Friday, June 22, 2012

Response to Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have It All"

The only thing I hate more than a career panel* is a career panel that focuses on work-life balance.  I go to them looking for sage wisdom from the lawyers-with-lives who came before me.  But, they are inevitably attended only by women and cater to women because women are supposedly the only ones who care about this topic. 
Similarly, I really want to like Anne-Marie Slaughter's "Why Women Still Can't Have it All."    
I want to like it because I really hope to be one of those women who have to struggle with the oh-so-difficult problem of whether to stay in my awesome, time-consuming, high-powered job, or go back to my awesome, less time-consuming, professionally-satisfying job.  I am glad she gives the nod to the fact that there are many factors to the problem.  I heart that she realizes that her view is mostly a rich, white lady view of a much larger problem of having a life while paying the bills for people of all income levels, genders, stages of life, and in all industries.  
But I am so tired of this being structured as a women's issue.
I get it.  The way society is set up means that most of the time women do end up the only ones that have to worry about this topic.  Even when the topic of men's work-life balance is brought up, it is done is a poorly-executed way like the May 2012 Forbes article, "Real Men Don't Need Work Life Balance."   These articles aren't actually saying that women are they ones that have all the options and men are the ones who have it rough, but it certainly comes across that way.
The solution that the career panels I attend and these articles profer run in two veins.  The first is:  change the work environment through hard work and perserverence.  I will call this the Slaughter Approach.  She advocates for talking a lot about your kids and about going home to dinner so it will normalize flexible schedules.  But then she goes on to say that she works on nights and weekends in order to get stuff done, much like the "super women" she said are outside the realm of what is posible for most of us.  She also implies that you have to be a woman in power to make changes, which does very little to help me now, as I am not (yet) a woman in power.
The second vein is: have a supportive partner.  That's great and all, but what if I don't want a partner?  What if he or she wants to have a high powered job, too?  Gloria Steinem is famous for saying that she didn't need a husband so much as she needed a wife.  A high powered job takes an army of support staff to make everything work.  If you want that life, you either have to hire a nanny or ask your partner to take one for the (family) team.  Doesn't that seem like throwing out the old chauvenism for the new feminist kind?
I would really like to see a new approach that writes articles for high-powered men titled, "Go Play with Your Kids and Stop Worrying About Putting Yet More Bacon on the Table."  And articles for bosses called, "Require Employees to Leave at 5pm."  And articles for society called, "Increase Social Benefits so Normal (not-so-rich) People Can Have Work-Life Balance, Too."  Or even one called, "Family Planning and Better Daycare So I Can Be a Career Woman Without Kids If I Wanna Be."
This is a multi-faceted problem that is not going to be solved by women alone.  I wish we could stop talking about it that way.

*I promise to rant more about career panels someday soon.

1 comment:

lauragrivera said...

bravo joAnna. and thanks to my externship team for being an example of a progressive workplace...