Here’s Lori Gottlieb’s take on the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece at the Atlantic in which she argues that highly educated professional women are delusional narcissists to think, as Slaughter suggests, that if we just fix all the gender inequalities and structural problems in the workforce, women will be able to have it all:
Like a kindergartner, Slaughter seems to think that she — and women in general — should somehow be exempt from universal realities that have nothing to do with gender inequality and everything to do with the fact that you can’t defy the laws of physics. Forget biological clocks. Time and space do not magically expand because you’d like to be two places at once or do more things than can fit into a 24-hour period or even a life span. Somebody might want — and have the talent — to be an Olympic gymnast, a Nobel-winning mathematician, and a professional ballerina, but there are age and health and time limitations involved. There isn’t a policy in the world that could change the fact that if you choose to be in Washington five days a week , you can’t also be at home tucking in your children and dealing with their issues back in Princeton.
Did Slaughter, despite her intelligence, somehow imagine that she could be an involved, engaged parent while living in another city for two years? Where is her responsibility in this, and what does this have to do with inequality?
Thirty years ago women used to complain that they wanted “a wife.” Now that women like Slaughter have wives (in the guise of her husband who, functioning as a single dad, took care of two kids and the entire household every weekday for two years while he also held down a job and earned a living), they don’t like being the husband very much. To their surprise, it turns that husbands don’t “have it all” either. And Slaughter is mad as hell to have worked this hard and given up so much only to discover that being the husband kind of sucks. Being the husband requires far more compromise than she and many high-powered women ever imagined.
I’ve been struggling with my reaction to the Slaughter article for several days, preferring to scamper around the rebuttals than to engage it head-on. On the one hand, I think we are due for a rethink on our machismo work culture and the necessity of endless travel and “face time.” We all know the 24/7 lifestyle is increasingly twisted, and she makes a good case that creativity and productivity can be cultivated with a more flexible notion of work. (She calls this the California solution, and evidently it works for Google.)
Cool. So the Google thing sounds great for a lot of people. But, seriously, for everyone? Remember when George Bush was taking those three-hour bike rides and he responded kind of peevishly that he was sure “America” wanted him to be well-rested and healthy? Well, you know what? Not this American! I remember thinking, here’s the deal, Mister: You get to be the leader of the free world for a few years (and we’ll treat you like an emperor for life) and in exchange, we expect you to work yourself to the bone, look prematurely aged after 18 months, and reassure us that you’re totally on the ball at all times. I think this is why we get so worked up by presidents playing golf and sailing on Nantucket. We’re okay with a little down time but we actually want people in high status, high-paying, high stakes jobs to put their work first. Sorry! That’s the way it works in grown-up land, and no amount of feminist enlightenment – alas – will fundamentally alter that equation.
My dad was an obstetrician in a solo private practice for many years. I know he regrets missing many of his kids’ milestones — he spent much of my childhood in a state of near-narcolepsy — and I also know that he’s a huge proponent of the changes in medicine that have enabled women to enter medical school in equal proportion to men. (He often says that women doctors “saved” obstetrics and gynecology, though I sure haven’t seen any evidence of the kind.) Even by the standards of the day, he was on the absentee end of the spectrum. At the same time, his choice to prioritize work over family enabled me and my siblings go to good schools and have opportunities my parents missed as young people. Does he wish he could have been a different father? Do I wish it? In some alternate reality universe, yes, of course I do. And Slaughter is right that our 2012 work-life culture would have given him more options, and her imagined one would probably offer even more. (I’m also willing to concede that some people are just workaholics, plain and simple.)
But my dad delivered something like 8,000 babies in his career. He assumed primary responsibility for all his cancer patients, often making house calls to personally oversee the chemotherapy. I once found him in tears after attending the autopsy of a 35 year-old mother who’d died of ovarian cancer. Parents named their babies after him.
When I was a teenager, I resented my dad’s disconnection from my life. Now I wonder why I ever imagined that one human being could possibly have it all.