OK, I’ve read the article and my inner Newnhamite reckons it’s time for us to stop sniping and work together on this: all women and all men.
What article? Oh, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” by Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys. She served as the (first woman) director of policy planning at the US State Department from 2009 to 2011. Her article has riled up lots of debate and some valuable discussion about what “it all” is and what is the issue all about.
I include a link below to the full article, as published in the US’s Atlantic Magazine. That is looong and I’m still reading. I thank the Australian Financial Review for publishing an abridged version in “The Review” section from Friday 6 July 2012. There is a link below as well but it is behind a pay wall so not accessible to everyone.
There is plenty in the article about which to get exercised, to applaud or to irritate you, depending on your perspective.
The thing is that Anne-Marie’s central point seems to flow from what she calls “a falsehood: that ‘having it all’ is, more than anything, a function of personal determination.”
That, I think, is a powerful point. Clearly, individuals make some choices that affect whether they have children, can participate in their upbringing and have paid employment, outside or inside the home. But it is also the case that the society that we humans have built over thousands of years also creates some limitations. The traditional 9 to 5 spent in an office reduces personal flexibility. That only gets worse as you move into paid employment at more senior levels where you are expected to work more than 35 or 40 hours a week – and to do that away from your home. This is not the only way to organise ourselves but the existing paradigm has a great deal of inertia. To change it requires the application of a large force. The question is whether that force can be gathered and applied successfully.
Anne-Marie talks about some optimistic signs, including examples of where men and women are making separate moves towards solutions.
I think there is some irony in the fact that Anne-Marie reached her conclusion in an administration led by a man who has made no secret of the pleasure he takes from being able to spend MORE time with his family now he’s got the job of big boss! President Obama lives above the office and has organised his schedule so he can spend time with his daughters – and then go back to work. Very few of us have that opportunity – and my reading of his comments is that he is appreciative of the privilege. Even so, it should give us more pause for thought in the way we organise our society.
So what do you all think?
Opinion piece in the Sydney Morning Herald by Lenore Taylor is here.
By chance the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane is staging a series of panel discusions about contemporary ideas and issues in Australia and on 5 July 2012 the topic was GOMA Talks Business sense | Who can make it in the top jobs? The panel discussed some of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s ideas. The link to the background of the panel is here. The Australian Broadcasting Corporate (ABC) podcast of this debate can be found here.