The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It's not possible to "have it all." It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.
MUST SOCIETY CHANGE?
Slaughter calls for changing the workplace culture to eliminate "the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, the insistence that work be done in the office." While I join her in wishing for that evolution, I don't see how it's possible.
All things being equal, those willing to put 90 hours a week into their careers are going to get ahead of those willing to put in 60, much less 40. While there is any number of studies showing that working too many hours is actually counterproductive from an efficiency standpoint, there nonetheless is a rare breed of cat who can keep up a frenetic work schedule for years on end. And those workaholics are simply more valuable to the company, agency, or organization than those who clock out at 5. That means that those of us who choose to prioritize our children are going to get out-hustled by those without children, or those willing to let their children spend longer hours with a partner or childcare provider.
Slaughter writes, "Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family." Again, I fully agree in principle. In practice, however, it's easier said than done. Could Slaughter have done her job at State in 40 hours a week? In 60? It's hard to see how. Aside from the pressures put on her by bosses who worked absurd hours, there's just not enough time for all the reading and writing, the constant travel, and the real work that gets done at after-hours dinners and cocktail parties.
Indeed, she admits as much, though she points to institutions -- such as the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office -- that are embracing modern technologies and allowing their employees to do more of their work outside the office.
NOT A 'WOMEN'S PROBLEM', BUT OUR PROBLEM
But the most intriguing part of Slaughter's article is the conclusion, in which she argues that, even more than changing workplace culture, we must rethink our attitudes about the career arc. Given longer lifespans and the tendency to postpone marriage and childbirth, it no longer makes sense for women to get on the work treadmill and keep going. Rather, she writes, they should achieve plateaus, take breaks for children, and then continue their ascents.
But why wouldn't it make sense for men to do the same thing? Obviously, we haven't repealed biology; until we do, women are going to continue to do one hundred percent of the childbearing. And to the extent that nursing is advantageous over formula feeding, women will continue to have a unique role in that department, too. Still, there's no reason men can't take breaks in their careers -- even just dialing it back a few notches and working from home -- while their wives get back into career mode.
Amusingly, many of the examples Slaughter gives of family-friendly workplace innovations were introduced by men, like Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. These men are facing essentially the same sorts of choices that Slaughter continues to insist are unique to women.
I'm less optimistic than Slaughter that we'll ever create a culture that values family time as much as work time -- much less one where those who run our government and businesses will do so. But we'll come much closer if we stop looking at this as a "women's problem" and instead see it as a societal problem.