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More Reasons Women Still Can’t Have It All: A Reflection on Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Article

Updated on June 27, 2012

Anne Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic cover article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, sparked considerable debate, ignited anger, and struck a deep chord with many professional women who, trying to juggle their careers and families, are feeling overwhelmed and disappointed at the obstacles they are still facing.

I am one of those women. Just about every word of Anne Marie Slaughter’s article resonated with me. I know I’m lucky. I have been afforded opportunities that women a generation ago had to fight hard for - going to college and graduate school and having equal opportunities in the the workplace. And, I know that I am lucky to have a choice to work part-time so I can spend more time with my children, something many American parents can only dream of.

But, something’s not working. Women are feeling torn and disappointed, and are not succeeding in the ways they had hoped both in their careers and as mothers. Having a powerful, successful women express that struggle so eloquently and publicly is validating and refreshing.

Ms. Slaughter outlines possible reasons for and solutions to addressing the challenges many women face today as they try to balance work and family life. I think there are some additional societal reasons that women are having a hard time finding fulfillment.

What is Making it Difficult for Women to Feel Professionally and Personally Fulfilled?

A lot has changed in the last 50 years. Amazing changes have allowed women to be more equal members of society and to have more opportunities than their predecessors ever dreamed.

At the same time, other changes are making parenting more difficult. Now women are working outside the home (thank you feminist movement!), but they are also still primarily in charge of caretaking and managing the household, only in a more difficult climate.

(1) Extended Families Are More Dispersed

Fifty years ago, families were much more likely to live nearby. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins often lived in the same neighborhoods, offering needed support. With the introduction of affordable air travel, American families have become more dispersed and often adults live far away from their relatives.

What this means for working women (who also bear the brunt of childcare and household duties) is that family isn’t often around to help. Even for those who are lucky to have family nearby, the other family members are more likely to work as well. So, while women have joined the workforce, women are being saddled with a greater, individual burden when it comes to childcare and taking care of the household.

(2) People Are Working Longer Hours

Professional men and women alike are being expected to work longer hours and be more available. With smartphones, email, and texting, workers can be accessed at all hours of the day. This means that “leisure” time (or time to get laundry done) has also diminished. In households where the man’s job is considered more critical (often financially), women are often juggling their own jobs with getting their kids ready for school, out the door, picked up, and put to sleep, while their partners work extra hours to get ahead in their jobs.

Society Hasn’t Caught Up

Feminism made great strides in advancing opportunities of women. The feminist movement was (and is) necessary to make sure that women have equal footing with men.

The problem is that society hasn’t caught up.

Our country’s policies and structures are stuck in a world in which one parent stayed home to take care of the kids and house. School schedules don’t match work schedules and the workplace has not adapted to the need for more flexibility, even with technological advances that would make that more possible. What’s more, our maternity (and paternity) leave policies are abysmal (matched only by Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland), daycare is expensive and sometimes difficult to get to, and universal preschool has little support. Improving these types of programs could support a more family-focused culture.

What's Next: Working Towards Having It All

There is still a lot of work to be done to support women, and all parents, as they strive to succeed in their personal and professional lives. Anne Marie Slaughter’s article provides an opening for frank discussions about the challenges and potential solutions to moving towards a society in which women and men have real choices and can be happy, productive members of the workforce, even as they care for their families.


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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Twoseven: I agree. While technology has many wonderful benefits, it has made work encroach on all aspects of our lives.

      ib radmasters: Very interesting take. It is sad that looks are so important in advancing in the world. The same is true for men, perhaps not to the same extent. But good looking, and tall, people in general seem to have unfair advantages. While I think that your point is valid, I would also say that the onus is on both women and men to make this in how women are viewed. And, I think a lot HAS changed, whereby women's intelligence and capability are given much more weight than used to be the case.

    • ib radmasters profile image

      ib radmasters 5 years ago from Southern California

      Until women disapprove of the use of sex and looks as a means of personal prosperity, it can never be equal in the business world.

      Beauty contest in all forms are still very popular today on TV. Strip clubs, nude women clubs, and prostitution are still rampant today.

      Along with sexual harassment of women today, there is also favoritism for the more attractive ones.

      So women as a whole comprising these positive and negative limits on professionalism is confusing.

      Women can't wiggle for their benefits, and then at the same time balk about their challenges in the business world.

      I think one of the worst examples of that is the TV show Jeopardy.

      To actually pay Vanna White to walk up an down the board is sad. There is only one reason why she is there, and it is not to turn the electronic letters.

      my opinion......

    • twoseven profile image

      twoseven 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Excellent points! I really think the fact that people are expected to be accessible at all hours (as you point out) is a huge problem - not only does it creep into at home time, it makes it harder to really focus on your family when you are home, which makes it harder to have real, rewarding quality time.

    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 5 years ago from MA

      Thanks everyone for your response. I think the article touched on so many facets of this issue. The expectations placed on women today by their predecessors, parents, peers, and themselves (perhaps the most!) make it hard for women to feel satisfied.

      @cclitgirl: I hear you. And, on the flip side, people do all sorts of things to make it work for them. I hope you can find a way to have both if that's what you want!

      @Lynda G: I agree that the answer is in policy change, as well as shifts in how society views family and the role of parents in raising their children.

    • profile image

      Lynda G 5 years ago

      Thank you for your insights. Anne Slaughter was brave to come forward and reopen a dialogue. Policy must be improved in this country to provide woman and men maternity leave and flexibility to support and nurture their families. I was surprised to hear of the support other countries provide parents when a child is born. Children are the future and society needs to make them a priority.

    • Deborah Demander profile image

      Deborah Demander 5 years ago from First Wyoming, then THE WORLD

      Well written article. You point out some very important facts. Thanks for writing.


    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 5 years ago from Western NC

      What you wrote here also resonates. I personally have put off having children because I fear not having the time to put toward my career. Sometimes I feel like I will never have enough time for a family and it would kill me to be away from my kiddos if I was working all the time. Catch-22, I suppose. Thanks for your insights here.

    • Johnkadu123 profile image

      Johnkadu123 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      Thanks for the hub. Women are the bedrock of the economy because they ultimately determine how the children are going to turn out. In my opinion the pressures on them became even harsher once a semblance of equality was achieved. For example they are not expected in many cases to be both the breadwinners and the managers of the home. Single mothers are looked down upon as an indicator of social deprivation when in fact they are the sensible ones in relationships where the father has chosen to give up his responsibilities.

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 5 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Ms. Slaughter's article was remarkable and insightful. Working women have many more opportunities but still many significant challenges. Hopefully the dialogue this article has sparked will help many others and create more opportunities. Great Hub, Laura.

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 5 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

      Awesome article about the changing times and how women still have dual roles. I think that is one key anyway. Society has not caught up because men are not considered as the ones to do domestic upkeep. Sharing this one!