The magazine’s July/August cover story, published last week, was written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, a 53-year-old former State Department official and mother of two who asks how one can hold down a demanding, high-stress job while raising a family. It’s a worry that plagues women in high-powered careers, for whom work is often an option or obsession, not an obligation. Her conclusion is that the privileged subset of working American women might not achieve the balance they yearn for unless they push for changes in society.
Despite her call to action, women have yet to bring out the tents. Zuccotti Park is still vacant and awaiting its next tenants.
Instead, the masses took to Facebook and Twitter, starting a digital conversation about the difficulties of balancing work and family. A range of reactions followed.
“I think I wrote, ‘If Anne-Marie Slaughter, the woman who wrote ‘A New World Order,’ is telling me I can’t have it all, that’s just depressing,” said Emily Sandler, 25, a nonprofit fundraiser from Redondo Beach, Calif., who shared the piece on Facebook. “If it can’t work for her, how will it ever work for us lesser mortals?”
“It scared me, but men should be scared, too, because work-life balance is a human problem, not just a woman problem,” said Veronica Percia, 27, a lawyer in Boston.
Even men joined the chatter. Richard Gurley, 33, a managing director at a health-care start-up in the District, e-mailed it to his fiancee. “What was most interesting to me was the conversation it was generating in a public way,” he said. “It didn’t seem like anything she said was new, but she said it very publicly.”
According to Atlantic spokeswoman Natalie Raabe, the piece has attracted nearly 725,000 readers to the Atlantic’s Web site, and by Sunday it had been recommended on Facebook 119,000 times, making it the most “liked” Atlantic piece ever.
In an age of unemployment, global debt crises and sky-high college debt, a public debate over how elites can find fulfillment in career and home might seem quaint, even a bit self-absorbed, like an “Eat, Pray, Love” for the Davos set. But the article’s impact and nuances have resonated among both men and women.
“I knew it would strike a chord, because I teach younger women and every time I’ve given a preview of the piece, women have said ‘I’m so glad you’re writing it,’ ” Slaughter said. “But hundreds of thousands? I didn’t think it would bring about a symphony overnight.”
And that symphony, or cacophony if one includes the dissenters, has posed further questions surrounding that elusive phrase “it all”: Didn’t we almost have it all? Just how much can we have? And how guilty should we feel that most Americans have none of it?