Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

In the July/August summer issue of The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”. Slaughter served as the director of policy planning under Hillary Clinton from 2009-2011 while on leave from Princeton University. There she continues to teach as a professor of politics and international affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School and was the first woman to rise to the position of Dean of the program. She is also the mother of two teenage boys.

Ms. Slaughter is correct, women can’t have it all, but then again neither can anybody else. We’ve all seen it in the last couple of years; fewer jobs, less pay, decrease in opportunity, and of course rising inequality. But of course, and Slaughter covers this by the end of her discussion, her article isn’t about the statement “why women can’t have it all”, it is really a question, “Why can’t women have it all?”.

Her answer, as obvious as it may be, is that we all work and live in a world that, for or better or worse, was developed and designed in the 1950s when not only were men much more dominant in the workforce than women, but also technology was vastly different. Nowadays, technological advances have allowed for tele-commuting and more efficient and quicker travel. This should allow for men to be more present at home, and thus give women more of an opportunity to seek higher level employment.

But that hasn’t quite happened, for various reasons. Most importantly, while women make up approximately 45% of the workforce, they are less than 40% of the managerial staff. One need only to look at politics to see this trend in action; barely 17% of congress is female. She argues that a close in this gap would help improve society in ways unimaginable. Or in her own words: “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”

I won’t go through her entire argument, that would take away your fun of going ahead and reading the article (see link in the opening bio). But, here are some of the highlights:

It takes more than just commitment to balance work and family. Sometimes it takes help from your employer, spouse, and your children.

Marrying the right person does not guarantee it either. Society needs to change as well. We need to stop overvaluing the work done in the office, and stop undervaluing the work done at home.

Don’t do one and then the other. If you have kids early then you may start a career too late and never have the chance to catch up. On the other side, if you leave work early and start a family in your 40s then you may not have a fulfilling work life. Rather, small consistent steps in work throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s (what Slaughter calls “reaching plateaus”) while raising a family, will establish a foundation for a flourishing career in their 50s and 60s.

Lastly, and most importantly,, we all -as a society- need to remember the value of a mother goes beyond the simple necessary biological function of childbirth. Mothers are the ones from whom we learn how to love and care, but also where we learn discipline and the importance of respecting those with far more knowledge than us. Nothing can replace a mother, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that these talented women in our workforce can take time off, raise the next generation, and then return to their jobs, fully able and committed to continue perfecting the world we currently live in.

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6 Responses to Why Women Still Can’t Have It All

  1. “Mothers are the ones from whom we learn how to love and care, but also where we learn discipline and the importance of respecting those with far more knowledge than us. ” – I think it’s problematic that we assume it’s MOTHERs, specifically, who do this. It should be PARENTS – be that a father and mother, two fathers, two mothers, or whatever other atypical family arrangement exists. As long as it works to provide the child(ren) the support they need, who cares if a MOTHER, specifically, is present 27/7, or even at all?

    As for the article you’re talking about – I absolutely loved it. It made me cry, because, as a woman with a very strong sense of what I want from my personal life, I have always felt that it will inevitably conflict with my worklife and career. While the article confirmed this, it also emphasized that this conflict wasn’t MY fault, but the fault of society. Indeed, the idea that “society needs to change” was really the takeaway point for me. We need to create a society in which women – and everyone – CAN have it all.

    • zacharyschrieber says:

      I do apologize for implying that it was only mothers who can do the job of raising children. I was merely trying to support the idea that it is important that we begin to revamp the way most jobs work to better allow for at least one parent to be have the ability to raise the children. Given that the article was about women, I thought I would focus on mothers specifically.

      When I read the article I didn’t realize how big it had become. Little did I know, but in the next month’s Atlantic they announced that it was the most read article in their magazine’s history. Most certainly that was because there are many men out there who wish they could spend more time with their family as well. We, as the next generation have the opportunity to make Slaughter’s views into a reality.

      • No apology necessary – I figured it was accidental oversight rather than intentional 🙂 And I think there were many women who found their own fears and feelings expressed beautifully and articulately by Slaughter – at least that was my case. Thanks again for bringing up this great article!

  2. kerishma says:

    Whenever I read or hear about women wanting “it all,” I can help but think of Liz Lemon, Tina Fey’s character on 30 Rock.
    I think one of the key things keeping women from “having it all” – whatever “it” is – is the system of masculinity that is relatively stagnant. Women are progressing into the workforce and positions of power, but are expected to retain some form of traditional femininity (for example, the desire for children, to nurture, etc) at the same time. As women are moving out of traditional roles, men are not moving out of there’s – traditional masculinity remains intact, making it difficult for women to “have it all.” (Does that make sense at all?)

    • zacharyschrieber says:

      I’m not sure. I think Slaughter’s perspective is somewhat skewed because she does want to have both a family and a career. In that sense, “her all” is potentially different than a woman (or a man) who only wants a career. She was most likely writing her article for women in similar situations to her.

      Perhaps the reason why women find themselves in tradition female roles is because they want to be there. I’m not sure if that makes sense either. But in any case, if we can implement Slaughter’s ideas then it will give the option to both men and women to choose whatever role they so please.

      • kerishma says:

        I see what you’re saying; I don’t think I made myself clear. Having children and a family is a traditionally womanly desire – and that’s definitely a component of “it all.” Some women do want families. But having “it all” means – it least, to my understanding – a flourishing career and social life away from the domestic sphere, which is complicated when women are expected to be the primary source of childcare, as opposed to their husbands/significant others. Women are attempting to extend out of their traditional role as solely a mother, while men are not necessarily encouraged to spend more time in home. (The patriarchy hurts everyone! I can’t say that enough.) Does that make any sense?

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