This essay by Anne-Marie Slaughter
has been linked--oh, everywhere--and I've commented on a few other
blogs about the question of whether women can "have it all" (and if not,
why not). But I've felt a lingering pressure, a nagging, a suspicion
that I still had more to say. So I stopped to figure out what it was,
what splinter still stuck in my skin. It's related to these lines:
"I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet."
of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with,
even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions
between family and career ..."
Both of these lines seem to equate
feminism with having it all, and imply that the unreality of having it
all signals an unreality in feminism. That's it, that's the implication
that bothers me.
A staunch feminist myself, I have never equated
feminism with having it all, nor do I find the failure to "have it all"
in the real world to be a failure of feminism. Well, let me rephrase
that. I have never equated feminism with having everything all at the same time
. I don't believe any human being, male or female, can do that.
do agree with Ms. Slaughter's points that we could structure our
society in a more flexible way, a way that preserves quality of life, a
way that doesn't always put workplace success above family. I don't
think the answer is to make our overscheduled children's school hours
mirror our long office hours; I think the answer is to make workplaces
more flexible. After all, does it matter whether most office work, which
is increasingly computer-centric, is done from an office computer or a
home-office computer? Does it matter whether the employee is sitting in
an office wearing a tie or at home in a bathrobe? Does all work have to
be done between eight and five?
But I digress. I was talking
about the human impossibility of having everything at once. This is not
just a problem for women. Traditionally, men bore the burden and benefit
of paid work, while women bore the burden and benefit of child care.
There were many exceptions, of course, but these were the stereotypical
gender roles. Feminism was about asking why both sexes couldn't play
different roles: Why couldn't men share in the joys and hardships of
child care and household chores? Why couldn't women share in the
responsibilities and rewards of the paid workforce? Why couldn't women
wield political power; why couldn't men spend more time with their
families? We ought not to be shunted into one role or another simply
because of gender. In my view, feminism was not about women having to
play every single role at every single moment; it was about sharing or
shifting traditional roles.
The fact is, it's hard work to cook,
and clean, and diaper a child, and help with homework. It's also hard
work to be a plumber, a roofer, a surgeon, a judge, a firefighter. And
people like me, who feel the call of an avocation like writing, have yet
another element to fit in there. Can any one person fulfill all his or
her life's roles simultaneously and indefinitely? Or are we sometimes
the model employee and sometimes the devoted parent or caregiver, always
making choices, always juggling and seeking that elusive balance,
sometimes dropping everything just to take some much-needed rest or
Instead of this workaholic must-do-everything mindset
our culture seems to prize, I'd rather see our society being a little
mellower, a little more forgiving, a little less burned out. I'd rather
see time valued a little more and money valued a little less. I'd like
us not to think of ourselves as failures just because we're human rather
than superwomen and supermen.