The 'Having It All' Debate Convinced Me to Stop Saying 'Having It All'

The author of The Atlantic's explosive cover story shares what she's learned from the discussion


VIDEO: Anne-Marie Slaughter discusses her story with Katie Couric at the Aspen Ideas Festival

For everyone out there who cares about gender equality, work-family balance, or however else we choose to frame the complex debate that my article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" has (re)ignited, let's start by agreeing on one thing: Let's ban the term "mommy wars" forever. A more patronizing, trivializing label would be hard to find. So let us all commit to never, ever use "mommy" as an adjective. No "mommy wars" and no "mommy track." And while we're at it, let's also abandon "catfight" in favor of "debate, conversation, engagement with an important issue."

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And when I can look up from the insanity that my life has just become (Hanna Rosin said presciently, "You are going to be the woman who left the State Department to have more time with her sons and then wrote an article about it that ensures you will never see them again"), what I see makes me smile: a vibrant and eloquent conversation/debate/collective brainstorm among so many incredibly smart, educated, thoughtful, empowered women with valuable opinions that they are not afraid to express.

That conversation, which is exactly what I wrote the article to launch, is so rich and multi-dimensional that it is nearly impossible to "respond" only 10 days later when I have barely had time to read the terrific pieces published on this site, much less the 50 or so other articles, op-ed pieces, blog posts, and TV and radio discussions that have already emerged in response, both in the U.S. and all around the world, from Brazil to Vietnam. Going through my Twitter feed alone would take a morning. 

To give you only one example, Rebecca Traister has convinced me to stop using the term "having it all," in a thoughtful and quite brilliant piece she wrote for Salon arguing that the term makes women seem "piggy" and elitist. For my generation, women who came of age in the 1970s and entered the workforce in the 1980s, "having it all" simply meant that women should be able to have both careers and families in the same measure and to the same degree that men do.

But I now see that thirty years later, when so many Americans have so little and so many men appear to be dissatisfied with their lot (judging by the number of responses that essentially say "men don't have it all either," a better and more accurate title for my article would have been Why Working Mothers Need Better Choices to Be Able to Stay in the Pool and Make It to the Top. (Not sure that would have been catchy enough to motivate over a million readers to read and debate it, however.)

So let's find a better way to talk about these issues that will produce the honesty I believe we need and still encourage women and men to stay in the game and push for change. When I asked Rebecca Traister what hashtag she would suggest as an alternative to #havingitall, she came back with: #StumblingTowardParity,‬ #PushingForBetter,‬ #StillWorkingOnIt,‬ #GuysThisIsYourProblemToo,‬ #DemandingMoreForMoreOfUs,‬ #Feminism‬.

Terri Givens, who describes herself on Twitter as "Soccer Mom, Activist, Professor, Athlete. Fighter for women's rights, racial equality," says how about #havingalife? And indeed some of the best responses to my piece, on this site from Kate Bolick and in the New York Times from Anand Giridharadas, point out that perhaps the deeper reason this article has resonated so deeply and widely is, in Bolick's words, that " seeking out a more balanced life isn't just a women's issue, it's a human issue, and we'd all -- men and women -- be a lot better off if we addressed (or at least legislated) the issue that way."

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Anne-Marie Slaughter is the president of the New America Foundation and the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University. She was previously the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department and the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. More

From 2009-2011, Slaughter served as Director of Policy Planning for the United States Department of State, the first woman to hold that position. After leaving the State Department, she received the Secretary's Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor conferred by the State Department, for her work leading the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review. She also received a Meritorious Honor Award from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). 

Prior to her government service, Slaughter was the dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs from 2002-2009. She has written or edited six books, including A New World Order (2004) and The Idea That Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World (2007). From 1994-2002, Slaughter was the J. Sinclair Armstrong Professor of International, Foreign, and Comparative Law and director of the International Legal Studies Program at Harvard Law School. She received a B.A. from Princeton, an M.Phil and D.Phil in international relations from Oxford, where she was a Daniel M. Sachs Scholar, and a J.D. from Harvard.

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