From the department of righteous indignation:

I will depart from our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a brief bout of righteous indignation, which, while not technically about law or nursing, affects nurses and lawyers, so here ya go! –Nurse

Have ya seen this? Did ya hear this? Women can’t have it all. 

Anne-Marie Slaughter gets it wrong. Her article is not really about women– it’s about parenting. 

First, she identifies a very real problem: that women are in fewer leadership positions in business and government  that women are paid less, and that this needs to change. But for Slaughter, it needs to change so that these women leaders will let other women spend more time with their children. So she has brought this very real issue of gender inequality back to the desire to spend time with children– implying that women care about this greatly, and men do not. She points to a “maternal imperative felt so deeply that the ‘choice’ is reflexive.” Her argument rests on the fact that she, and some other women, don’t WANT to work long hours in high-powered jobs when they have young children. This situation is, in a way, exactly what she insists that it is not: being less committed to work. It is not, however, a problem just for women. Choosing between work and other pursuits affects everyone. Perhaps, a generation behind Slaughter,  I have view my own options as a woman differently; when I went to college, more women were enrolled than men, birth control was available without hassle, and “alpha-wives” could be married to house-husbands.


Slaughter writes that the choice to take time out of the fast-track life to be with children is ultimately damaging to women’s careers. This is true– and it’s ok, when the women in question are the ones who choose to spend more time with their families. The effect is the same on men who do this. Why shouldn’t people (not just women) who would rather spend more time at work than raise families advance faster at work? This IS a choice, and not only for women. What is really damaging to women is when employers take the same position that Slaughter just did– that women feel a deep “maternal imperative” and will always choose family over work. This position creates prejudices against young women. Am I going to disengage and quit my job at any minute that my ovaries start tingling? Are my male counterparts immune from the allure of choosing other things over work? Absolutely not. So while “family friendly” policies and work-life balance are  good ideas for a host of reasons, it’s not about women. So let’s call it what is is.  When Slaughter write of “having it all,” she means having a high-powered career while also having children and spending time with them at home. If that is “all,” I’ll pass.

5 thoughts on “From the department of righteous indignation:

  1. My purely anecdotal (singular) data point is my wife. We knew she’d want to take some time off when we had a child. We were, however, surprised, at just how strong the maternal pull was.
    In psychology, the Fundamental Attribution Error says (roughly) that when judging the actions of others, we over-estimate the importance of their personal choice and underestimate the importance of circumstance. In the famous psychological study the Milgram Obedience Experiment, a huge proportion of volunteers are willing to turn a pain dial to the max value because they are instructed to do so. Most of us say “I would never do such a thing!” but the statistics (and the attribution error) suggest that we would.
    No human behavior is absolute, and I don’t think we should dictate *policy* based on possible future behavior, but I also suspect that decision makers who ignore the power of “maternal imperative” may be disappointed more often than those who factor it into decisions.
    Is this fair? Not at all. Is it fair that my wife has to breastfeed and I don’t have boobs? No. Could we do things differently and evenly distribute all child-care duties? Probably, but the simple fact is that it would be harder, and parenthood is hard enough at the best of times. When you’re already starved for sleep and patience, making the harder choice to honor a principal can seem like a far off luxury.

  2. “That’s all.”

    Great points all. I haven’t read the Atlantic article yet, but I did hear Ms. Slaughter on Fresh Air. She talked mostly about the experiences that prompted her to write the article, and a little bit about her reluctance to write it for various reasons. She did acknowledge a fear that she would be perpetuating the stereotypes that make some organizations reluctant to hire young women, but only after Terry Gross asked about this specifically.

    I’m not surprised that Slaughter generalized her own goals and desires in the article. She came across in the interview as… let’s call it “very highly self-regarding.” She talked repeatedly about how she considered herself a role model, usually putting these words in other people’s mouths.

    The thing that bothers me most about this kind of discussion is the almost universal assumption that everyone wants to have kids (or will want to, and is just too immature to know it yet). For Slaughter, having it all meant having a job as well as a family. Why? Why could someone who was so concerned with second-wave feminism not conceive of a life that did not include a traditional nuclear family?

  3. I should clarify my position a little after re-reading Nurse’s FB post and Max’s comment: we weren’t sure we wanted to have kids, but once we had a kid, the maternal hormones had an unexpectedly large impact. I certainly don’t think kids are for everyone.
    I’m sure there’s some cognitive dissonance going on, too. Once you have kids, there’s really no going back, so you might as well jump on board with the Stockholm Syndrome and say that kids are the BEST THING EVER!

  4. Hey Eliz and Max (and Jason),

    My understanding was that Slaughter meant that women are *currently* more affected by these policies than men are. And I didn’t think that she couldn’t imagine not having kids–I think she just wanted them and assumes that many other adults do, too.

    I have to say, though, that I think the Atlantic has gone downhill. I still read it, but I think a lot of its stories have become sensationalized and trite. (Viva la New Yorker!)

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