I read this article on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in The Atlantic last night in bed. Then I could not fall asleep.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, a professor at Princeton University, found out she could not have a dream career and family when she went to work for the State Department and had to juggle her two teenage sons. She returned home after two years. Here is an excerpt:
I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).
I’ve been lied to by women in their 50s! I’m married but I don’t have children, but I had considered it possible to have children and continue to pursue my career, thanks to women leaders around me with families.
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Slaughter’s article is honest, thought provoking and provides some not-very-satisfying solutions at the end. It is a mild critique of Sheryl Sandberg, the Facebook chief operating officer who said in a commencement speech at Barnard College women shouldn’t give up before trying. Here’s an excerpt of Sandberg’s speech:
Women almost never make one decision to leave the workforce. It doesn’t happen that way. They make small little decisions along the way that eventually lead them there. Maybe it’s the last year of med school when they say, I’ll take a slightly less interesting specialty because I’m going to want more balance one day. Maybe it’s the fifth year in a law firm when they say, I’m not even sure I should go for partner, because I know I’m going to want kids eventually.
Here is a a video of Sandberg’s speech. I confess that I love this video.
Back to The Atlantic. Slaughter says the problem is that most women in top leadership positions, like Sandberg, are superwomen.
The same has been said of people of color who rise to top leadership positions, like Gary Locke or Barack Obama — they’re superhuman, so they don’t count. Real progress is when total slackers float into positions of power because of their status in society.
I was told repeatedly by my father growing up was that you have to work twice as hard to get to where you want to go because you’re not white. We were models of the Puritan work ethic. One Christmas morning my mom told us to clean the house before we could open our presents.
As I type this, I am standing at my kitchen counter dutifully posting a blog post at 7:35 a.m. I would really prefer to work half as hard and get what I want.
In other words, I want to be George W. Bush.