Let’s talk about that Atlantic Monthly Article…

This is sort of a Marriage Monday post, although I think ideally the subject matter affects men and women, married and single, gay and straight. 

and sooo….segue.  Have you read the Atlantic Monthly article, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All? If not, here’s the link: http://bit.ly/MMyR9Q – Don’t worry – we’ll wait. See you in a month or so…

The only way I found time to even read this article was because E. went down for bed around seven on Friday night and S. had a work event.  With most of my house currently under construction, including the kitchen, I didn’t have much on my “to-do” list to prevent me from reading Slaughter’s article.  I’ve thought about a million different ways to approach posting about this article but instead I’ve decided to post the first five thoughts that I can reasonably organize into bullet points, and see what you all think.

Here we go.

  • Okay, this is a non-bullet – and rather facetious, but one of my first thoughts was, the author must never talk to her mother. Or, if she does, her mother is very very different than mine, who requires at least three hours of conversation a week. Bare minimum.
  • First of all, phew.  I am exhausted. Every single graph of this piece possesses a frenetic feel, as though the writer is writing it as much for her own self as the rest of her readership.  To me, this piece has just so much to unpack that it is almost hard to focus – it is argumentative, defensive, well-written, large in scope – as a writer I don’t feel Slaughter left us room to breath and absorb what she is saying.  She spent so much of her time defending her point of view, acknowledging that this argument doesn’t necessarily apply to lower-middle class and lower class families  – in short, defending every area where she could be attacked that I didn’t feel there was enough space to take in all of her very valid points.
  • Ultimately, and this may sound awful, I am not someone who worries about “having it all.” So I wonder if this is more of an issue for women of her (readily acknowledged) class and rank? Okay, let me see if I can unpack what I mean here…we didn’t have much money growing up.  I remember when Cabbage Patch dolls were incredibly popular and that is all I wanted for Christmas and my mom, God bless her, MADE me one because my parents couldn’t afford a store-bought doll. I loved that doll so much – I still remember her name. Alice.  From a very young age I understood that if I wanted to go to college (let alone graduate school!) scholarships would have to play a very major role, and even then it probably couldn’t be an incredibly expensive college, and also if my parents were going to assist in my college-going experience (which they certainly did) they weren’t going to support a theater major, and, well – fifteen year old me would have considered “having it all” to mean the financial wherewithal to pursue my art without compromise – and the sacrifice for that would certainly be living a life without much, if any money.  Times have certainly changed and it turned out that I ended up much more pragmatic than I ever would have thought but my point here is even as an adolescent, I understood the concept of trade-offs. Pursuing a career in acting equalled a life of not a lot of money but the ability to do what I wanted.  My thinking now, as a mother, is not really any different -I chose to have my daughter. She takes an incredible amount of time. In exchange, I will probably not end up running the hospital system I work for – and I am okay with this.  I understand that Slaughter is arguing that this very kind of thinking is what is wrong in our society, but it is how I feel – it is how my mind, my personality works.
  • I understand that Slaughter had to bring her personal life into this piece to make it work but I found out she left so much out – probably to protect her family – that I struggled with fully believing her position.  She doesn’t talk about any strife between her and her husband while she spent time away from home working but surely, there must have been…I don’t care if you are a man or a woman, if you are working and left with a majority of the parenting issues are bound to crop up. She doesn’t share any late night fights she and her husband may have had – any passing of the blame – she solely talks about her relationship with her husband through the lense of her sons, and this is something I could never, ever do.  In the piece she writes about spending from 6-8 pm at home, as though this choice allows for enough time to be a parent. And who knows, it may…but then, when do you have time to be a wife? I don’t think S. and I could survive without time to ourselves. Sure, we commit ourselves fully to E when she is awake…but when she is asleep we spend time together.  A few hours a day isn’t enough to be part of a family, in my opinion – and I noticed the fact she didn’t address it.  Now, I’m more than fine with the fact she didn’t want to but I am willing to bet there were several late-night, raised-voice conversations between Slaughter and her husband before she left her job in Washington.
  • Even though it might seem like I have a negative reaction to her story, I really don’t. I agree with many of her points, especially the idea that school schedules should match work schedules. That could address a lot of working parent issues.  I find her clarion call at the end, and her stress on the importance of more female leaders in order to improve things for women, everywhere, as incredibly important. She acknowledges that these problems are very much problems only to those of us who can afford the time to intellectualize “having it all” – but it is also those of us who should be pursuing better lives for   all women.
  • Final bullet! I could write so much more! Anyway…I think my ultimate issue is with the idea of “having it all.” Do I believe in a more intelligent way to approach work/life balance? Of course.  Do I believe in the necessity of more women in positions of power? Absolutely. But I also recognize trade-offs are bound to happen – we all have a dozen different kinds of potential within us – we could all have led different lives. The choices we make in the past define who we currently are, and, being the kind of person I am, with the kind of heart I have – I would not be able to work at the level Slaughter works. I just know it. I can actually say I do (often) love my job – I believe in doing good work for a good cause and I don’t stress about working over 40 hours a week or on the occasional weekend, but I also need time in life to read books, watch tv, practice yoga, write, play with my kid, decorate my house and cook dinner. And no matter how much I love my work,  I also want to bear witness to the life I am fortunate  enough to lead – including time with my parents as they age, hours with S. on our back porch, watching E. and the dog play in the backyard. I want to read great books and ponder curtain colors and enjoy, as I did this past Saturday, long brunches with my friends and their children.  I am fine with not having it all, but maybe that’s because I’m so grateful for what I do have, and am also cognizant of just how much work it takes to maintain?

Blarg. So much here. Did you read it? What did you think?

This entry was posted in Marriage Monday. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Let’s talk about that Atlantic Monthly Article…

  1. shoreacres says:

    I just read the article. Here’s what I think.

    Women can’t have it all, because no one – male, female, gay, straight, adolescent, elder, self-employed or unemployed – can have it all. Ever.

    Human life always has been and always will be lived out in the tension between our longings and our lmiits. As children, we’re all about longings. When we die, we meet the final limit. In between, we learn how to live with both.

    Just now, we seem to be living in a time when The Experts happily proclaim there are no limits in life, no limits to what we can achieve. They tell us that whatever our heart desires, we should have. Their certitude infects us, and when we bump into limits of time or circumstance, we can be as astonished and petulant as a child.

    Granted, those who focus only on the limits of life are no better off. They’re often characterized by spirits that are brittle, judgemental and hard. On the other hand, those who are all about longings, those who are determined to have it all, often seem too exhausted to enjoy life.

    Over the years, I’ve grown to accept a good many limits, and I understand that I never will “have it all”. Still, I make my own choices and I’m happy with what I have. Other people might think I live a rather impoverished life, but I’ve slowly stopped caring what other people think. 😉

  2. kimhaasdesign says:

    Ugh… I just hate that phrase “having it all.” What is “all” and who defines it? And it is completely sexist as it is only ever used with regard to women and the very phrase implies that having it all is an impossible goal. There’s judgment in the phrase no matter which angle you come at it from. If you go for it all you are a hard-ass who neglects her family. If you don’t, you are weak and setting back the cause of feminism. I read the article and totally agree with your bullet points, esp. the second. But mostly I was disappointed that this is even a discussion we are still having, and that it has been deemed one worthy of the The Atlantic cover. You wrote, ” I also need time in life to read books, watch tv, practice yoga, write, play with my kid, decorate my house and cook dinner. And no matter how much I love my work, I also want to bear witness to the life I am fortunate enough to lead – including time with my parents as they age, hours with S. on our back porch, watching E. and the dog play in the backyard. I want to read great books and ponder curtain colors and enjoy, as I did this past Saturday, long brunches with my friends and their children.” That sounds to me like having it all! Very thoughtful reflection as usual, Courtney:)

  3. “We all have a dozen different kinds of potential within us” – I love that, Courtney. I thought the article was great, because it was so honest and also seemed to encompass so much. Having read a lot of feminist writing, I felt that she wasn’t speaking to defend a specific position (this gets tiresome in the feminosphere), but being very honest about where she was in life. The thing that resonated most with me was the paragraph about the structural changes that HAVE to happen before anything changes much for women. Getting women into leadership. That’s my bug bear. If I ever write anything for the feminosphere, that will be my position!

  4. Pingback: Working and Raising a Family « Charlotte's Web

  5. katy says:

    When I read these sorts of articles, I’m struck by the thought that we aren’t meant to work so many damn hours. Or, at least, to me that sounds like a job not worth having. My mother was “offered” an early retirement recently when her position changed so that she was expected to work 16 hour days. When she indicated that she wasn’t interested in working such hours, her boss said, “Oh. That’s right. You have a FAMILY.” (jerk!) But that was only part of it–she wanted to live, too.

    When I hear about careers that demand such long hours, my first thought is that job could be split into an additional full-time or part-time job for someone else in the workforce. Like you, Courtney, I need to read and hike, and pretend I’m going to work out, and cook…I need to experience the world. I don’t think this makes me an unmotivated worker, because I love to work when I’m working. I think we have a problematic societal urge to work all the time. Says the woman taking a leave from the workforce to stay home with babies! I have a lot of thoughts about the article, too.

  6. I agree with so much of what you’ve said here, Courtney. That 6-8 time period that the author set aside for family at night jumped out at me too, because whoa — that is so far off my from my idea of a work-life balance. But she did have many, many valid points.

    As someone who wants to have a plan mapped out for every possibility in the future, I find myself thinking a lot about the idea that you phrased so eloquently, “trade-offs are bound to happen – we all have a dozen different kinds of potential within us – we could all have led different lives.” I stress out over those future trade-offs and what path to take.

    Of course it’s always a juggling act, but your balance sounds perfect. “Having it all” in a literal sense is a pipe dream, but “having all that matters to you” is something worth striving for.

  7. Stefanie says:

    As others have said, what does “having it all” mean exactly and whose definition of “all” is the author working under, her own or someone else’s? My biggest gripe with the article is that it is framed as something women have to deal with. Why don’t men ever write articles about not being able to “have it all” because surely they have the same issues Slaughter does but no men seem to make a big deal out of it. And if men are able to have it all then we have to look at why they can and women can’t which will lead us into gender equality issues and apparently no one really wants to get to the root of those problems and solve them once and for all. If they did, we wouldn’t keep seeing articles like this one.

  8. Jen says:

    I have only read half of this so far – not because I am not interested, but because I honestly haven’t had time. It’s super long! So I am really not really qualified to comment on the Atlantic Monthly article. However, I can speak from my own experience. I have struggled my whole adult life with this concept of having it all and what that means to me. To me that means I wanted to be the perfect mom, the perfect wife, the perfect employee, the perfect friend, etc., etc., etc. But in the end, I was just running myself ragged and getting nothing out of it for myself that I really wanted. In the very recent past – maybe about a year ago – I decided that it was OK if I didn’t do all these things. It was OK if I didn’t always make dinner from scratch after working10 hours straight and getting my daughter to dance class with tights that didn’t have holes in them. It was OK if I couldn’t attend five meetings a day and do the grocery shopping and have the laundry done every single day. It was really OK. I kind of gave myself permission to just be me, and not some ideal me who does everything all the time until I’m completely spent. I think it’s really a personal thing for every woman. And sure, my views might be very very different if I was really rich, or really poor, but for the me I am “having it all” is just not realistic.

  9. Emily Barton says:

    (I didn’t have time to read the whole article, either, but, you know me, that won’t stop me from having an opinion.) I agree with Stefanie. It’s a gender issue. We have yet to address the fact that for decades, many children were raised by fathers who, for all intents and purposes, were absent, because they were so busy working their way to the top of the corporate ladder (and then, if they made it, sitting up there, unable to come back down to be with the family). Ask children raised by such fathers: was that a good thing? I’m guessing most would say, “no,” so, then, why on earth have we decided that it could possibly be a good thing for both parents to be absent from a child’s life, climbing up or sitting at the top of a corporate ladder? The best way to be a “good” parent (whatever that may mean), is to be happy. If one is exhausted from trying to “have it all” (whatever that may mean, as well), one isn’t going to be happy. I wish our society would start with the premise that to raise a child is the most difficult and important job any human (male or female) can do, and let other occupations fall into place after that, so that, instead of being frowned on if you leave work on time (yes, I said “on time,” not early) to watch a kid play hockey or tennis or whatever, you’re applauded, whereas you’re frowned upon if you have children and stay at the office until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. And, yes, both men AND women should be worrying about family-work balance instead of assuming that’s a woman’s concern/domain.

  10. Elaine says:

    I think Slaughter’s article was pretty effective at illustrating how our culture doesn’t let ANYONE–of EITHER sex–have it all. When men honor their “personal responsibility” (an oft-used phrase of hers that I love) to their family, we consider them lazy and self-indulgent, but when they give in to “time macho,” we lionize them. This happens at the expense of families, and it also prevents women from climbing the professional ladder. Having both parents racing at that sort of breakneck pace just isn’t sustainable, hence women often forego professional advancement in order to pick up the slack at home. (Though many feminists in Slaughter’s cohort, she points out, habitually make women of all ages feel guilty for doing so. Grrr…. Do not even get me started on that!)

    I don’t think Slaughter is condemning women who don’t want what she defines as “having it all”: raising a family while reaching the TOP of the professional mountain. I think her point is that when we built our office culture in this country, no one bothered to make personal responsibility a priority, for either sex–and perhaps no one will until women rise to positions of leadership and change things. I hate to say it, but I think she’s probably right. I like her ideas on how we could get there: By encouraging women to “think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation.”

    I like that this article was so exhaustive. Slaughter is pointing out every little thing that’s broken here because we DO need reminding–we’re inured! She points out specific logistical changes and cultural shifts that might turn things around, then suggests how we can begin to get it all in motion. These are very tall orders–none of them will be easy. But the way things are going now, we are all losing out–women, men, and children.

  11. Anne Camille says:

    Admission #1: I have not read the Slaughter article, not because I don’t have the time, but because I don’t have the psychological energy. I’m tired of the “having it all” argument. I’m tired of hearing about work/life balance (which I think, BTW, is the most idiotic of phrases; work is part of life not part of a binary equation). I’m tired of hearing — and living — the inequalities in the workplace.

    Admission #2. This is long, but not as long as the article.

    Thank you Courtney for the space to rant.

    I always thought that “having it all” for me meant achieving a certain level of responsibility, authority and respect in my profession, having a certain number of digits to the left of the decimal point in my annual salary, and — as a perk — a corner window office. It took me awhile — as it should — to get to that place: I had the authority, position, respect (of some people, you never have everyone’s), and the coveted salary. I didn’t get the corner office — but that one was way too hot in summer and cold in winter. And the view was a parking lot and crappy apartments. The best thing about my office was that I could shut the door, roll out the yoga mat I kept stashed behind the credenza, and take a nap when I was really tired.

    Until my son was 12 I was single. When he was a toddler, I used to get extremely irritated at women who said that they “had” to work. What they meant — and only a few of them seemed to understand it — was that they had to work to maintain the lifestyle that they had. In many cases I made less than their portion of their household income, and, while it was difficult, I wasn’t living in poverty. I was still firmly middle class. The difference was that I didn’t have a choice. I had already made my choice.

    I had a discussion with my son recently as he was preparing to move across the country to start his first post-college “real world” job. “I tried my best” I said. I told him what my sister’s MiL had said once: “I raised my kids live!”. He laughed. “In real-time!” I added, “not that they remained living”. He laughed again. “You did a good job.” That was what I needed to hear (and, later, that he is appreciating — finally — my harping on the value of sunscreen now that he lives on the Gulf Coast).

    Could I have done things differently? Absolutely! In both my career and my family life. Does the typically corporate structure suck? Certainly, in varying degrees, sometimes within the same organization. Is it harder for women? In my experience, it is. I worked in IT — a field that has one of the smallest percentages of women executives in the US. I was also one of the oldest people at my office. But, I don’t think that there are fewer women because it is a sexist profession. I think there are fewer women because an IT career sucks for women who are raising small children (long hours, many off-hours nights & weekends) and it is skewed to a younger workforce so women who stop out to stay at home would have a difficult time stepping back in. Do only men get ahead? Not all of them do, but in my experience, those who do rise to the top, if they have kids, have a stay-at-home wife or a live-in nanny. Because raising children is a full-time job and it is extremely difficult to do both, especially if the job requires extensive hours, travel, and commitment.

    I gave up that dream of “having it all” a long time ago. It’s the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and realizing that could save one a lot of heartache.

    As for my “having it all”. I walked away from it a year ago — all of it, and couldn’t be happier. What silly, meaningless benchmarks to have.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s