A 'Very Hostile' Response to Anne-Marie Slaughter

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Someone with a long history in international relations surely should have a better feel for a hostile attack when it comes along

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In her reply post to all the ink spilled over the Having It All piece, author Anne-Marie Slaughter says, "It is very striking that two very hostile attacks on my piece, by Linda Hirshman on this site and Katie Roiphe in the Financial Times, are both from women who are themselves academics and thus who have precisely the ability to manage their own schedules that made it possible for me to juggle work and family all the way up through a deanship and again today."="#axzz1zqjbn79b">

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I fully own up to criticizing Slaughter for her invocation of sociobiology to fuel her female-centered analysis of the workplace, and to citing the obvious counterexamples to any kind of naturalistic reductionism -- Hillary, Sheryl Sandberg, etc., etc. Maybe in some feminine paradise of universal love and waffle breakfasts, arguments against sociobiology are considered "hostile." I am so old-fashioned, I just considered it an argument. You know, unfalsifiable, contested by experts in the field, inconsistent with the existence of members of the natural kind who don't display the behavior -- that kind of argument.

Slaughter responds to my argument not by counterargument but by invoking what she thinks is my private biography. Although mixing argument and autobiography, and its sister, dinner party anecdotes, is apparently de rigeur in the mommy wars (and doing it only confirms why they're called mommy wars and not social policy debates), collapsing argument into biography is not a mistake one would expect from a lauded academic. Why would an argument be less legitimate coming from someone who makes her living teaching college (assuming that were what I do)? Just to make the obvious reductio argument, Karl Marx lived in a capitalist economy and was supported by a rich patron; was it "very striking" that he criticized capitalism? Elizabeth Cady Stanton was embedded in a nineteenth century reproductive family; was it "very striking" that she criticized the nineteenth century heterosexual reproductive family? Martin Luther was a Catholic monk. Does that make Protestantism meaningless?

Since the move to biography is so dubious, it should not be necessary to say anything further. Even if you're not a famous scholar, if you're going to invoke someone's biography, maybe you should, you know, Google them first? And find out that they did most of their childrearing while practicing union side labor law full time. Including representing clients in the Supreme Court of the United States three times. A simple email to me would have elicited the information that during my daughter's third year on earth I billed (not worked, billed) 2200 hours. And I loved every minute of it, trying to make working men and women's lives a little better, staving off the Dickensian scene Slaughter describes for people who, unlike her, really had no alternatives. It wasn't childrearing that drove me into the Academy. It was Ronald Reagan's prescient attack on the Air Traffic Controllers and the end of labor as a movement.

In contrast to my "very hostile attack," Slaughter calls Rebecca Traister's piece "brilliant and thoughtful." Just in case anyone has forgotten Traister's inimitable prose, here's how she closes:

A document like Slaughter's offers a valuable testament to these remaining challenges. But its presentation as a deadening diagnosis of insurmountability is antifeminist, anti-woman, cheap and reactionary. And that sucks. It sucks for all of us, who are so very busy - not aiming for complete satisfaction or amassing everything our hearts might desire - but busy working and living and getting by and fighting to pry open more doors so that more women might enjoy more kinds of opportunities than have been available to those who came before.

Now I am not opposed to everyone singing Kumbaya and all, but someone with a long history in international relations surely should have a better feel for a hostile attack when it comes along.

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Linda Hirshman is the author of Victory: The Triumphant Gay Revolution.

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