Can women truly have it all — the career, the kids, the marriage, the personal life? In a new op-ed for “The Atlantic,” Anne-Marie Slaughter says no.
For two years, Slaughter worked in Washington D.C. on Secretary Hillary Clinton’s staff. She worked away from home for the work week and was home on the weekends. On the surface, it would look like she had everything. She had a high-powered job in politics, two kids, and a loving husband, but in her article, she describes the difficulties this posed, especially with two teenage sons, even though she had a husband who was willing to take over the lion’s share of the parenting duties.
Her eldest son was having problems in school, and she wasn’t home to help. Her work week schedule was grueling by any standard. Furthermore, even when she was home on the weekends, she had limited time to spend with her family because she had to take care of other, personal needs. Therefore, after two years, she left politics and went back to her speaking and teaching position at Princeton. Of her decision, she says:
When people asked why I had left government, I explained that I’d come home not only because of Princeton’s rules (after two years of leave, you lose your tenure), but also because of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible. I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women: I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book. But I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).
She goes on to describe that the feminist principles she grew up with were actually damaging to her because she was led to believe that she could, in fact, have it all, but has since found out that this is not true. Even worse, the feminists in her life are judging her for returning to a less stressful career in order to care for herself and her family.
While I do agree that women have more difficulty than men when it comes to try to balance work and family, I was taken aback when Slaughter began to blame feminists for society’s attitude toward women who choose their family over their career. Is it really feminism’s fault that women stress themselves out in order to have it all? I was even more shocked, though, at the reactions of her peers as they judged her feminism.
I’ve been reading a lot of conversations lately about how choices women make are not always feminist choices. I’ve also been told on occasion that it isn’t very “feminist” of me to remain in education, especially as a teacher of literature. I have one of the most “womanly” jobs out there, according to some, as my job involves hours conducive to family life, caregiving, and liberal arts. According to some of my feminist counterparts, as a feminist, I should be climbing the rungs of the corporate ladder or, at the very least, teaching math or science.
I could not disagree more. As a feminist, I believe that feminism’s goal is to allow women the same options as men. Men can choose to be teachers or CEOs, and women should be able to do the same. With those choices, however, come sacrifices for both men and women. When we choose our jobs, we also have to prioritize, and if a woman — or a man — wants to spend more time with family, that might mean that he or she might have to find a new career. However, choosing your family over your career does not make you less of a feminist.
I, for one, applaud Slaughter on her decision to return to Princeton after her two-year stint with the government. From the op-ed, it seemed that her decision was made because of her family, but also because the stress of the job wasn’t worth the rewards she reaped. I certainly don’t think this makes her less of a feminist.
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