Why Women still Can’t Have it all

I’m digesting this article in the Atlantic: “Why women still can’t have it all” by Anne-Marie Slaughter

It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power: the women who have managed to be both mothers and top professionals are superhuman, rich, or self-employed. If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.

The Half-truths we hold dear:

Myth 1: It’s possible if you’re committed enough.

Um, no.

Myth 2: It’s possible if you marry the right mate.

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.

In sum, having a supportive mate may well be a necessary condition if women are to have it all, but it is not sufficient. If women feel deeply that turning down a promotion that would involve more travel, for instance, is the right thing to do, then they will continue to do that. Ultimately, it is society that must change, coming to value choices to put family ahead of work just as much as those to put work ahead of family. If we really valued those choices, we would value the people who make them; if we valued the people who make them, we would do everything possible to hire and retain them; if we did everything possible to allow them to combine work and family equally over time, then the choices would get a lot easier.

Myth 3: It’s possible if you sequence it right.

This is the “women can have it all…just not all at once” myth. I suppose, this is also how I’m negotiating my personal career schedule. It used to be that women had their families earlier and were more available to begin their career by their early 40s, now not so much. And it’s more common for women now to have their kids in their 30s. I had mine when I was 27 and 30yo.

But the truth is, neither sequence is optimal, and both involve trade-offs that men do not have to make.

Then the author offers suggestions for how things should change such that it would be easier for women to stay in the workforce.

1 – Changing the Culture of Face Time

The culture of “time macho”—a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you—remains astonishingly prevalent among professionals today.

Slaughter talks about how technology can allow professionals (men and women) more flexibility with actual location. And that a culture of “family first” and valuing time management and prioritization creates a more balanced, healthier workforce. Not just for women, for everyone.

My husband and I essentially both work from home. Though, I go to campus from time to time in the summer and a couple days a week during the school year. It’s still not easy. And definitely much harder when kids are very young. But it is doable. The key is making boundaries for oneself in the home, too. It’s easy to get sucked into a constant buzz of work.

2 – Revaluing Family Values

Many people in positions of power seem to place a low value on child care in comparison with other outside activities.

…such as running a marathon, or religious practices. The implicit assumptions in society devalue childcare.

I have to wonder why this is? Is it because of its association with women? and women are devalued?

3 – Redefining the Arc of the successful career.

Along the way, women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years. I think of these plateaus as “investment intervals.”

I like this.

Whether women will really have the confidence to stair-step their careers, however, will again depend in part on perceptions. Slowing down the rate of promotions, taking time out periodically, pursuing an alternative path during crucial parenting or parent-care years—all have to become more visible and more noticeably accepted as a pause rather than an opt-out.

4 – Rediscovering the Pursuit of Happiness

what’s more happy: working by yourself in a dark, lonely office? or raising happy, kind, productive children to adulthood?


5 – Innovation Nation

Giving workers the ability to integrate their non-work lives with their work—whether they spend that time mothering or marathoning—will open the door to a much wider range of influences and ideas.

6 – Enlisting Men

More Gen X and Y men are looking for better family balance, too.

My husband is a huge champion of  “family first.” Over the years, he’s made many calculated decisions to not pursue certain opportunities (even as recently as last week) because of the toll it would take on our family. There are certain sacrifices he insists our kids should not have to make for the sake of a dollar amount so long as our needs are met. And we are less financially well off because of it. And our kids our better off because of it.

But this article really is about women, who at the end of the day still are at a greater disadvantage…

If women are ever to achieve real equality as leaders, then we have to stop accepting male behavior and male choices as the default and the ideal. We must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate ourchoices, too. We have the power to do it if we decide to, and we have many men standing beside us.

I thought this was a fantastic article. Really outlines well the problems and the needs of our society to change. Glad I took some time to summarize it here.

Dear Abby, Love Confused

I’m confused about my career. (Welcome to academia, please join every other graduate student on the bench.)

I have two areas of specialization right now: Who the Hell Cares is my primary field and Change the World is my secondary field. This is how they end up being caricatured in my brain. The answer to Who the Hell Cares is easy enough, I do. I’m sure it’s something every medievalist faces at some point. Change the World is seeing the most action right now. I’m presenting, researching, writing about Change the World. I’m not sure what’s happening with Change the World, it’s a crazy ride that I can’t quite control yet. I keep trying to set it aside so that I can focus on Who the Hell Cares, but like I said, I am currently being swept along on the current of Change the World, and I’m digging around in the boat for the oars. This topic is happening to me. It is not a topic that “I’m pursuing.” I’m starting to wonder what I’m supposed to do with it. Should I throw in all my energy and focus on Change the World?

The problem is, I actually really do love Who the Hell Cares. It’s been the focus of my work, interests, and energies for almost fifteen years. Unfortunately, my hiatus tripped up my momentum, and I’ve been trying to stand back up in this field ever since. I had hoped to regain my footing over this past year, but Change the World kept getting in the way. And now what I had hoped to be my dissertation topic probably won’t be a possibility, leaving me even more afloat. Who the Hell Cares has been my dream, has been what got me back into grad school. The faculty/advising situation in my department is a dream team for Who the Hell Cares; nonexistent for Change the World.

On the one hand, I shouldn’t have to panic about what to specialize in so early in my graduate career. On the other, I do. I need to get funding for things. I need to write a dissertation, get a job. It’s different for grad students these days–there’s not a lot of time for letting things simmer. I think of my dissertation as the opportunity to gain skills and begin networking my academic community. I’m more interested in making that investment into Who the Hell Cares.

Change the World is taking me so far outside of my comfort zone that i don’t even know what’s going on. And, to be honest, I think I’m more employable if Who the Hell Cares is my primary field, because I’ll be able to teach the canon, with Change the World providing some nice side show electives. If I were to specialize in Change the World, the kinds of places I could get a job may be places with hyper-specialized study centers.

So what do I write my dissertation on? And how do I tame the wild ride that is Change the World?


The other story I wanted to share from This American Life is the recently rebroadcast of a 2005 Father’s Day special, Go Ask Your Father.

The first major story is about a man named Lenny who finds out that he was conceived through artificial insemination when it was just in the earliest phases of development. Over the course of 20 years, an uncle’s secret revealed, and a DNA test, he finds out that he not the biological child of his father. His uncle most likely is his father. Lenny describes the difficult relationship he had with his father, how he was always being pushed, shamed, upbraided for not being a particular kind of person. Lenny walks the audience through the emotional stages of finding out about his true genetic identity later in life. This is the story. It was moving, interesting, provocative. As Ira Glass is signing off he mentions that “Lenny” is Lennard Davis and a professor at the University of Illinois. That’s it.

I happen to know that Lennard David is a Disability scholar and child of deaf parents. This father that he spent so much time talking about in the TAL episode is Deaf. All the interactions he describes in the episode are in sign language. In his memoir about growing up CODA (child of deaf adults), Davis talks about how his parents pushed him into the hearing world…not to be held back by the social disadvantage that being deaf in the 1950s brought them. The TAL episode doesn’t mention deafness at all. I even listened to it a second time to see if it had been intimated when I was paying as close attention. (The memoir Davis wrote about the experience does mention deafness.)

So many thoughts went through my head as I made the connection between Lenny of This American Life and Lennard Davis, the scholar and CODA. The story that aired would have had to have been so different. So many different shades of communication. Layers added to the complexity of the relationship between Davis and his father. Why wouldn’t he mention deaf in a story about his father? He’s very outspoken about his connection with the Deaf community now. Maybe it was merely to keep the story simpler…to keep the story line harnessed into one track without introducing another. Maybe it doesn’t always have to come out; one doesn’t always reveal that one is Jewish or Italian. But perhaps one would if being an immigrant (and that is best analogy, I think, for this situation) significantly shaded one’s relationship with one’s parent and the episode was about one’s relationship with one’s parent. It was interesting to listen to the episode a second time with this extra shade of information.

on the radio in the head

I am an unabashed, ardent fan of the NPR show This American Life. I listen to it from my TAL app in the car, timing longish rides with newly released episodes. Every show sends of eddies of thoughts through my head that would be great blog fodder, but then I would have to change the blog to be a TAL fan blog. A couple recent episodes seem particularly germane to the current thought soup going on in my head that I do have to spend a moment just referencing them. It kills me that I missed going to a theater to see the live broadcast cinema event. But the timing was awkward. I did listen to the podcast version of the show, though, Invisible Made Visible. What struck me is that two of the three main features were about the character’s relationships with their bodies. The first was from a blind man (and his relationship with his toddler) and the second from a man, struggling with cancer, whose arm was amputated (and his subsequent relationship with dance). I wonder if such an episode would’ve been possible twenty years ago, even ten years ago. I’m interested in how our society has evolved with respect to how people view physical bodies. How does this relate to knowledge? Extending thinking with our heads to thinking with our bodies, too?

These thoughts are especially germane to me right now as I have just returned from the annual meeting for the Society for Disability Studies. Bodies are all over the place there. A huge diversity of bodies and of thought. It was a wonderful experience.

Motherhood Minority

My friend posted this on Facebook today. It gives a rather stark picture of how difficult it is still for mothers to be on a career track. Why the issues and advocacy of feminism are still so relevant. There needs to be a place, in this present age, for both parental units to be able to be present to raise their kids and not have their careers significantly compromised. (Should note: this graphic represents what is required by law. sure, some employers have maternity benefits, but if you’re not lucky to have such an employer, the only thing a woman can use is the required 12-week UNpaid Family and medical leave. Many universities do not have maternity benefits for women faculty. Go figure.)

I wish I could discuss further, but the truth is, I’m exhausted and have had a day long headache. I’m planning a birthday party and warm birthday memories for my son who will turn 7 on Friday. I’m planning to be gone on a road trip, just me and the kids, for two weeks, starting Monday. Where I will leave my kids with my mom, so that I can fly to Denver and give a paper, which isn’t quite done yet. And I may have to go into campus tomorrow. I also want to pick more strawberries to make jam so that my kids don’t die of cancer from grocery store jam. And I’m afraid if I wait ’til I get back, strawberry season will be over. And one of the things I want to do before I begin a two-week road-tripping adventure with my kids is to sew a bajillion drawstring bags for all their car crap that I got them at Target today so I don’t rot their brains by letting them watch DVDs non-stop. (After I sew a personalized birthday Tshirt for my son.)
A day in the life…

the Garden of your Mind

Since I spend most of the summer reveling in agriculture, this video was not only incredibly nostalgic (shout out to the ol’ ‘hood!) but delightfully a propos.

What a simple, yet deeply evocative, metaphor: letting ideas grow in the garden of your mind.

I’m gardening a lot these days, so I think about all the things that go into growing plants–good soil, fertilizer, watering, training. I am challenged to think about how I’m tending the garden of my mind. Especially since I’m working to be a professional scholar, where my mind is the foundation of my job, inasmuch as a farmer’s field is. As a grad student, I always feel like I’m cramming stuff into my mind as frantically as possible. But maybe my ideas will grow into healthier plants if I step back and tend them more carefully. Yet, at the same time, practical considerations also overwhelm. Do I feel ready to get that conference paper? If I don’t give x number of papers and meet y number of people, will I get a job? It’s tough. But, for now, I feel inspired by the ultimate cheerleader to the least of us, Mr. Rogers.