence. Turns out some young teenagers might actually need their mothers and/or some mothers might feel the need to reprioritize their work lives to spend more time with their 14-year-olds who are suddenly having some school issues and are not talking to anyone. Or it could be an overreaction to the normal mini-rebellions of the young teen phase - I'm sure Slaughter will get some pushback on the internets for it. That's what happens when you put yourself out there, I suppose.
She misses the mark where she overgeneralizes and projects her preferences and in/abilities on to all women, everywhere but also seems to acknowledge that's precisely what she's doing. Slaughter's personal narrative covers loads of familiar territory, and at first does not seem to be offering anything new that has not already been said a million times at those tired old corporate work/life balance panels. If you can stomach the crappy title, give it a read. She gets it right when she critiques the way our work culture is oriented today. Progressives like me will appreciate her suggestions that should allow for less face time, more telecommuting, school sessions that match the reality of the schedules of working families, and better day care options. She also gets the educated/rich privilege angle and explores it (briefly) in a way that doesn't annoy me.
It's a looong article, and I kept saying to myself whenever she mentioned the logistical tedium of dry-cleaning, and running kids to weekend events, etc "Why couldn't she hire someone to help solve this problem?" They're called Personal Assistants. And Babysitters Who Can Drive. She's rich and educated and feels she has enough knowledge of the topic to opine about it in a national publication under her real name, after all? So why not simply avail herself of those solutions? Clearly this is my own bias coming out. Yeah, yeah, I'm making big assumptions about her family's income level. Perhaps I'm just not getting it. I've definitely been accused of that before.