This weekend, I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I can have it all. Like legions of privileged American women, I, too, read that Atlantic article on Friday.
I sent it to several friends, and enjoyed extensive email chains on the topic. But the more I thought about it, the more my opinions kept evolving. And then backlashing!
Are hyper-successful women such as Anne-Marie Slaughter (and Sheryl Sandberg last year) the best messengers for work-life balance?
I’m thinking no.
Every time a powerful woman says it’s hard to have a work-life balance, there’s an assumption of “trickle-down” feminism. The theory goes like this: these ladies are wildly successful, so if it’s hard for them to have it all, then surely it’s hard for everyone else.
But I wonder if the problem—and also the source of their success—is that their standards are atypically high? And perhaps far higher than mine in parenting and achievement.
What’s tough for me about this piece is that the author did have it all: She was the dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She says that in that role, she could be with her kids when she needed to be. She had a supportive husband.
If that’s not having it all, what is?
As someone who has never achieved that kind of success, it’s hard for me to understand how that’s not enough.
Am I aiming too low?
She chose, during a critical moment in her kid’s life, to work for the State Department, as the first woman director of policy planning. She soon realized that she couldn’t be with her family as much as she wanted (again: I wonder if her standards for her own parenting were remarkably high) and she resigned.
What I take away from the article is: ambition has an opportunity cost.
It’s why many successful artists are recluses, why athletes don’t always party as much as they’d like, why actresses delay having babies, why President Obama can’t go for a walk in Central Park whenever he feels like it, etc.
I wonder if the point is not that women can’t have it all. It’s that you can’t have it all in every single amazing job that’s out there, at any time.
Which brings me to my point: what’s tough about ridiculously accomplished ladies being the spokespeople for this issue is that they have SO MANY CHOICES and they choose to keep climbing.
I think her bigger point—and I’m so grateful that she’s illuminated it—is that the American workplace makes it very difficult to have a family life.
But I think the argument would be more powerful coming from say, a more average person saying, “We have ridiculous demands for our time” and “We need help, in the form of child care and flex time.”
Because we do.
And while talking about “flex time” isn’t as sexy as an article about “why women can’t have it all,” I hope this brilliant piece is the gateway to that conversation.
I hope it’s a starting point.
What do you think?