If Anne-Marie Slaughter is a Dropout, We’re Chopped Liver

Over here at The American Prospect, E.J. Graff (Brandeis, Women’s Studies) has a great analysis of Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All from the July/August issue of The Atlantic.  Graff responds to the italicized portions of Slaughter’s article.

[Graff] Despite the title, Slaughter hasn’t left the elite policy realm by any means, as she notes early on:

I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book.

[Graff] All this with two teenage sons! I can only dream of being that productive and organized. If she considers herself a dropout, what are us normal folk, chopped liver?

[Graff] But, as she notes, she’s managed that because academic royalty (er, elite institutions’ faculty) inhabit exceptionally flexible workplaces. That’s not at all true for university staff, and less so for faculty in less-prestigious institutions. Her rude awakening came when she joined an uber-elite government policy job, becoming part of the machinery that sets the country’s agenda instead of advising it from afar. In the quote below, the emphasis is my own:

The minute I found myself in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women (and men), working long hours on someone else’s schedule, I could no longer be both the parent and the professional I wanted to be—at least not with a child experiencing a rocky adolescence. I realized what should have perhaps been obvious: having it all, at least for me, depended almost entirely on what type of job I had. The flip side is the harder truth: having it all was not possible in many types of jobs, including high government office—at least not for very long.

[Graff] Excerpting that paragraph brings me near tears; that’s how close to the bone her insight cuts. She’s right about this core truth: Being both a good parent and an all-out professional cannot be done the way we currently run our educational and work systems. When I talk to friends who’ve just had children, here’s what I tell them: Being a working parent in our society is structurally impossible. It can’t be done right, so don’t blame yourself when you’re failing. You’ll always be failing at something—as a spouse, as a parent, as a worker. Just get used to that feeling. Slaughter’s entire article is worth reading for her nuanced exploration of that alone. It’s true for people at the top; it’s even more  true for people at the bottom, who have no sick leave, no choice in their shifts, no freedom to run over to the school if a child is sick.

Read Graff’s full piece here.

Update 6/21: I’ve added [Graff] in order to indicate more clearly what is E.J. Graff’s commentary on Professor Slaughter’s piece.

-Bridget Crawford

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One Response to If Anne-Marie Slaughter is a Dropout, We’re Chopped Liver

  1. Margaret Chon says:

    I admire Slaughter very, very much, and yet because she is
    an international relations specialist, her piece should have touched upon what
    some feminist legal scholars have already argued: that this is another example
    of American exceptionalism, with very negative consequences upon our social
    fabric.  Our public policies in this area affect most harshly families in
    the bottom half of the economic food chain, not just women who happen to be
    well-resourced enough to obtain ultra-prestigious (and yes ultra-demanding)
    positions in D.C. or Silicon Valley. The men who continue working in those
    powerful positions must have someone (or ones) taking care of the family end of
    things, and that is why Graff’s point about “structural impossibility” and her reference to Joan Williams’s work on masculinity norms are absolutely key. This area has to be re-structured to give everyone (women and
    men) the flexibility they need to be both caretakers and productive workers!

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