June
21st 2012
Feminism: the hapless frump of social justice movements

Posted under: American history, bad language, Gender, jobs, unhappy endings, wankers, women's history

When you see a magazine cover like this, I can probably guess what you’re thinking:  Who the f^(k carries a briefcase like that or wears dark stockings any more?  What year is it, anyway?  Jeezy Creezy.  I spent the past week with historians, and they’re all better dressed than this mother-baby combo.   Don’t you have any women at The Atlantic who have updated their wardrobes since 1992?  (Don’t answer that, Mr. Bennet:  I think I know the answer.)  I saw this magazine on the newsstand a few hours ago and tonstant Feminist (to borrow a Dorothy Parker phrase) just about fwowed up.

Just kidding.  As we all know, declaring feminism irrelevant and pointless while also blaming it for everything wrong about the last 50 years is always  in style!  (It’s the Little Black Dress of long form journalism.)  More here from Echidne, Rebecca Traister, and Jessica Valenti, whose post “Sad white babies with mean feminist mommies” is indeed a classic.

I’ve been wondering what year it is anyway, stuck as I am in the Burbank-Bob Hope Airport waiting for my flight home and pondering the sound track, which appears to be the New Wave channel on satellite radio.  (Srsly–the playlist has been strange but pretty good:  English Beat, Blondie, J. Geils Band, the Romantics, Joe Jackson, Thomas Dolby, etc.  I mean, if you have to listen to Top 10 radio, why not make it the Top 10 of 1983?)

52 Comments »

52 Responses to “Feminism: the hapless frump of social justice movements”

  1. Nursing Clio on 21 Jun 2012 at 4:48 pm #

    I heard Anne-Marie Slaughter, the author of this piece, on NPR’s Fresh Air today – coincidently as I left the two kids at home to go study at the library (I am a lowly graduate student). I wanted so much to like what she had to say – after all, she is a tenured professor who left her job to work under Hillary Clinton at the State Department. Alas, I felt myself gripping the wheel tighter and my jaws tighten as the interview went on. I think she meant well in her overall argument about the need to change society as a whole if women, and mothers more specifically, will ever have equality in the work place, but I couldn’t help but feel thrown under the us by the majority of her points leading to that argument. I found myself shouting at her in the car – “Why couldn’t you be more flexible in your planning?” “Why is your thinking so black and white?” “Your situation does not apply to the majority of working mothers.” OK…I’m getting worked up again…

  2. Nicoleandmaggie on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:00 pm #

    Hahaha. I think this is my favorite commentary of the article (which, admittedly, I saw the title of then decided was wayyyy too long to read), especially the link to the pictures of mean feminist mommies and their sad white babies.

  3. Nicoleandmaggie on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    Well, I also liked the couple tweets I saw talking about how the title is another symbol of the final nail in the coffin of print media. Not that I want print media to go, but when it resorts to mommy wars and ridiculous cover pictures in order to get sales… it’s kind of asking for it.

  4. Perpetua on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:18 pm #

    @Nursing Clio: I also heard part of the Terry Gross interview and it made my jaw clench, too. I kept thinking, why are you using your personal situation as some kind generalized working mother experience (I mean, had her child not had problems, then it wouldn’t have been an issue)? But then I got home and read the article, which I almost didn’t do, because barf to the title and the photo, and I couldn’t bear another round of mommy war ridiculousness. But I was really glad I read the article; I found it thoughtful and worth reading and discussing. Even though she starts with the personal, and her views are informed by her experience, she does talk about structural problems, which is an angle that is often sadly lacking in these opting out vs working mother conversations. I found it a nice tonic to the Sandburg “just lean in!” approach, which I sympathize with, but I also see how the social, economic and professional stresses on working mothers can break them apart; they often feel driven out, not opting out. Making opting in or out about women’s moral worth or feminist commitment or intellectual vigor is missing the point, and I appreciated Slaughter for bringing us back around to talking about oppressive structures. And she spent most of her time at the end on the issue of flexible hours and the problem of America’s obsession with working long hours (which n&m might remember from our discussions over at @wanderscientist) and how that needs to change, for everyone’s sake. I see how my own privilege of owning my own schedule has permitted me successes I might not otherwise have been able to enjoy. Frankly, without my long (unpaid) maternity leaves and flexible schedule, I probably would have “opted out” four years ago.

    Man, I wish I posted online pictures of myself with my babies – I’d love to have a Mean Feminist Mommy and Her Sad White Babies meme of my own.

  5. Nursing Clio on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Hmmm…Okay, I will give the article a shot after reading your comments, Perpetua. I could tell in the interview that she was hinting at structural changes needed in our society, but she never really got too in depth about it (or maybe Gross didn’t lead her there). By the way, I think I need to make matching T-Shirts that say “Mean Feminist Mommy” and “Her Sad White Baby.”

  6. Nicoleandmaggie on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    matching T-Shirts that say “Mean Feminist Mommy” and “Her Sad White Baby.”

    DO WANT!

  7. widgeon on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:43 pm #

    I am the mother of two (rather large) sad white babies, and yes I am a feminist who works. I heard the first half of the Terry Gross interview while doing the dishes (the husband cooked). The interview began with a discussion of how “the feminists” would attack Slaughter. This reinforces all the notions of feminists as always ready to attack and defend their position with all sorts of anger and raised pitchforks. But the bit of the interview I heard was about a parent who regretted not being around for her adolescent boys. I’ve had three conversations recently with academic Dads who talked about regretting taking fellowships that took them away from their kids for extended periods. I also know of at least one singleton with no kids who worked in the white house and imploded from the insane hours. Mostly I’ve come to hate these articles based on anecdotes from small subsets of people. It’s such lazy journalism. And I’m afraid the breastfeeding grade-school child cover has created a monster in terms of magazine covers.

  8. Nicoleandmaggie on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    following up on widgeon…

    Come to think of it, most academics I know who have done turns at the White House left after 1-2 years regardless of their family situations. It doesn’t sound like a pleasant working environment for anyone in terms of hours worked and stress.

    Bill Clinton talked on the Daily Show a few years back about how so many of government’s problems are because of people no longer getting enough sleep. There’s so much time fundraising and everything else that they can’t work truly productive schedules– they’re grumpy and burned out.

  9. Nursing Clio on 21 Jun 2012 at 5:58 pm #

    You are right, Nicoleandmaggie. At one point in the interview, Terry Gross specified that Slaughter did not technically “leave” her job at the state department – she finished up her contracted two years and she could have taken another 2-year term or return to Princeton and not lose tenure. She chose Princeton.

  10. koshembos on 21 Jun 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    Having it all is a vague concept. ALL is temporal, it changes with us, our families and the environment. Slaughter describes precisely what it meant to her at a particular time in her life. Aside from the feminist aspect, having it all is a tall order very few of us reach. Slaughter clearly believes that she deserves to have it all. She does ignore her reality. Exchanging places with her husband may play some feminist scenarios, but it didn’t work for me as a male due to my reality.

  11. Laura Vanderkam on 21 Jun 2012 at 6:51 pm #

    Oh, the dark hose, black shoes, gray skirt and brown briefcase combo. I pull that out on days I want to make broad statements about the universe based on my own personal experiences.

  12. Emily on 21 Jun 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    As a young woman who has just graduated university (Slaughter’s own university, as it happens), is headed for grad school in the fall, and is thus very much in the midst of working through questions about how best to use my immense privilege and good fortune to socially responsible ends, I found Slaughter’s take refreshingly honest, nuanced, and wide-ranging. I agree with Perpetua’s comment above: it’s great as well as extremely important that Slaughter uses her own experiences with work-life balance as a woman to address what I think are some of the biggest structural problems that today’s ambitious young Ivy League graduates aren’t thinking about solving. Huge numbers of my peers who graduated a few years ago will, whatever their gender, be going into first jobs (whether as consultants or Teach for America corps members) that measure ambition, drive, commitment, success, moral fiber, and apparently value as human beings in terms of how long you spend at the office. It seems to me that Slaughter’s ideal audience is her own students, who might do well to question the norms of the socioeconomic world many of them will be entering, and the fact that that world seems designed to turn them into automatons with no connection to humanity and human relationships.

    Irrespective of whether I decide to have children, I’d like to live in a world in which the wealthy and the powerful don’t set a tone of selfless devotion to corporate growth and success to which ordinary people are then obliged to keep up in order to keep their jobs. To me it’s easy to extend Slaughter’s own experience as a mother to any full-time worker who seeks to be more connected to biological and chosen family and to a wider community or other set of interpersonal relationships, and I appreciate her subtle form of activism (mentioning her children, ending department meetings at dinnertime, etc.) on behalf of others who are seeking more multifacted lives. (But maybe my reading of Slaughter is just a product of my generation’s regrettably less politically committed approach to feminism.)

    In any case, the Atlantic cover is pretty awful, and doesn’t fairly represent the content of Slaughter’s piece.

  13. Dame Eleanor Hull on 21 Jun 2012 at 7:57 pm #

    “Who the f^(k . . . wears dark stockings any more? What year is it, anyway?”

    Well, I do, actually. And that skirt is one of my favorites; it’s a classic.

    Young women these days are so judgmental.

  14. c... on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I read the article, rather quickly, this morning… and while there were moments that made me clench up, I also thought that Slaughter, overall, did a good job of walking a pretty fine line (I’m with Perpetua, in other words). I wanted to add that in the article she’s fairly (though not perfectly) careful about generalizing from her own experience. In fact, one of her opening points is that she’d previously been one of the “don’t wimp out/lean into it” advocates, but taking the State Department job made clear to her that her previous position was *hugely* informed by the flexibility of academic life. It’s easier to say “you can have it all” when you get to call your own shots, in other words, and harder when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s schedule (a much more common work experience)… fwiw.

  15. New Kid on the Hallway on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    I read the article before I saw the cover, and I agree that it’s a very thoughtful piece and that the cover doesn’t do it justice. It’s addressing a very narrow and specific group of women, really, but I’m pretty sure she acknowledges that – so it’s not trying to cover all women from all socio-economic backgrounds. Also, I didn’t see it as a “blame feminism” piece – mostly because I felt the description of the difference in attitudes between Slaughter (she says she was born in the late 50s)/older women and younger women was striking and important. (Of course, my concern with child-rearing is purely academic, so to speak, so take all that as you will.)

  16. New Kid on the Hallway on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:29 pm #

    (Oh, and I’m pretty sure I’ve worn that outfit in the last couple of years. Dark hose = useful when you’re in a setting where bare legs are inappropriate but you hate “nude”-colored hose.)

  17. undine on 21 Jun 2012 at 8:59 pm #

    The article is better than the cover. My theory between this cover and the Hanna Rosin one is that they have an art director who either hates the ladies or wants to compete with Cosmo and US Weekly at the checkout stand, but whatever.

    Slaughter does call for change, and she does acknowledge her privileged status. She also says (I’m paraphrasing) “what does it say about us as a culture that the idea of ‘spending more time with one’s family’ is a euphemism for getting fired? How sick is that?” I liked this analogy: if a person (man) gets up early every day to train for a marathon, or a religious person declines to work after sundown from Friday through Saturday, the culture respects that. If a woman devotes the same time to attending to her family, the culture sees that as weak and letting down the side.

    The unstated part of her argument is that if extremely high-performing and high-status women like herself can’t make this work, even with nannies and housekeepers, what does that say about how toxic the work-crazy culture we’ve created is for us all?

  18. truffula on 21 Jun 2012 at 10:32 pm #

    Well, it is the Atlantic, what other cover could they have produced?

    I too heard the interview on Fresh Air and had the same reaction I often have, that I don’t really like many of Terry Gross’ interviews. I had Nursing Clio’s “Your situation does not apply to the majority of working mothers” reaction and am glad to read that the article is different from that. I had the notion that might be the case but that the interview never really let Slaughter get there, though she was trying.

    I appreciated what Anne-Marie Slaughter said about Hillary Clinton as a boss: Clinton is in the office normal (not White House) hours to set as family-friendly a schedule as possible.

  19. Susan on 22 Jun 2012 at 4:19 am #

    What I think is funny is that not being able “to have it all” for Slaughter means being a professor at Princeton.

  20. Katherine on 22 Jun 2012 at 4:55 am #

    Listing to Terry Gross is never a good substitute for the original book or article. I also think that we need to keep the venue in mind. Slaughter is writing for the Atlantic, which includes an audience that is sadly suspicious of overly explicit feminism. By making her analysis start with her personal experiences and then moving to structural concerns, but carefully explaining that she is not everywoman and that she is mighty privileged, she is following the thought processes of many of our students, the very ones we want to understand this problem.

  21. Perpetua on 22 Jun 2012 at 6:39 am #

    @Nursing Clio – I third your call for matching T shirts! It would probably be too many words, but since I have little boys, maybe I could add “emasculated” to “sad white baby”.

    @N&M, good point about Clinton and the WH. My eyebrows shot up to my hair line when I read the line in Slaughter’s article about Hillary Clinton’s “family friendly” hours (8-7) – leaving at 7 so her staff could have time with their family. I mean, working those kind of hours, it doesn’t really matter if your kids are in Princeton or DC to Seattle – how much time are you spending with them?

  22. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 6:56 am #

    Thanks, all. I finally made it out of Burbank and back into the world of 2012.

    I understand that the article is more complicated than the cover. This post was about the selling of articles that address feminism and women’s lives. Echidne has made this point repeatedly–about how feminism is constantly described (and/or decried) as a consumber object or fashion choice, rather than as a social justice movement.

    Dame Eleanor: I’m sorry! (But also: thanks for calling me “young!” Hee.)

  23. sleddog on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:09 am #

    c… said:
    In fact, one of her opening points is that she’d previously been one of the “don’t wimp out/lean into it” advocates, but taking the State Department job made clear to her that her previous position was *hugely* informed by the flexibility of academic life. It’s easier to say “you can have it all” when you get to call your own shots, in other words, and harder when you’re at the mercy of someone else’s schedule (a much more common work experience)

    I very much agree with this. I think that as a working parent, you can only ‘lean into it’ if you have enough support to keep everything behind you from crashing down and crushing you. Support could be [local, available for babysitting] extended family, a stay-at-home partner, or plenty of money to pay for the things you don’t have time to do at home, but it needs to be something. A flexible schedule helps, too. I love my job and I love being a parent, but I don’t know how I would be able to do both without the support I am so fortunate to have. While I appreciate the ‘lean into it’ sentiment to a degree, I hate to think that this might end up rankling working parents who find they need to step back a bit (or a lot).

  24. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:16 am #

    What I wonder is, where is her partner/husband in all of this? Why is he so selfish that he won’t permit her to have the career that she wanted? Why did he have children if he didn’t want to raise them?

    Wives do this all of the time for the men who run Washington.

  25. The Alchemist on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:18 am #

    I thought that Rebecca Traister’s piece on how the story was sold or pitched in The Atlantic (a magazine that hired Caitlin Flanagan to write about “women’s issues” for Pete’s sake) was really thoughtful and helped to separate out some of the points that Slaughter made in the article from the way it was packaged. But that just makes it apparent that the initial tone is often more important than the content, since, as you point out Historiann, everyone loves to blame feminism and sell stories about Mean Feminist Women Who Want Too Much.

    That said, I think that Slaughter wasn’t particularly attuned to the specifics of her own privileged position (and I agree with others who thought she came across as tone-deaf and insular in the interview with Terry Gross). Having tenure, anywhere, is an enormous privilege. Having a well-paying, interesting position to return to, that pays well and offers benefits, and that is completely solid, is extraordinary. Working at a high-level policy position within the government is also a privilege. It’s also a job that, regardless of gender, does not lend itself to work-life balance. I was reminded of Rahm Emmanuel’s comment when a reporter asked him to comment on the new “family-friendly” atmosphere of the White House. He said, “It’s family-friendly for one family only.”

    By writing about her own experiences in such a way, and then further declaring them on NRP, Slaughter makes it sound like achieving work-family balance is something that requires no choices or consequences, but where one (she) can just do what she wants and expect everything to turn out fine. Very disappointing.

  26. truffula on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:22 am #

    . I mean, working those kind of hours, it doesn’t really matter if your kids are in Princeton or DC to Seattle – how much time are you spending with them?

    As somebody who often works longer hours than those described by Sullivan, I will say that you can in fact manage to spend good time with your kids. It also helps to know it will not last forever this way and i am grateful for that. My impression is that those kinds of hours are common if you work more than one job to make ends meet.

    What I appreciate about Hillary Clinton’s office hours was that she is thinking about families at all. She makes a choice to set an example in a high pressure environment where the norm is something very different.

  27. We don’t want “it all:” we just want your slice. : Historiann : History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:26 am #

    [...] Per the last post (and many of your thoughtful comments), I’ve been thinking about that expression, “having it all” which has been evoked as a proxy for feminist goals for at least thirty years.  (Some intrepid M.A. student in a History or American Studies department should do a history of this expression, “having it all,” and its application to the women’s movement.  There:  that’s my mentoring for the day, and it’s only just 8:30 a.m. MDT!  On to the laundry and the library, now.) [...]

  28. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:39 am #

    Welcome back, The Alchemist. This is exactly it: “By writing about her own experiences in such a way, and then further declaring them on NPR, Slaughter makes it sound like achieving work-family balance is something that requires no choices or consequences, but where one (she) can just do what she wants and expect everything to turn out fine. Very disappointing.”

    This is what my (snarky) comment about her partner/husband’s choices was meant to suggest. The fact of the matter is that there is a great deal of unpaid, volunteer labor that goes into supporting the lifestyles of Princeton professors and administrators who are also public or economic or foreign policy experts. That labor is done 98% of the time by people called “wives.” (Paul Krugman has one of these “wives,” but interestingly, by the terms of this debate he doesn’t “have it all,” as he doesn’t/didn’t have children.)

    One of the things about “having it all” is that one sometimes wishes for more time to enjoy “it all” as well as to “have” it. Why, I wonder, must we succumb to this focus on the having of “it all” rather than the enjoying of the lives we have? (The “it all” discussion seems designed to marginalize the lives of people who are not-straight, not-parents, not-homeowners, not-partnered, etc. yet again.)

  29. squadratomagico on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:41 am #

    I read the piece before seeing the cover and I was a little put off by it. While I appreciate her caveat that she is writing only for and about highly privileged women, but also felt it was a bit of a cop out: does that line really excuse the myopia of the piece? Likewise, she had a pretty divisive sub-section pitting child-rearing against childless women (e.g., the suggestion that someone with a time consuming “hobby” like marathoning would get a lot more understanding and flexibolity from an employer tham a parent. That’s not my observation at all.)

    In the end, my distaste comes down to this: when did feminism become all about The Children? I feel so little connection to this particular fight, and yet it seems as if that’s all feminism stands for any more.

  30. Nursing Clio on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:45 am #

    The best line from the Traister piece:” What does ‘having it all’ even mean? . . . It is a trap, a set-up for inevitable feminist shortfall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the ‘have it all’ formulation ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism — as opposed to persistent gender inequity — that’s to blame.”

  31. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:50 am #

    Yes, Nursing Clio. Exactly.

    And Squadrato: It’s always about the children!!! Always.

  32. thefrogprincess on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:59 am #

    Did you read the piece, Historiann? Because your comments are pretty unfair to her husband, whom she praises effusively on all the lines you mention (including implying that her husband has perhaps done more of the child-rearing than she has), before proceeding to demolish one of the ways that people have framed the “have it all” question: you can have it all if you marry the right person. Slaughter goes on to point out that a) men and women often think about the importance of raising family vs. career differently (here she quotes Mary Matalan, who said she was indispensable to her family but not remotely indispensable to the White House) and b) the dominant work ethos that praises those who sacrifice families for work (praise that she notes falls predominantly on men) is bad for society. What kind of society/politics etc are we creating that encourages and rewards people who abandon their family? And what kind of social policies are likely to be made by people who buy into this framing of what’s important?

    There’s much to discuss in there, and much to disagree with, but we have to start from a fair reading of her piece, and, if we go by what she’s written, her husband is simply not due that level of harsh criticism.

  33. squadratomagico on 22 Jun 2012 at 7:59 am #

    In the same way that Gay rights has now been reduced to the right to marry and serve in the military, feminism is now all about how to have a career but still “find fulfillment as a woman” by being a great mommy. Both movements have been reduced to pretty unidimensional, conformative fights. Warriors, mommies, and marriage: the terms of true liberation, everyone!!

  34. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 8:12 am #

    thefrogprincess: since when are mothers subjected to this kind of praise for their volunteer work and fairness in evaluating it? My point was not in fact to criticize one man’s engagement in his family life. My point was that no one on the internets that I’ve seen so far has engaged in this kind of speculation and denigration of his involvement.

    (As I said above, it’s snark.)

  35. Nicoleandmaggie on 22 Jun 2012 at 8:29 am #

    Note: Paul Krugman has a bit of a reputation for burning through wives. He hasn’t had *one* of those wives, he’s had at least 3, possibly more at this point. (He also has a rep for not advising any grad students, not doing any service, and not actually having done much research in the past decade or two. Dr. Crazy would not approve! There’s a reason he’s at Princeton instead of having a matched higher salary at his previous place of employment in Cambridge.)

  36. Perpetua on 22 Jun 2012 at 8:29 am #

    I have to say that I disagree pretty strongly with @squadrato’s characterization of the piece/feminism as being all about the children. Slaughter is pretty clear about the fact that she views the kinds of issues she raises about work hours and flexible schedules to be issues for *everyone*, and she goes on in a general sense to call for a national happiness project – that is, bringing more sanity to our professional lives and limits on work (for those who want limits). To me, it’s actually one of the great elements of the recent(ish) feminist agitation on behalf for working mothers is that it has led to the opening up of the conversation – family leave isn’t about maternity leave, it’s about caregiving; work-life balance isn’t a feminist/mommy issue, it’s a social justice issue. It’s forced some feminists to broaden their scope of what they are asking for and have a more inclusive conversation, as Slaughter does in this article.

    As for reading feminism generally as being all about the children, I guess one’s perspective on that might stem from where one stands, but I personally don’t feel like my voice and concerns about working motherhood, birth rights, children’s rights, are adequately addressed by public feminists (ie, the feminists with the widest ranging voices in public media)(although naturally this could be the result of some kind of self-selection on my part). Furthermore, these arguments about women’s ability to succeed in professions while being mothers is not actually about children, it’s about women who happen to be mothers and the discrimination and structural pressures they face that have prevented them in many cases from moving forward. The fact is that most women decide to have children, and thus motherhood is always going to be a major feature of feminism. That doesn’t mean, of course, that the voices of the child-free should be silenced or marginalized.

  37. squadratomagico on 22 Jun 2012 at 8:48 am #

    “she views the kinds of issues she raises about work hours and flexible schedules to be issues for *everyone*”

    That’s pretty typical of those in a position of privilege: blithely to assume that one’s own particularly-positioned perspectives, needs and desires are actually universal.

    I don’t want to hijack the comment thread, so will limit my response to stating that we have vastly different perspectives on the centrality of children and child-rearing to the current feminist agenda, at least the part of it that gets wide coverage. That is, after all, what the mommy wars are all about.

  38. thefrogprincess on 22 Jun 2012 at 9:01 am #

    Historiann, Slaughter covers precisely what you say: that women are not praised for this work and are in fact demeaned for it. Snark only works when the points being made haven’t been addressed or don’t seem to register with the object of the snark. (For example, squadratomagico’s points, which I disagree with, but which point to a dimension the article doesn’t consider.) But Slaughter covers thoroughly the points contained in your snark, and I just think that should be acknowledged.

  39. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 9:16 am #

    When The Atlantic runs a cover story of a generic man in a suit with a baby in his briefcase, implying that men are mistreating their children by staying in the paid workforce, I’ll lay off.

  40. Matt_L on 22 Jun 2012 at 9:41 am #

    “When The Atlantic runs a cover story of a generic man in a suit with a baby in his briefcase, implying that men are mistreating their children by staying in the paid workforce, I’ll lay off.”

    This. I agree with this one hundred percent. Hell will freeze over before any magazine runs that cover or an article about why men should drop out of paid labor and step up to their socially ordained unpaid domestic labor.

  41. thefrogprincess on 22 Jun 2012 at 9:51 am #

    Well I don’t think this is an issue of laying off: the cover image is one thing, but as many have said, what Slaughter herself wrote is far more nuanced than the image, and we shouldn’t throw out what she said (which, while not close to perfect, is probably the best I’ve read on this topic) with the dumb picture. Especially since every point you’re making, she made. That’s all I’m saying. Let’s not pretend she isn’t addressing your concerns, just because the cover photo feeds into a different set of stereotypes.

    (Oh, and nice quick work of removing a certain comment!)

  42. tony grafton on 22 Jun 2012 at 12:57 pm #

    The thing, or at least a thing, about magazine articles is that the space is very expensive and thus very limited. Writers have to fight not just for every paragraph but for every word, which means they always leave some highly intelligent readers irritated because they left out the issue they think is central (and that they too think is important, though less so than the reader does).

    It seemed like a thoughtful piece to me, especially for the Richard Florida Monthly–certainly written, as the author is aware, from a position of privilege, but wide-ranging, and humane, and clearly not produced by Caitlin Flanagan.

  43. VL on 22 Jun 2012 at 2:08 pm #

    I like what NicoleandMaggie said about the sleep deprivation that makes for such an ineffective environment at the White House (and, no doubt, at many other institutions, including academic ones). We need to start pushing back and speaking up for leisure– the “free” time it takes to get absorbed in something that allows us to be creative and imaginative.

    Nevertheless, I feel compelled to stand up for Paul Krugman. According to Wikipedia, Krugman has been married twice: his first wife is an award-winning designer, his current wife is an academic economist who has actually collaborated with Krugman on books but has a strong career of her own. Since he’s currently 59 years old, I’d hardly say that he “burns through wives” or that his wives have been the supportive behind-the-scenes cleaner-chauffeur-secretary types who have made so many men’s careers possible.

    I would also say that anyone that blogs as frequently and substantively as he does, and writes as many essays for public consumption as he does, _is_ doing a service. He’s done more than any other writer to explain economic concepts to a wider audience (and gets regular hate mail for it, to boot). As for his own research, he’s published over 200 scholarly papers and written 20 books, at least some of which have been of a quality to win a few small prizes here and there. That’s a heck of a lot of productivity.

  44. Historiann on 22 Jun 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Yeah–that’s not a high burn rate. (I just mentioned him as yet another Princetonian who has a high-profile career in public advocacy.)

  45. Indyanna on 22 Jun 2012 at 2:44 pm #

    Rahm Emmanuel must have taken truth serum the day he told a reporter that the White House was “family-friendly for one family only” (@The Alchemist). Talk about going off-message! When Jimmy Carter was elected president he gathered “The Georgians” and other lifers who had come with him to Washington, and in his sternest preacherly way ordered them to block out significant amounts of free time, to go home for dinner, etc., and maintain the quality of their family lives. Then the administration began, the West Wing lights burned late, and the family crises and divorces began exploding like thunderstorms in what already seems like a gauzy, primordial part of a post-consensus era of national political and cultural life.

  46. Janice on 22 Jun 2012 at 2:57 pm #

    Oh, crap, I’ve completely blown my credibility – I wear dark stockings. Well, not now – it’s too bloody warm for hosiery of any sort.

    Still, I really liked the article – the packaging of the cover wasn’t anything I saw with the online link – because Slaughter laid out how the problem is in the system that denigrates interest in one’s family in favour of ‘face time’ and other constructs that don’t actually make for a better worker or a better pay-off.

  47. Comradde PhysioProffe on 22 Jun 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Young women these days are so judgmental.

    YESSSSSSSSS! That makes me YOUNG!!!!!!!!!!!

  48. Rachel on 23 Jun 2012 at 8:48 pm #

    I’ve read the whole piece and I don’t find it all that nuanced. Basically, she had and has it all when she’s a tenured prof at Princeton, but not when she worked at the State Dept for 2 years. I’m not sure any high-level government official is ever going to have balance in their lives; the nature of that particular job precludes. I think I’m supposed to admire her for reckoning with the fact that her 2 year stint is more akin to the lives of most other Americans than her tenured job at Princeton. But if you have tenure at Princeton, you should be smart enough to figure that out on your own.

    I’ll second, third, fourth two other comments: 1) where are the men (since she’s drawing from personal experience, what obstacles — if any — did her husband face as the primary caregiver while she was in DC? Did it alter his standing in his department?) and 2) can we stop talking about work-life balance as though it’s only a mothers thing? It needs to include everyone, those actively parenting, those without kids, those empty-nesters, etc. Flexible schedules are a nice goal, but let’s be honest: a) they’re only possible in some lines of work and b) flexibility requires some stability/commitment as well and that stability/commitment requires everyone to compromise a little. For example — and to borrow one of her examples — I’m not convinced a no-dinner-meeting-ever policy is all that awesome for everyone. It’s great if you have kids at home, but what about everyone else who would prefer to finish up and leave at 7, not break and return? What about the nights your kid has a school play at 7 pm or a parent has frisbee practice (because I think parents are allowed some hobbies in the happiness project) or the single person has bird-watching to do or the empty-nester wants to see a movie? My point is not that flexible schedules are bad (they’re good!) but that all of her examples derived from her preferences as a mother of kids at home and failed to account for the fact that others might have different preferences. An inclusive discussion would recognize multiple preferences, the inherent tension between them, and the need to deal with that.

    /End rant/

  49. cgeye on 25 Jun 2012 at 12:03 pm #

    In the same way that Gay rights has now been reduced to the right to marry and serve in the military, feminism is now all about how to have a career but still “find fulfillment as a woman” by being a great mommy.

    I still agree with this sentiment, because those images are how both gay rights and present-day feminism are approached, pointing toward God, family and patriotism. This was a deliberate turn in the 90s, as deliberate as the right-wing turn of the Democratic Party and neo-liberalism, generally.

    Sure, nuances exist in longer arguments, but those are the top notes that stick — and, for me personally, they still stink.

    And her position is still that of privilege, merely because she doesn’t work for an hourly wage. Is is that hard to see that for most of the women who have jobs, a flexible schedule often means losing benefits and pay, due to that flexibility not being paid for by the boss? That, and jobs that need for you to Be There when you’re there will never allow that flexibiity?

  50. Christiana on 25 Jun 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    So if we are critiquing Slaughter for her privileged subject position and supposedly ridiculous desire to have it all — which in her case seems to mean being an involved mom and holding a high-level policy-making position — does that mean that the only people we want in policy-making at the federal-government level are child-free men and or/and men with traditional wives? Do we lose anything by pushing well-educated, highly capable mothers out of top-level jobs?

    PS What’s wrong with nude hose?

  51. Historiann on 25 Jun 2012 at 8:09 pm #

    Huh?

    I have no idea where you got any of those ideas from this post or these comments.

    Some here have expressed exasperation with Slaugher’s very ambitious definition of “having it all,” a problematic concept in many respects, but mostly because it’s only applied to women. Nobody here resents Slaughter’s work; most of us resent articles about “having it all” that are only about women’s lives & never about men’s lives.

    As I said earlier: when The Atlantic starts publishing articles with men standing next to the babies they’re allegedly neglecting by remaining in the paid workforce, then I’ll lay off.

  52. Historiann on 25 Jun 2012 at 8:11 pm #

    p.s. For a Groundhog Day conversation about this article and whether or not women can “have it all,” see today’s Diane Rehm show. Diane, to her credit, seems exasperated that she’s hosting the conversation at all, and she makes the point from the start to the effect that “we’ve been having this conversation for forty years, haven’t we? Why are we still talking about this?”