As a “Gen Y” woman, one thought I keep turning over in my head again and again: how will I manage my career goals with my family life?
One of the great pieces of inspiration feminists of the former generation has left me, and all of us, is that we CAN do it all. The idea being: if you work really hard and you are have the right partner, you can do it. You can have a family and the career of your dreams.
In other words, “you can dream big.” And maybe implicitly, “you can dream like a man.”
But a recent feature article in the Atlantic entitled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” offers another, and in my opinion, refreshing point of view:
“It’s time to stop fooling ourselves, says a woman who left a position of power…If we truly believe in equal opportunity for all women, here’s what has to change.”
Hilary Clinton calls the former dean of dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Mrs.Anne-Marie Slaughter and offers her the position as first woman director of policy planning at the State Department, a dream job.
The position required Mrs. Slaughter to move to another city, work very long hours, and travel frequently. She took it anyway, but left after two years.
As Slaughter goes on to describe “she wanted to be home” and valued the flexible hours of her academic career. She wanted to spend time with her two boys, one an adolescent, and give them her unique presence during what she believed was a crucial time in their development.
When she left the position, she shares: “I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).”
She confesses: ” I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”
She delves into the half-truths we have told ourselves about what is possible:
– It’s possible if you are just committed enough.
– It’s possible if you marry the right person.
– It’s possible if you sequence it right.
My favorite part of the article is the section of “Redefining the Arc of a Successful Career.”
The current recommendation is to have your career peak and then have children, probably in your late 30s. This is especially true for the most demanding careers: medical, legal, and academic (tenure, dean-level). She argues that life expectancy for people in their 20s has increased to 80, so that a professional woman can expect her working life to stretch some 50 years. A woman who has children in her late 20s can still peak in her career in her 50s and 60s (and in her 40s, attend to her children during their adolescent years).
In the end, she says, “women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips)..” These plateaus also being potential “investment intervals.”
What does Slaughter conclude?
Today, she feels, American women still can’t have it all. Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it? Though it doesn’t mean we can’t in the future. She outlines several recommendations for system level and cultural change.
Finally, a note of gratitude (but not guilt!) that American women can be even thinking of these choices. In India, all our artisans had arranged marriages and married at an average age of 19. Their average number of children is 3-4. Most of them had children a year or two after they married. All of them stayed home as housewives.
So though as American women, our struggle is real, it also might be good place our struggle under an International light from time to time.
We at Anchal want to hear what you think about Slaughter’s article.
Are you a Gen Y reader who feels you will have to sacrifice career ambition and/or family in the next few years?
Or are you, as Slaughter defines, a feminist of the former generation, who still believes we can do it all?
Feel free to share any other thoughts.