Why even in 2012 women still can’t balance professional aspirations and family responsibilities is the hot button subject of the current Atlantic cover story by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department. Despite all the legal and regulatory strides against discrimination during her lifetime, Slaughter writes, women still cannot find a perfect balance between demands of work and family.
Only a comparative handful of professional women at Slaughter’s level have cobbled together five-star careers via home/office trade-offs and dream co-parent support. Many of us know at least one women who has a big job, does it well and still manages to have a solid marriage and happy, well-adjusted kids. But we don’t know how she does it.
Most of the mothers who work outside the home survive with a patchwork of lucky career choices, enterprising child-care solutions and enough drive and stamina to pull it all together when the school nurse calls.
Slaughter worked for two years in the demanding State Department job but in 2011 returned to her previous position teaching at Princeton. It turns out parenting undermines parity and women still can’t “have it all.”
(In fairness, neither can men, but, Slaughter notes, hewing to the male breadwinner model of the past century, fathers are much more likely than mothers to sacrifice time with their family to advance their careers.)
The Atlantic article has struck a deep societal chord and received a thundering response measured by online traffic, thousands of comments, media stories about and quotes from the piece, Facebook “likes,” and Twitter hashtags.
It’s no surprise to me that this post-feminist generation of superwomen with children now feel like they were sold a bill of goods. They came of age at a time when the legal and educational acknowledgement of women’s value had improved exponentially.
My generation of mothers and other feminists told them they were entitled to achieve, they worked mightily to succeed, and they grew into accomplished executives, policy experts and academics who collectively advanced gender politics in ways wondrous and noble. They created thousands of cracks in glass ceilings of corporate suites, university administrations and halls of government, and we are proud of them. But America was founded as a patriarchy, and it will take many more generations to recognize the full value of women as the country evolves to support them.
Yes, the advances for women come with a cost to family, but who really thought all that change could happen in so little time?
There is no question feminism has made progress, but, like its beneficiaries, Title IX is only 40 years old and the birth control pill is barely 50. I look forward to reading Slaughter, and today’s other brilliant models of brains, dedication and motherhood in the Atlantic when they write finally about the joys of grandparenting.
Meanwhile, each mother of daughters and sons makes compromises to be a parent at home and a professional at work. We do what women have always done: reconcile our expectations and set the table for the next generation.