Why Are We Blaming Feminism for Our Inability to Have It All?

Did feminism really pull a fast one on women, as Anne-Marie Slaughter of The Atlantic thinks? Here's a different point of view to try on for size.

Why Are We Blaming Feminism for Our Inability to Have It All?

Did feminism really pull a fast one on women, as Anne-Marie Slaughter of The Atlantic thinks? Here’s a different point of view to try on for size.

-Lylah M. Alphonse, Yahoo! Shine

Business woman mom

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” struck a chord among men and women struggling to juggle their careers and their families. In it, she seems to say that feminism has pulled a fast one on us, encouraging her — and millions of other working moms — to believe that they could hold down high-powered jobs and still successfully raise well-adjusted kids when, realistically, having it all is next to impossible.

“I was increasingly aware that the feminist beliefs on which I had built my entire career were shifting under my feet,” Slaughter wrote. “I had always assumed that if I could get a foreign-policy job in the State Department or the White House while my party was in power, I would stay the course as long as I had the opportunity to do work I loved. But in January 2011, when my two-year public-service leave from Princeton University was up, I hurried home as fast as I could.

It’s a rude awakening. But why blame feminism for it?

“Let’s start by recognizing that the women’s movement never told anybody that they could ‘have it all.’ That concept was the brainchild of advertising executives, not feminist activists,” Stephanie Coontz points out at CNN. “Feminism insists on women’s right to make choices — about whether to marry, whether to have children, whether to combine work and family or to focus on one over the other. It also urges men and women to share the joys and burdens of family life and calls on society to place a higher priority on supporting caregiving work.”

Slaughter’s husband, a tenured professor at Princeton University whose job allowed him plenty of flexibility, stepped up to the plate to be the primary caregiver for their kids while Slaughter spent two years in Washington. But in spite of his willingness to be Mr. Mom (and his wonderful parenting skills), Slaughter felt that her absence during the week was making her teenagers’ lives worse.

Her time in Washington was intense and stressful. “My workweek started at 4:20 on Monday morning, when I got up to get the 5:30 train from Trenton to Washington. It ended late on Friday, with the train home,” she describes. “In between, the days were crammed with meetings, and when the meetings stopped, the writing work began-a never-ending stream of memos, reports, and comments on other people’s drafts. For two years, I never left the office early enough to go to any stores other than those open 24 hours, which meant that everything from dry cleaning to hair appointments to Christmas shopping had to be done on weekends, amid children’s sporting events, music lessons, family meals, and conference calls. I was entitled to four hours of vacation per pay period, which came to one day of vacation a month.”

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Slaughter assumes that she was working “a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men),” when the truth is that schedule would have made an involved family life impossible for anyone, male or female.

“Men can’t have it all, either. At least, not by the standard Slaughter outlines, and which I happen to think is spot on,” writes James Joyner in a rebuttal published in The Atlantic online this week. “The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to ‘have it all.’ It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.”

Flip-flopping gender roles may be one way to achieve your goals, as long as women can let go of the guilt. According to a new study by the Boston College Center for Work & Family, men are increasingly discovering that staying home to raise their kids can be as satisfying for them as bringing home the bacon.

“The existence of at-home fathers greatly enables and facilitates the careers of their working wives or partners,” Brad Harrington, Executive Director of the Center for Work & Family. Harrington and a co-author of the study, said in a statement. “The overwhelming response from wives was that having an at-home spouse had enabled these women to pursue their careers in a much more assertive fashion without the limitations that virtually all working mothers experience.”

Which is to say that having a stay-at-home spouse makes it easier to commit to one’s career, regardless of gender. Which means that feeling like you’ve failed if you can’t “have it all” has less to do with feminism and more to do with deliberately making a choice that you thought would be OK for your family, and then discovering that it isn’t.

The fact that Slaughter could take a two-year leave of absence from one high powered job in order to do another? Feminism gets credit for that, absolutely. But the fact that her priorities shifted part-way through her career? Not feminism’s fault.

More from Yahoo! Shine:

Pixar’s ‘Brave’: Feminist fable or just another pretty princess?

Do women today take Title IX for granted?

Are housewives to blame for the plight of working women?


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