What women wantBARBARA KAY
It's the problem that won’t go away for professionally successful mothers: "work-life balance."
The latest salvo in the debate on whether or not women can find the sweet spot in managing demanding careers without missing out on a healthy family life comes from 53-year-old Anne-Marie Slaughter, a former U.S. State Department official. Her recent article in The Atlantic magazine — "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" — has generated a massive response: Indeed, it attracted more visitors to the Atlantic's website in a 24-hour period than any story the magazine has ever published.
As the first female director of policy planning at the State Department, serving from January 2009 to February 2011, Slaughter commuted between her home in Princeton, N.J. and Washington. Her husband, a Princeton prof, cheerfully accepted responsibility for the primary care of their two sons.
One of them, 14, was acting out in ways that caused concern, Slaughter notes in her article — neglecting homework, disrupting classes and resisting adult outreach. As a result, Slaughter decided to return to life as an academic at Princeton University in order to be a more hands-on mom (the problem has since been resolved, she says).
In an interview with the Boston Globe newspaper, Slaughter suggested that better social policies by employers and government would help women in general, but in her own case, "Without my husband I never could have gone to Washington. My husband's a hero; he was willing to take the kids during the week. That's essential. I think there are many more men than ever before saying they want to be with their kids and spend more time with them. But even with a wonderful husband, I found — and it was the hardest thing to admit to myself — it was still very important to my sons for me to be there. Even if you marry the man of your dreams, it doesn't solve everything."
How refreshing to hear a woman of high achievement not only ascribe her professional self-realization to her husband's support, but to admit that there is no government or partner on Earth who can suppress a woman's innate and indomitable instinct to prioritize (in her heart, if not in fact) her children's well-being over her ambitions beyond the family.
Slaughter's testimony joins a rising chorus of rejection of the "have-it-all" myth. As far back as 2003, New York Times columnist Lisa Belkin puzzled over the "opt-out revolution." Belkin cited the rising statistics of women graduating from top universities in business and law who "start strong out of the gate — and then suddenly, they stop."
They stop after they start having a family. They stop because they feel guilty about short-changing their children. When CNN's Campbell Brown quit her job to stay home, some feminist commentators tried to spin her as a victim of a system that doesn't cater to women's work-life balance needs. But Brown herself was very clear about her priorities. She said, "My plan right now is to help CNN through any transition — and then to enjoy, for the very first time, the nightly ritual of Good Night Moon and good-night kisses with my two little boys."
In their new book, The Flipside of Feminism, Suzanne Venker and Phyllis Schlafly note that the magazine Working Mother, which "prides itself on helping women balance work and family," may as well be called Guilt-Free Living, since so many of its feature articles — like "Will my child turn out okay?" and "Never feel GUILTY again!" — deal with the problem that won't go away.
About 70% of women are in the U.S. workforce, but more than half of them work part-time. Research shows that women ideally want part time work — and ideally want to be home when their children are young. Only 21% of working moms believe full time work is ideal.
So feminists such as Janet Bagnall in the Montreal Gazette can claim all they want that "it is employers and policy-makers, who have put productivity and profits ahead of family life" that are at the root of the problem. But women such as Anne-Marie Slaughter and many other women who have been humbled by the imperatives of their own innate urges know better.
Barbara Kay "What women want." National Post, (Canada) 6 July, 2012.
Reprinted with permission of the author, Barbara Kay, and the National Post.
Barbara Kay is a Montreal-based writer. She has been a Comment page columnist (Wednesdays) in the National Post since September, 2003. She may be reached here.
Copyright © 2012 National Post
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