Last night my friend Katie and I went to hear Anne-Marie Slaughter talk at Sixth & I here in DC. You may have heard of Slaughter because of the wild popularity of her 2012 article in the Atlantic, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, a title she now regrets, as you can tell from the quote above.
As I’ve argued here on this blog, the conversation about women finding “balance” has gotten stale. Actually, scratch that — it’s not just that it’s “gotten stale,” it’s that it was flawed and actually misogynistic from the start, because it presumes it’s women’s job alone to “balance” work and family.
As Slaughter argued last night —and also, presumably, as she argues in her new book, Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family, which I just started reading — we are way overdue for a major reframing of gender roles as it relates to both paid work and the unpaid but nevertheless essential work of caregiving (parenting, as well as caring for aging parents or other loved ones who are ill).
This isn’t just about empowering women or breaking the glass ceiling. It’s about reevaluating gender norms and expectations on both sides, and focusing on creating true equality at work and at home. It’s about recognizing that women and men are both equally capable of doing both paid work AND taking care of the house and the kids, and any aging family members.
The result? More women in the workplace, and more women in traditional power roles, to be sure — but also, true equality in parenting. That means letting go of the idea that a mother’s love is more special or powerful or important than a father’s. It means that when parents disagree about something, we don’t always default to assuming mom is right. Because, she isn’t.
I appreciated Slaughter pointing this out, because I’ve observed that in so many families, dads seem to basically take direction from mom, even if both parents also work outside the home. Of course, since the job of “balancing” “it all” has traditionally fallen squarely on women’s shoulders, it’s no wonder that this is how the power dynamic has shaped up in so many homes.
But if we raise our sons and daughters to believe that they are equally capable AND responsible when it comes not only to earning a living but also providing care, AND if we create policies that make it possible for both genders to perform both of these roles… then over time, we just might change the culture.
Slaughter argues that this culture change isn’t just important for feel-good, soft reasons; it’s essential to making the U.S. competitive. Things are broken. The workforce is hemorrhaging talent.
This is so similar to what I’ve been saying lately, which is that our culture asks us to balance til we break.
I hope you’ll join me, and Slaughter, and so many others in helping to move the conversation away from “having it all” to… well, creating an alternative narrative, just as the tag line of this site suggests. Because alternative narratives lead to alternative worlds, where men’s and women’s fulfillment, and the importance of both work AND care, are equally valued and supported.