That Anne-Marie Slaughter article sure kicked up a lot of discussion, didn’t it? I heard about it in advance and knew it would be big, but I had no idea how big. Below, a little roundup of some relevant discussion—and a reason to have hope that your work may not always crush the rest of your life.
First, a personal report. Atlantic editor Scott Stossel tweeted in reply to the title of my piece here yesterday, "Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women?" His answer: We don't. He and I had a brief, if intellectually sophisticated (cough, cough) Twitter exchange. I reproduce it below, stripped of some of the twitty formatting, and with some serial tweets merged:
Stossel: We don't! RT @theprospect: Why does @theatlantic hate women? http://ampro.me/LIBRcz New @ejgraff post
EJG: Then why not run articles that accurately reflect women's lives?
Stossel: But you concede in your piece that Slaughter hits agonizingly close to the bone. And she's for policies that you support.
EJG: Slaughter's piece is good. The framing is horrifying: the title, the picture. And she addresses an idea of feminism that's off. Where is your Rebecca Traister? or Garance (in print)? Or me? Jessica Valenti? Karen Kornbluh? Joan Williams? There are many women with sophisticated insights into our shared problems.
Stossel: I half-concede your point about the framing--but I also submit that far fewer ppl would read it w/out the resonant framing
EJG: @SStossel True, fewer ppl wd read it BUT they wd be left with the right msg. This framing blames feminism, not social structure.
Stossel: @ejgraff We've published a few good pieces by Karen in print
EJG: @SStossel Will go look for Karen's articles. But pls, kill the baby-in-briefcase image. It's just ludicrous.
Of course, Stossel is half-correct about the framing: It got huge attention in part because it speaks to that agonizing feeling that so many women have that, they, personally and individually, are doing it all wrong. I would argue that that feeling itself is structural, a response to the fact that feminism didn’t get far enough—or that over the latter half of the 20th century, the workplace devoured everything else, which is a problem for women, men, children, and (to quote an antiwar poster that was current during my 1960s childhood) all living things. The half-accurate, slightly sensationalized framing is true, of course, of the title my editor gave to my post: Why Does The Atlantic Hate Women? They don't, of course. But the cumulative record of The Atlantic over the past few years—to pay attention to women’s worries but to frame them wrong—has led many women I know to conclude that the magazine is run by men who all have wives at home and don’t understand what all the fuss is about. (My wife wishes I could afford to keep her home. But hey, she married a writer. Her mistake!)
Okay, on to more commentary. The brilliant Rebecca Traister hit the ceiling about the phrase “having it all,” which she urges us to refrain from ever using again, even in air quotes:
The Atlantic’s current cover story, headlined “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” depicting a toddler in a briefcase clutched by a headless woman in dark hose (whom I can only assume is Diane Keaton from 1987’s “Baby Boom”) puts me in mind of a modest proposal: Working women should eat their babies, thus simultaneously solving the problem of childcare and what to make for dinner.
No, my proposal is this: We should immediately strike the phrase “have it all” from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again.
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
What she said.
Hanna Rosin pledges never again to lie about what she’s doing when she takes care of her kids, saying, “After so many decades of mothers working, maybe it’s time to end the collective American fiction that toddlers take themselves to the doctor or that they get sick only on weekends.”
Bryce Covert managed to comment on the piece twice, once at The Nation and once at Forbes (I don’t know how she does it!). Both are worth reading.The Nation article explores the structural discrimination that keeps women from climbing as quickly as men do:
Women have to overachieve just to reach par with men. They are also penalized for having families in ways that men are not… .Yet Slaughter shies away from calling out the political and corporate structures that keep women out. ... As Ilene Lang, president and CEO of Catalyst, previously told me, “Often women get stuck having to prove themselves over and over again. That’s a block; they’re not going up.”
Meanwhile, her Forbes piece’s title gives away the problem: “If Women Can't Have It All, Neither Can Men.” (That brought to mind Karen Kornbluh’s article of nearly a decade ago, “Why Dad Can’t Have It All.” Do you get the feeling that folks are not listening?) At Forbes, Covert delves into this problem:
One of the causes that Slaughter points out is that while family life has been completely revolutionized by women’s entry into the workforce over the past half century, our economy hasn’t done the same. Worse, things are getting harder for those who have commitments outside the office. Mother Jones editors Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery described this phenomenon as the “Great Speedup”: employees are being asked to work longer and longer hours without getting more pay in return.
That pointed me back to Sara Robinson’s Alternet article, reprinted in Salon, “Bring back the 40-hour work week: 150 years of research proves that long hours at work kill profits, productivity and employees.” Robinson gives an amazing history of the fight to work only 40 hours, replete with the data that persuaded employers to do it: Working less means you are more productive. And she offers a fascinating exploration of how that gave way to the 24-hour-avaiability expectation for office workers. Imagine working a 40 hour week! I want to cry at the thought of it.
And the New York Times took notice of all the fuss with this round-up by Jodi Kantor, which also includes a look at recent pronouncements by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg about work, life, and women’s ambitions. Here’s my favorite excerpt from Kantor’s article:
For her part, Ms. Sandberg remained silent, declining a request to address the Atlantic article. But Ms. Slaughter said in an interview that the Silicon Valley executive was one of the many readers who e-mailed her as soon as the article came out. Her message: they had to talk more about this, and soon.
Oh yeah, baby. If the A-list power ladies are going to start talking about work-life policies, maybe change really is gonna come.