Can Women Have it All?

The question is posed in a controversial Atlantic article which explores work-life balance amongst women.


The Atlantic magazine cover article "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" is making waves amongst women, feminists, and professionals by asking the ever-controversial question: "Can women have it all?"

The article, written by Anne-Marie Slaughter, an international affairs professor at Princeton, former director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department, and former dean of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, discusses her experience as a professional woman who constantly felt pulled in two different directions trying to achieve the ever-elusive "work-life balance."  A mother of two sons, Slaughter ultimately made the decision that having only weekends at home with her family was not enough, and left her post at the State Department in Washington, D.C., to return full-time to Trenton, N.J., where her family lives.

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She details the smugness, "the woman smiling the faintly superior smile," she felt early in her career where she felt fully confident in her ability to excel in her career and be there for her family. Yet after her teenage son began experiencing difficulties at home and at school, she realized her absence was no longer the best option for her or her family:

In short, the minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else's schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence.

After detailing her experience, she lays out several ways in which American culture must change in order to make "having it all" a possibility for professional mothers. She discusses how the culture of time—staying late at the office, working weekends—must be adapted to accommodate working parents (mothers and fathers) so they can work from home when necessary. Workplaces must also consider time spent with children or fulfilling family obligations with equal respect as time spent on other outside activities—like marathon training, or religious observances.

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Slaughter also says "enlisting men" is key to the success of professional mothers, and that many more Generation Y men actively think about how they will achieve work-life balance themselves because they were raised by working mothers, and "they understand 'supporting their families' to mean more than earning money."

In her critical response to the article, Salon columnist Rebecca Traister asks an important question:  What does "have it all" even mean?

Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?

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Traister suggests that even posing the question is a trap for women and the feminist cause, because it creates such a narrow perception of female achievement. Even presenting  "having it all" as a possibility sets the bar impossibly high, she says, and when women fail to meet it, it is feminism that's to blame, rather than "persistent gender inequity."

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