By Brooke Claflin
Recently I read an article for my sociology class that had me wondering about the topic of “having it all.” To a certain extent, I grew up in a world where having it all seemed almost like a given. My mother worked full time, but she still made it home in time for dinner and went to many of my extracurriculars to cheer me on. She never expressed any stress about how to balance it all. Now, though, I know it could not have been easy. As Anne-Marie Slaughter so artfully points out in her article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” the professional sphere has not been set up to value workers who make time for their families. In fact, if anything, many jobs punish those who do so, because they value quantity of hours over quality of work.
We come from a generation of women lucky enough, for the most part, to be told that we could do or be anything. We were told to dream just as large and far-reaching as our male counterparts. Yet one cannot deny the fact that in our society only a few women, the ones Slaughter dubs “super women,” make it to high-ranking leadership positions and, importantly, stay there. According to Slaughter, this occurs because of rather “‘mundane’ issues” like “the need to travel constantly to succeed, the conflicts between school schedules and work schedules, [and] the insistence that work be done in the office.” All things that could easily be changed or accommodated for, if perhaps more workers saw it as the norm to ask for these changes.
Why is it that in a society where our politicians claim their commitment to family values and often bring them along to all manners of events, our professional arena does not make these accommodations? In one pointed comparison, Slaughter asks who, between a marathon runner and a parent of two, an employer would assume “is ferociously disciplined” and manages “time exceptionally well.” I found this comparison to be especially striking because even as fellow women, we don’t always value or recognize our mothers and role models for their effort until we struggle to maintain the balance ourselves.
The fact that this labor, the labor of childcare, remains so hidden becomes especially interesting as more men take on greater parenting responsibilities. If a large portion of the working world has to manage this balance, then why aren’t more people talking about it? Slaughter herself relates a story, in which a coworker asks her to stop talking so much about her children. This coworker laments, “You have to stop talking about your kids… You are not showing the gravitas that people expect from a dean, which is particularly damaging precisely because you are the first woman dean of the school.” Once again, somehow child care and parenthood are seen as incompatible with the working world, despite the fact that many adults balance both.
I found, as I’m sure many women would, all of this pretty upsetting. Here was a woman who had reached and struggled to have it all but found that, despite her best efforts, she couldn’t break that barrier. The message seems disheartening for those of us who have dreamed big our whole lives. However, progress is very possible. Slaughter ends her article by making various suggestions on how the working world can be changed to better accommodate workers with families, which will make the concept of “having it all” finally feasible for women and men alike. After all, as technology continues to advance and companies like Google prove the value of down time for employees, these “‘default rules’ that govern office work—the baseline expectations about when, where, and how work will be done” can finally adapt to the needs of our society.