Former State Department official Anne Marie Slaughter set off a huge national conversation when she wrote an article in the recent issue of The Atlantic in which she questioned whether working women can indeed balance their careers with family life. Ms. Slaughter concludes that women really can’t have it all, and if they try, they risk their physical and mental health, their careers and perhaps even their relationship with their husbands and children.
Being a mother and a professional women has always been a balancing act and one that feminists have touted as doable and necessary if women are to be truly liberated and equal to men. But as Slaughter shows, the price that is paid by women who try to have it all can be overwhelming; so many things have to go right – an equal marriage partnership, an understanding boss, herculean strength and organizational skills, and perhaps most of all children who roll with the punches if mom is not there for them at every baseball game or dance lesson. Then there is the guilt to overcome by the having it all mom as she tries to create the proper balance only to find that her life is off kilter.
Slaughter admits that she is fortunate to have all the right components in place to have it all ( except perhaps the guilt), but she is not the norm and she knows too many women who desperately try to create the proper balance only to think they have failed, when in fact they tap into superhuman strength every working day.
It is not easy for women in today’s economy to opt out of the job market when they have professional ambitions and when the second income is a lifeline to financial stability. But Slaughter has done a favor to American women by writing her thoughts and starting this conversation. What she has done is nothing less than send a clear message to men, whether husbands or bosses, that home life and the workplace need to change so that women can indeed have it all.
The avalanche of responses to the Slaughter article points to the fact that the work/motherhood ideal of the modern woman is fraught with unrealistic expectations, unfair career requirements and unobtainable life goals. Some women can have it all and are succeeding in this precarious balancing act, but far too many are struggling and eventually losing the battle to have it all.