“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was the provocative title of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article for The Atlantic last summer. With her autobiographical piece, Slaughter joined the growing chorus of commentators who have decided that women who want to be mothers while still pursuing challenging, high-profile careers face challenges unique enough to merit lengthy and repetitive discourse.
In the piece, Slaughter wrote about the glittering world she inhabited as a policy director at the State Department, but noted that, even as she sipped champagne and rubbed shoulders with foreign dignitaries, “I could not stop thinking about my 14-year-old son, who had started eighth grade three weeks earlier.”
It was moments such as this one that prompted Slaughter to leave her government post to spend more time with her family. Locally, we recently saw a similar choice, as Otsego County Economic Developer Carolyn Lewis stepped aside after more than a decade in her post.
Let’s make one thing clear: I have no quarrel with these women’s decisions. Decisions about parenting and career are deeply personal ones for which there is no obvious template. Each family must negotiate its own unique needs, taking into consideration a staggering array of variables. No longer simply a question of who the chief wage earner is, work-life balance is today informed by questions such as access to day care, health insurance, travel to and from work, and potential career trajectories.
But that’s exactly my problem with articles like Slaughter’s. The supposition that this is a uniquely female problem does a huge disservice to parents of both genders.
First of all, portraying this as a women’s issue gives the still-predominantly-male power structure a really good excuse for ignoring it. Less than a quarter of the members of Congress are women; the percentage of women executives at top Fortune 500 companies is even smaller. So decisions about wages, about paid time off and family leave, about child care, are still being made by men. And if we keep telling these men that this is a women’s issue — well, then, it’s not really their problem, is it?