What Does Having It All Even Mean?
WASHINGTON – Gayle King of CBS “This Morning” handled the story that began swirling last week brilliantly today when she started the segment by asking, paraphrasing here, What does “having it all” even mean? The story revolves around a woman in a history-making position, once thought a dream job, while also having healthy teens and a husband who supports your career, comes out to proclaim to the next generation that you can’t have it all. Some might even say Ann-Marie Slaughter had succeeded in having it all, even if juggling what she’d chosen for herself wasn’t easy, because her expectations on the satisfaction it would deliver didn’t match up with reality.
Skip Mrs. Slaugher’s article and go straight to this one, by Lori Gottlieb:
How does a smart woman like Slaughter still believe in the childlike notion that people (of either gender) can have whatever they want whenever they want it, regardless of life’s intrinsic constraints? Imagine if this article had been written by a kindergartner:
“But I want to go to my gymnastics class and I want to go Rosie’s birthday party and they’re both on Saturday morning!” rails the 5-year-old journalist. “Why can’t girls have it all? This is so unfair! Somebody has to make it possible for socially ambitious girls like me to be at gymnastics and Rosie’s party! The solution is to accommodate me by moving Rosie’s party or the time of my gymnastics class. I want justice, because no girl should ever have to feel trapped like this!”
[...] This isn’t because the child is a girl. This isn’t a feminist issue. This is Life 101, something all people learn as kids — until they grow up to be a high-level government official who has to choose between one six-figure job near her kids and one far away, and can’t accept life’s inherent limitations.
… This isn’t because the child is a girl. This isn’t a feminist issue. This is Life 101, something all people learn as kids — until they grow up to be a high-level government official who has to choose between one six-figure job near her kids and one far away, and can’t accept life’s inherent limitations.
Everybody makes choices, and every choice has a cost. Don’t blame others for those consequences. Like a kindergartner, Slaughter seems to think that she — and women in general — should somehow be exempt from universal realities…
But alas, after all the work to get to the top, the first Director of Public Policy Planning at State Department has decided she would rather be at home. Oh, to have so much, then decide it’s just not enough. Hey, that’s every woman’s decision to make.
It just shouldn’t come as a rallying cry that one generation of feminists have allegedly promised the next generation you can have it all, now to alert all women you actually can’t, when “having it all” was never the promise of feminism in the first place. There was certainly never any promise ever that a woman could work 15-hour days, have children and a husband, but no one would become emotionally spent, even if your family supported your work.
May the gods preserve us from privileged feminists who get their dream job then decide they want to go home, but also think it’s necessary to make a sweeping, global statement about feminism that’s more about their own ego swathed in a public service message that’s monstrously self-serving.
Ann-Marie Slaughter writes that admitting “I want to be at home” was one of the hardest sentences for her to write in her defensive, self-indulgent Atlantic Monthly article. An admission that didn’t make the first drafts of the article, because she was evidently guilty or embarrassed about it. It took me a couple of drafts of this paragraph to keep the snark level low, because reading and listening to another privileged feminist professional opine that rising to her power position just doesn’t afford enough family time is just too mindnumbingly annoying. This was a surprise to her? That Slaughter spent her entire adult life without knowing her own personal priorities until now is really something coming from a woman in her 50s (which I am as well).
I can’t wait to read her article on menopause.
But the Atlantic article is getting so much buzz that the New York Times, and Slate.com decided to get some traffic love in their piece Talking About the Atlantic Piece That Everyone Is Talking About.
And what is Ms. Slaughter talking about? What “generation of women” has told the “younger generation” you can have it all? We’re both far younger than Gloria Steinem, but went through the fire of the modern feminist revolution, and I don’t remember anyone telling me I could have it all; and I had a brother politician who was one of the Republican co-sponsors of the first E.R.A. bill in the Missouri State Senate, also debating Phyllis Schlafly on the finer points of feminism. What I was told is that I would be afforded opportunities comparable to men but I’d have to fight for them and that I wouldn’t be judged for being a professional woman, instead of focusing solely on motherhood and family, but could also actually choose neither of the traditional roles once expected. There wasn’t a feminist litmus test. Boy was that a whopper, because choosing to be childfree, I took a barrage of crap for decades, though none of it made a dent. No one ever told me it would be easy, fair or financially rewarding either, though economics is a basic premise of equality. Following your bliss isn’t for the faint of heart and feminism doesn’t guarantee the road won’t be rough, either.
I also knew I was responsible for what I chose and whining about what I didn’t get along the way wasn’t part of the deal. Well, you could whine, but nobody had to listen. Yet, here we all are listening.
There is not a bigger waste of time in the second decade of the 21st century than still hearing or reading from feminists the case of “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” That Slaughter engages in trumpeting the importance of flexibility in the workplace, then says not even that would coax her to stay, is worthless to everyone.
Yet the decision to step down from a position of power—to value family over professional advancement, even for a time—is directly at odds with the prevailing social pressures on career professionals in the United States. One phrase says it all about current attitudes toward work and family, particularly among elites. In Washington, “leaving to spend time with your family” is a euphemism for being fired.
Talk about reaching to make your case. Excuse me, but “leaving to spend time with your family” more likely means you’ve had a Larry Craig – John Edwards scandal and hope the media will buy it.
This understanding is so ingrained that when Flournoy announced her resignation last December, TheNew York Times covered her decision as follows:
Ms. Flournoy’s announcement surprised friends and a number of Pentagon officials, but all said they took her reason for resignation at face value and not as a standard Washington excuse for an official who has in reality been forced out. “I can absolutely and unequivocally state that her decision to step down has nothing to do with anything other than her commitment to her family,” said Doug Wilson, a top Pentagon spokesman. “She has loved this job and people here love her.
Think about what this “standard Washington excuse” implies: it is so unthinkable that an official would actually step down to spend time with his or her family that this must be a cover for something else. How could anyone voluntarily leave the circles of power for the responsibilities of parenthood? Depending on one’s vantage point, it is either ironic or maddening that this view abides in the nation’s capital, despite the ritual commitments to “family values” that are part of every political campaign. Regardless, this sentiment makes true work-life balance exceptionally difficult. But it cannot change unless top women speak out.
Only recently have I begun to appreciate the extent to which many young professional women feel under assault by women my age and older. After I gave a recent speech in New York, several women in their late 60s or early 70s came up to tell me how glad and proud they were to see me speaking as a foreign-policy expert. A couple of them went on, however, to contrast my career with the path being traveled by “younger women today.” One expressed dismay that many younger women “are just not willing to get out there and do it.” Said another, unaware of the circumstances of my recent job change: “They think they have to choose between having a career and having a family.”
I don’t care what any woman does with her life, but when she decides what she’s got isn’t what she really wants, I’d appreciate it if she’d not globalize it into a feminist whine about how woman can’t have it all. Newsflash ladies, men can’t either!
Ms. Slaughter seems to have brought her children in to explain just how important her job was and the sacrifices required from her family because of it, which her husband gladly supported, from what I can understand. But leave that aside. The reason she left isn’t about the teen needing her, it’s about how much she needs them.
Pause and let that one sink in.
Is that possibly the message here? That women would simply rather be at home, because it’s all just too hard thinking about what your teenager is doing when you’re at work? Well, hells bells, thank the gods for Slaughter’s memo, because younger women can now no longer expect women who have made it to stay there and continue to change things for the next generation.
It’s women like Slaughter who can tell the best story about the hardship of working moms, devise a way through to help women who have to work, because the boys aren’t the right spokesperson. Instead she wrote an article about how power demands too much from girls. Oh, but she’s not the only one!
Since it’s all just too much for the privileged feminists it’s pretty clear women coming up are screwed.
I simply cannot believe we’re still talking at this level.
The real truth is somewhere between boredom and emotional sentimentality, along with the privilege of having reached her dream position and deciding it wasn’t all that. Slaughter and other dynamo women made it, but judged “it” wasn’t worth keeping when compared to the tugs of home and hearth. It couldn’t be any clearer that the burning desire to run the world and dominate it that men have deep inside doesn’t seem to run in women.
Sounds to me the biggest mistake Slaughter made was not starting her own small business so she could craft her own hours and make the choices she wants.
No wonder we don’t have a female president yet. Our most brilliant females are still clutching 1950s fireplace fantasies out of “Mad Men,” along with guilt and their own emotional needs about being at home, deciding to leave a demanding job that her family understands is about changing the world, but she’s just not that into it anymore now that she’s actually doing it.
Duty doesn’t figure into it for these women, we’re being told, like it does with men. However, American society needs these women, who now we find out aren’t up to it, making it better, more equal, with more females leading so the scale can tip toward getting real healthcare that works, understanding the poor’s plight, that programs around the world to help women make America more secure, the list is endless. Where women tread things change dramatically, because no one has a voice like a woman speaking about economic equality, family challenges, including parental care, etc.
If success and reaching your dream job, while having a family at home support you, isn’t enough for feminists, then I honestly don’t know what any of it, the Ledbetter Act, equality, pay equity, having female governors, female senators and world leaders is all about.
I’ll guess we’ll all just have to take Hillary’s no for an answer, then make sure Elizabeth Warren is really up to it, before hoping a female Democratic president could actually happen.
What an embarrassment of riches elite feminists have achieved, only to find out it’s all just too much, the price too high, no matter what currency is applied.
Maybe conservatives can give Ann-Marie Slaughter feminists some advice, because evidently they’ve had this figured out for a long time.
Mrs. Slaughter’s honorary “Mama Grizzly” membership is waiting for her whenever she gets the time to claim it.
Taylor Marsh, a veteran political analyst and former Huffington Post contributor, is the author of The Hillary Effect, available at Barnes and Noble and on Amazon. Her new-media blog www.taylormarsh.com covers national politics, women and power.