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