One of the great pleasures of reading Unfinished Business, the new book by Anne-Marie Slaughter on the frenemy-style relationship between work and family, is to see, in close detail, what happens when a person really listens to her critics.
Slaughter’s book grew out of her 2012 Atlantic essay “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, but it’s much more than a long(er) version of that original essay. In the book, Slaughter’s diagnosis is sharper (“Perhaps the problem is not with women, but with work,” she writes) and her perspective is broader, with much more attention paid to men and working-class women. As Slaughter recently told Heidi Stevens of The Chicago Tribune, “I couldn't have written this book three years ago because I didn't believe then what I believe now.”
Throughout the book, Slaughter includes messages of feedback she got following her Atlantic piece, much of which was from men who said some variant of, “Hey, this isn’t working for me either. I want to be a more involved dad but my work isn’t supportive.” At first, she writes, her “knee-jerk reaction was to be skeptical.” But that didn’t last, and the result is one of the strongest sections of the book, in which she writes:
Men need a movement of their own. Most of the pervasive gender inequalities in our society—for both men and women—cannot be fixed unless men have the same range of choices with respect to mixing caregiving and breadwinning that women do. To make those choices real, however, men will have to be respected and rewarded for making them: for choosing to be a lead parent; to defer a promotion or work part-time or spend more time with their children, their parents, or other loved ones; to take paternity leave or to ask for flexible work hours; to reject a culture of workaholism and relentless face time.
Hearing from men helped Slaughter to write that passage. She listened, and the book and her readers are better off for it.
I spoke with Slaughter recently about how she’s thinking about these issues today and how she’s changed. Our conversation is captured in the video below.