The Conversation

Responses and reverberations

In Canada, couples with a baby may sequence six-month leaves of absence at up to 90 percent pay. In the Netherlands—the best scenario I have seen yet—families can take a day off each week, and the government subsidizes full-time day care. This solution was not framed as a “women’s issue,” but as a family benefit. And Dutch women have simply moved on, focusing on other interesting goals in their personal and family lives.

In America, by contrast, the Chamber of Commerce and other business interests lobby hard to keep politicians from ever proposing such solutions. They know that billions of dollars are made from hiring women at lower income levels than men, and then ensuring that a work-family conflict derails women’s careers before they become too expensive to compensate fairly.

Naomi Wolf
Excerpt from a New Europe blog post

While family life has been completely revolutionized by women’s entry into the workforce over the past half century, our economy hasn’t done the same …

While it’s become increasingly acceptable for women to work, it still hasn’t become acceptable for them to step back from motherhood. And that battle over what takes precedence plays out in women’s lives in harmful ways. Women are often putting in more hours than men: a recent survey of over 5,000 full-time professionals found that more than half of women work nine or more hours a day compared to just 41 percent of men, plus 11 percent of women work six to seven days a week while only 7 percent of men do. One would hope that as women dial up the time they spend working, they could dial down the time they spend on parenting and home labor by off-loading some of it to dad. Yet that’s not happening. Insure.com calculated that the value of what a father contributes to his household in labor, if paid at the going rate for outsourcing those tasks to someone else, would come to $20,248 this year—actually down since 10 years ago, adjusted for inflation. When it did the same analysis for what a mother contributes, it found [her work to be worth] $60,182.

Bryce Covert
Excerpt from a Forbes blog post

I knew early on that the workplace was not structured as I needed. When I was in my late 20s, I decided to stay home to raise my children. This was not an easy decision, and I often felt as if I had betrayed all of my feminist heroes. I actually canceled my subscription to Ms. magazine because I couldn’t take the derision routinely heaped on women who chose to stay home with their children. I returned to my career when my kids were in middle school, and finally reached what I really wanted this past year: I became a principal. If you looked at my career path, you would see many twists and turns, but I have no regrets. No career attainment could replace the years I spent with my children. Thank you, Ms. Slaughter, for having the courage to say what I recognized 30 years ago.

Georgia Becker
Milwaukee, Wis.

The Atlantic has made this 27-year-old woman depressed about her lot in life. First you tell me that my generation is at a permanent disadvantage from entering the workforce during the recession. Then it’s that there are no quality men for educated, ambitious women, and I should kiss my hopes for getting married goodbye. Now it’s that even if I can move ahead in my career and find a decent guy to marry, I’m going to be strung out and unfulfilled.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate Slaughter’s article. But I give up! I’m going to start a lady commune on a remote desert island where we can just drink rosé and lie in the sun. Why bother competing when the odds are so stacked against us?

chickpeaz
TheAtlantic.com comment

The thing that I ultimately know is that I can’t do everything I’m doing, well. I can just try and juggle. And everybody in my family pays a price for my job. Nobody in my family pays a price for my husband’s job.

Mika Brzezinski
MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Anne-Marie Slaughter, June 25


Anne-Marie Slaughter replies:

In an article on women in Washington, responding in part to my own article, National Journal observed that although women in the U.S. capital have come a long way, “they still face career barriers, and often the biggest one is having a family.”

That, in a nutshell, is why I wrote my article—to identify this problem and launch a conversation about it. It’s an empirical fact: having a family is a career barrier for women in a way that it is not for men. Notwithstanding the tremendous progress women have made, thanks to generations of feminist women and men, we need another round of deep social, economic, political, and cultural change to achieve real equality and to be able to draw on the full talents of both halves of our society. Stephanie Coontz and Bryce Covert highlight both the numbers and the attitudes that need to change.

As I wrote in a response at TheAtlantic.com, I agree with Rebecca Traister that the phrase having it all obscures and distorts this basic point, at least for this generation. As I tried to make clear in my article and countless times since, “having it all” for the women of my generation meant having the same things men have: a career and a family too. But in the era of the 1 percent and the 99 percent, in a time of desperate economic hardship for so many, the phrase itself has become a lightning rod for debates about privilege, perfectionism, and greed. The problem of inequality in the United States is huge and vital; it is a canker destroying our society and our values from the inside out. But I was writing about a different kind of inequality: persistent inequality between men and women, a problem that far too many people, particularly in elite circles, want to believe has been solved.

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