Having It All (or Not)

Originally posted on www.moderndaypearls.com.

For a week now, the internet has been abuzz about this piece Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote for The Atlantic explaining why women still can't "have it all."  It's part of a series the magazine is publishing on work-life balance - or rather the quest for it.  Slaughter's article is a lengthy read but worthwhile, especially for her honest battles between sacrificing professional for personal, and vice versa. 

While there are certainly many points to be discussed in a more personal forum, one of the aspects of Slaughter's article I most appreciated was her incitement of a modernized work structure that allows caregivers - men and women, for children and other relatives - the flexibility to excel in a professional setting while simultaneously being available for their families and even participate more fully in their communities.

Critics of the article are all over the map.  It's too feminist.  It's not feminist enough.  Slaughter doesn't explain exactly what "having it all" even means.  What about men?  I don't like the magazine cover.  Why is there a baby in the purse?  This issue is more important to lower-income women.  It more directly affects "career women" at the upper echelons in management positions.  ...et cetera.

Bryce Covert over at The Nation argues that we should stop blaming the individual and start confronting the discrimination women continue to face.  While I will be among the first to recognize that in some cases, women do tougher obstacles than their male counterparts, I have a difficult time continuing to use the "it's not us, it's men" argument for issues that in reality affect all of us.  Covert writes, "Women have to overachieve just to reach par with men.  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."  I enjoyed Covert's piece but disagree with her criticism.  While she doesn't blatantly term "not having it all" discrimination, Slaughter is explicit in her encouragement of different work structures and the need for systemic change in professional arenas, clearly indicating that the status quo of working 8 am - 5 pm+ (when flexible schedules, virtual workplaces, and teleworking are tried and true options) is not working.  I could make an argument that in many work cultures, age discrimination forces younger employees to work twice as hard as mid-career professionals, and vice-versa, but my solution to those problems are again revamped work structures and not a label of discrimination.

Covert links to this report (slightly annoyingly titled "Men Rule Report") out of American University which identifies the seven most common factors affecting women's underrepresentation in the American political sphere.  Among them:

  • Women are substantially more likely than men to perceive the electoral environment as highly competitive and biased against female candidates
  • Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin's candidacies aggravated women's perceptions of gender bias in the electoral arena
  • Women are much less likely than men to think they are qualified to run for office
  • Female potential candidates are less competitive, less confident, and more risk averse than their male counterparts
  • Women react more negatively than men to many aspects of modern campaigns
  • Women are less likely than men to receive the suggestion to run for office - from anyone
  • Women are still responsible for the majority of childcare and household tasks

What?!  We aren't being elected to office because someone hasn't suggested it to us?  Because we aren't confident?  Because we don't like competition?  Because we react more negatively than men to modern political campaigns?

These seven points are just another example of blaming the system and not motivating ourselves.  Sarah Palin shouldn't aggravate our perception of gender bias, but her selection as VP candidate should have aggravated our opinion of John McCain and his political strategists.  We shouldn't seek validation from others when we are perfectly capable of being confident in our own abilities and the skills we bring to leadership positions.  Instead of blaming men or complaining about discriminatory actions that have happened in the past and are perpetuated in the present, we should be focused on how to make the system work for men and women who want to have children or free time or lives away from work while at the same time the opportunity to achieve their career goals.  Is that really too much to ask?

What does "having it all" mean to you?  Why do you think women are underrepresented in politics and on corporate boards?

Photo Attribution:  By United States Department of State (Department of State) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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