I finally had the opportunity, and took the chunk of time required, to read Anne Marie Slaughter’s controversial article Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, published in Atlantic Magazine (July/Aug).
Slaughter was the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department who left her position, prematurely in many people’s view, to return home to her teaching position at Princeton University. The controversy is that she also left Washington because she wanted to spend more time with her teenage boys, one of whom was struggling.
Slaughter writes: “The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury. Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family.”
I enjoyed Slaughter’s honest and important article for a few reasons.
- Simply in terms of writing, it is clear, logical, dense but not boring, and incredibly brave. Just what good, thought-provoking feature writing should be.It has stirred up conversation around the world, about what it means to be a mother, a woman and a professional.
- The article resonated with me as I remembered my own internal dance 16 years ago when my eldest son was born, knowing I didn’t want to miss a thing, but knowing that I also wanted a work and accomplishments of my own. Being a full time freelance writer/editor has enabled me to do just that, but it was hard work to get here.
- When Slaughter talks about solutions she touches on the efficiency of women who work around their children’s schedules. I have seen that to be true in my own life and in the women writers I know who are also mothers. When you have a 45 minute nap period in which to write, you learn to write fast and effectively. I have interviewed people while huddled in the bathroom praying they wouldn’t hear the bedlam on the other side of the door. I’ve stayed up late and gotten up early to meet a deadline. This doesn’t make a woman/mother writer a hero, but, in my experience, it usually makes her a dedicated, dependable producer of good work.
- I appreciated her honesty that her children were as important to her as anything else, and her commitment to changing the work culture she is in, by talking about her boys on a regular basis, without apology. I like that.
The sweet irony for me is that I strongly suspect if I had not built my writing life around my children, that I would not have a writing life at all. I would have got on a different boat that led somewhere else. That has been one of their many gifts to me. And I’m really, really grateful.