Can Women Have It All?

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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Does Your Life Measure Up?

Photo Credit: Victor1558


Christopher M.
Christopher M.6 years ago

She is working because the mortgage is a killer.

Heidi H.
Past Member 6 years ago

We should all have the right to make personal choices about work and family commitment without bringing sexism into the equation.

Shel G.
Shel G6 years ago

Glad to hear about this article. I always find the concept of "women can have it all" utterly baffling. I think that if you said to someone who was working full time that they should now take on another full time job, and give 100% to both jobs, they would probably be able to clearly explain why that is impossible. While I don't have kids (but have worked as a professional), most people seem to acknowledge that being a parent, especially to young kids, is a full time job. So how on earth are you going to work full time and raise kids and not feel torn between the two and exhausted all the time? Both the children and the job will suffer.
I don't know whether it's a "feminist" issue; I just see it as too much pressure on women from both sides. It seems like so many professional women who are happy and successful in their careers are given such a strong message that they are somehow missing out b/c they don't have kids. And vice versa - if someone wants to stay at home and raise kids, or raise kids and only work part-time (the dreaded "mommy track"), there's nothing wrong with that.

Winn Adams
Winn A6 years ago

Yes, but not at the same time.

Andrew F.
Andrew F.6 years ago

They have it all because ppl give it to them. if things were truly the same( which is not at all the same as equal) woman would be drafted for the same positions in the military as men. Feminism is a fancy way to disrupt the normal family unit: because it has not lead to equal world, it has just changed the world around.What is the end result i wonder, because i would imagine for 'these' feminist it would be a matriarchal one. These ppl just want to switch the gender roles, they don't want equality, but to suppress men rather.

Michelle Woodruff

When did being a feminist equal being a man in a woman's body? Since when does the woman who chooses her place in the workforce become more feminist than the woman who chooses to take care of her home? If we truely want to be treated as equals, then we need to see that being equals means in every aspect. A high profile job may be a good fit for some people, regardless of gender, just as staying at home taking care of your family may be a good fit for others. It doesn't mean that because you choose a role that tradition has dictated is a "woman's" role makes you less of a feminist than a going after a traditional "man's" role. Some of us are born nurturers, and gender has nothing to do with it. We all have our own talents and we should follow what is a good fit for us, not for what society tells us we should be doing, regardless of if that society is full of self-proclaimed feminists or chauvinists. We all should choose what is the best fit for us as individuals, and anyone who thinks that being feminine is not feminist, really should rethink their view of things.

MEGAN N6 years ago


Therefor what woman in her right mind would "allow" a man to raise her child.

Also to consider is the idea that many of these inequalities are not actual inequalities at all. What they are in truth is absolute equalities. If a women wants a high powered job then she may have to accept that she will be at home less and that she will no longer have a leading role in her life, while her husband will have to pick up the slack with the child care and household management. But by the same token if a man wants the same thing then he will have to accept a smaller role in his kids lives and his wife will have to manage the children and household management.

The big thing I look at here is that in both scenarios the woman is the loser. I challenge anyone to please explain this to me as I really do not understand how this is not double dipping into the pity pool.

MEGAN N6 years ago

The problem with many of the studies, articles and "role models" in modern feminism are, to my way of thinking that it blames men for nearly all the problems women face and assumes that men do have or can accomplish everything that women believe they are being prevented from having.

What is discounted however is of great importance and is dismissed, I believe because it directly contradicts or disproves many of the claims of inequality. In many of the comments to this article specifically I have noticed the reference to a man being able to work in high stress long hour jobs because they had a wife (many times I actually saw the word slave) at home to care for their children. This assumes that men are not willing or are incapable of being an at home parent, a theory disproved by the growing number of at home dads. It also discounts the biological imperative of many women to nurture their young themselves instead of allowing someone else (even the child's father) to take the lead in child rearing so they can work. While most men have been raised to trust that the mothers of their children are fully capable of caring for the children, many women have been raised to believe that men are not even capable of caring for themselves and as such have micromanaged and emasculated many men to the point of near helplessness in the home. Therefor what woman in her right mind would "allow" a man to raise her child.

Also to consider is the idea that many of these inequalities a

Claire M.
Claire M6 years ago

Taking care of children is a full time job. Its just not given the recognition it deserves.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton6 years ago

"Feminism, to me, is about following your true passion, regardless of sex/gender identity, and being empowered doing it."

"Empowered" by "passion"? Ha. Horse pucky. The equal rights for WOMEN hasn't even been PASSED YET. Here's what women are "empowered" to do:
1) Make 70% of what a man makes for the same job
2) Get fired for being gay
3) Work outside the home because food, shelter and medical care has SKYROCKETED
4) Get ridiculed for NOT STAYING HOME

If PASSION empowered ANYBODY, then WOMEN would RULE THE WORLD but it DOESN'T, MONEY DOES. And WOMEN DON'T HAVE IT! I am so sick of hearing the same old bullshit, women have PASSION. Of COURSE they do but what GOOD DOES IT DO THEM? They have no REAL POWER because MEN HAVE IT ALL.