Here we go again. Another day. Another controversial headline on parenting riling everybody up.
Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece for The Atlantic is no puff piece aimed at selling magazines (although I’m sure it has). It is a six-page essay from the former Policy Director of the State Department on the impossibility of pursuing a demanding career and parenthood at the same time. I found it emotional but authoritative. I found it insightful and forward-thinking. More than that, I connected with it on a deeply personal level.
Remember I also left behind a career in D.C. - heck, I even wrote something with a similar title. Of course, let’s not fool ourselves. I am no Anne-Marie Slaughter. I am not a tenured professor at Princeton. I teach part-time at a community college. I was not a higher up at the State Department. I was merely a legislative correspondent - about as low as you go on Capitol Hill.
However, I found myself nodding passionately while reading her piece and I left D.C. because I agree with her wholeheartedly. As a young female staffer, I saw the writing on the wall. Most of my bosses were men. One female boss was childless and the one who did have children eventually left to find a more flexible schedule. My friends in law firms fared little better working long hours and weekends.
I couldn’t do it. I had read The Feminine Mistake. I knew the economic and professional risk I was taking by stepping out of the workforce and leaving D.C. behind but I didn’t see any another option.
Of course, as she points out, this is only an issue for a select group of women. Most careers don’t require the type of 24/7 devotion of which Slaughter speaks. More importantly, for a huge number of women who work one (or more) hourly wage jobs it doesn’t really matter either way. Opting out is not even a choice. They work long and hard to feed their children. Period.
So, if what she is saying doesn’t apply to everyone, why does it matter at all? Because while I don’t believe in trickle down economics, I do believe in trickle down policy. If the people in power don’t include women and mothers, then the priorities and issues important to us will never be a part of the discussion. Of course, how do we get to the table if we’re forced to give up what we hold dear in order to pull up a chair?
Hopefully, we start having these discussions elsewhere in our everyday lives. We have them loudly. We have them often. We keep having them until things start to change. I think Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece starts us down that road and I’m thankful...controversial headline aside.
We’d love to start a discussion with all of you. What do you think? Is it possible to have it all?
~ Sarah Stewart Holland