Someone [at The Atlantic] doesn't like us, except when we're agonizingly single, or home with our babies, or killing off men's careers. Someone there got stuck on some 1980s Time magazine misinterpretation of feminism as exhorting us all to be "career women" (does anyone really use that term?) in shoulder pads and sad little bowties, leaving our babies home alone, refrigerator open, to fend for themselves while we try to Have It All and Reach The Top.
Rebecca Traister at Salon has a more far-reaching reaction to the provocative cover: "We should immediately strike the phrase 'have it all' from the feminist lexicon and never, ever use it again." The phrase "is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the 'have it all' formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it's feminism--as opposed to persistent gender inequity--that's to blame."
Meanwhile, Mother Jones's Kevin Drum adds his two cents while summarizing the spirit of the reaction: "I agree with the near-universal consensus that (a) the title of the piece is grating, (b) the framing of the piece is grating, (c) the cover photo is grating, but (d) the substance of the piece is worthwhile."
Not Feminist Enough
"Women have to overachieve just to reach par with men," writes Bryce Covert at The Nation. "They are also penalized for having families in ways that men are not. What this adds up to is discrimination, pure and simple. Yet Slaughter shies away from calling out the political and corporate structures that keep women out."
Lauren Sandler at Slate
would also liked to have heard more of a feminist call to arms. Instead, she feels Slaughter winds up blaming feminism for holding out a false promise. Slaughter, Sandler points out, "has done meaningful work, raised her children, and helped to shape a conversation about how we could better live. Princeton, the State Department, a marriage, motherhood, and a crucial cover piece like this one in the Atlantic--man, what she's done within the limitations of the 24-hour day. I wish she'd more boldly encourage the rest of us to do the same."
The Sandberg-Slaughter Divide
It's hard to talk about this topic and not bring up Sheryl Sandberg. Accordingly, Sandberg gets a big place in Slaughter's story. The New York Times
offers a summary of the difference between Slaughter's take on the issue of women at the top and Sandberg's, which focuses on getting women to stop sabotaging themselves--to reach for ever-higher opportunities instead of shrinking back in anticipation of future child-bearing.
What About Men? And What About Syria?
Joshua Gans at Forbes finds Slaughter's piece spot-on, and discusses his own challenges trying to square his academic career with being a father. He offers a few suggestions for "broader changes" in the workplace. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat takes a different lesson from men's similar conundrum in their careers: that no one has ever "had it all."
Did the male breadwinners of yore, with their wives and kids waiting at home after a long day at the factory or the office, "have it all" in anything like the sense that today's wistful working mothers seem to mean by the phrase? No, they did not: Most of them worked longer hours and spent less time with their families than today's ideals of fatherhood would permit; many of them no doubt retired and died wishing that it could have been otherwise.
Nothing will take our hard choices away, says Douthat, though "our politics and our culture can make these choices easier."
Finally, The Washington Post's story on this ends with an anecdote putting the "demographic" argument as well as the feminist one into perspective. Slaughter, the Post recalls, has a day job, and it's not writing provocative cover stories on the modern woman:
Slaughter is well aware of her demographic, but she's also hyperaware that her elite, sympathetic audience, one that champions global issues of vast importance in boardrooms and courthouses by day, "liked" her article on "having it all" more than they've shared stories on Syrian bloodshed, the Dream Act or poverty in America.
"At one point, I tweeted, 'Why can't I make people this passionate about foreign policy?' Slaughter said, laughing.
The story, by Princeton University professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, had a deeply personal side: Dr. Slaughter wrote of becoming the State Department's Director of Policy Planning in 2009. Used to having control of her schedule as an academic, Slaughter wrote that "the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), [...] I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be." She left the job after two years. It is time, Slaughter says, for us to acknowledge the conflict between personal and professional life, for parents to admit plainly when they are leaving work to pick up their kids, and for workplaces to use technology to bring their schedules into the twenty-first century. It's time for women to stop blaming themselves when they can't do "it all."
In the ensuing maelstrom, it's clear that there is plenty of area for agreement and disagreement. The Washington Post has a good summary of reader reaction. "Professional women of all types--bankers and lawyers and bureaucrats--are taking to the Internet to freak out, or at the very least, ponder the dreaded third rail of feminism, thanks to a viral story in the Atlantic that dredged up the classic, woman-baiting query," the Post's Katherine Boyle writes. The response "has posed further questions surrounding that elusive phrase 'it all': Didn't we almost have it all? Just how much can we have? And how guilty should we feel that most Americans have none of it?"