“Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”

That’s the title of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article that has the nation abuzz.

The story: Slaughter was a tenured (!) Princeton (!) professor (!), married to another (!), with two adolescent boys; she got a top State Department post (!). She commuted home on weekends, but sometimes family situations required extra trips. She finally decided her boys needed her closer, so left government and resumed her professorship, plus 40-50 speeches a year (!), regular TV and radio appearances (!), working on a book (!), and writing articles (!) like this one.

Boo hoo. I feel so sorry she “still can’t have it all.”

This is not exactly a poster girl for motherhood conflicting with career. Yet Slaughter invokes her “predicament” to argue that society ought to change to make it easier for women “to have it all.”

Earth to Slaughter: Hello, nobody can ever have it all. (But gosh, woman, you come damn close.)

Life is about making choices. There are no free lunches. Whatever it is you desire, there is always a price to be paid, a sacrifice to be made, a trade-off. There is no such thing as “having it all,” not for women, not for men, not for anybody.

Earth to Slaughter: Raising children involves sacrifices.

Where is it written that you should be able to raise children in New Jersey while also holding a high-power Washington job? That Slaughter would love to have both is understandable. Whining that she can’t is ridiculous.

Suppose she also would love to compete in the Olympic pentathlon. For her, “having it all” would include that too. If she can’t have that, plus the government job, plus the kids, is that tragic?

Many of us like eating lots of chocolate. We also want slim bodies. Can’t have both. Life is choices and trade-offs.

 The rap is that for all the gains women have made, they are still way behind men in careerdom, because of a “glass ceiling,” i.e., discrimination. It ain’t so. What is true is that women, on average, have different career trajectories than men because the average woman behaves differently from the average man. Studies have shown that women whose approach to work and career resembles men’s get outcomes and pay similar to men’s.

But it’s just a biological fact that parenthood differs between the genders. Nature and evolution have programmed women to be more invested in children than men are. Thus, on average, men skew the trade-offs between career and parenting differently than women do, and that affects their career outcomes.

There are other factors. Women have different psychologies than men, they tend to want somewhat different things, and to behave differently even apart from parenting concerns. They tend to be less aggressive and pushy. Et cetera. And while Slaughter argues that society would benefit from greater female contributions in the workplace, it also benefits from what they do in parenting. The parenting inevitably detracts from the workplace; but we certainly don’t want to give up the former for the sake of the latter.

In sum, if women were more like men, their careers would be more like men’s. But do women want to be more like men? Would life be better if they were?

Earth to Slaughter: You can’t have a penis either.

4 Responses to ““Why Women Still Can’t Have It All””

  1. Faithful reader Says:

    That picture is a tiny bit disturbing.
    Could you maybe not put stuff like that into posts? Thank you. 🙂

    [FSR: Thanks for your comment. Sorry. I have in fact removed the picture. I myself have a high threshold of tolerance for such things, and sometimes it’s hard to judge how others might see it.]

  2. Anne-Marie Slaughter Says:

    Please re-read the article. I am in no way complaining about my situation. I have kids I adore and plenty of career success, precisely because I had enough flexibility in academia to be able to stay in the game and keep rising even w/ 2 sons. Women who are in non-flexibile careers face tensions that they cannot work around and so many leave the leadership track. We’d be a better society if they stayed in the game. So we need changes to make that happen. Period.

    [FSR comment: My sincere thanks for a serious response. I do understand what you’re saying, but my point is that most people can’t be full-bore parents while pursuing a full-blast career. Life is imperfect and entails choices.]

  3. andy5759 Says:

    I think I ought to be glad that I missed the now deleted illustration.

    AMS; congratulations on having achieved a brilliant career, and having two children (whom I am sure are much loved and well nurtured). The strength of women as homemakers is the stuff of legend. To transfer that strength to business/government should, on paper serve only to strengthen society. However the law of unintended consequences raises its ugly head; we gain very little in business/government but lose so much more in the development of the next generation. Not to mention the support wives provide their husbands in their business/government careers. The only change that could enable women to stay in the game is probably to move towards a state crèche system. Oh, what deep joy that would bring to the progressives.

  4. Ethical_ Says:

    Finally someone who isn’t afraid to take the conversation somewhere productive!


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