Women's Work

By Martha Strautman

In a 2012 interview with Atlantic, Anne-Marie Slaughter discusses one of the arguments of her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”—traditional “women’s work” of caregiving is not valued as highly as the traditional men’s work of breadwinning. Slaughter emphasizes that both breadwinning and caregiving are equally necessary for our society to function, yet we continue to place the former above the latter. Gender equality has been framed as women’s ability to enter the traditional men’s sphere of the professional world. However, the opposite has not occurred—men have not been encouraged or expected to contribute equally to caregiving. Aside from illustrating our culture’s pervasive androcentrism—the practice of placing the male’s point of view at the center of one’s world-view—this has also created greater problems in achieving a fair work-family balance for all people.

Arguments over caregiving and women’s roles in the home have long divided the feminist movement. Many feminists have linked women’s childbearing and childrearing duties to the perpetuation of women’s oppression. Radical feminists like Shulamith Firestone have even argued that women would not be truly free until child-bearing is able to be done outside of a woman’s womb. Her revolutionary idea illustrates the main argument of the radical feminist movement—that true gender equality cannot be achieved within our current societal structure. In order for women and men to be truly equal, our culture needs to undergo a fundamental reorganization.

Slaughter’s argument falls in line with this thinking. In her article, she states that women can have it all, but “not today, not with the way American’s economy and society are currently structured.” Although she does not reference feminist theory, her argument is very similar to radical feminist thought. Her advocacy for “care policy” and changes in our social structure perfectly illustrate Audre Lorde’s assertion that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Oppression becomes ingrained in the social structures and culture that it takes place in; therefore, true liberation requires radical structural change.

In the article, Slaughter emphasizes the generational difference in attitudes towards compromises in the work-family balance. She claims that the sympathetic responses she received from Oxford students after a candid discussion about the work-family balance prompted her to write the article. These female students, in their mid-20s, recognized the necessity of compromises in achieving a healthy balance between the professional world and the family realm. Slaughter saw this attitude as a stark contrast from women of her generation, who have clung to the idea that determination is the only thing women need in order to have both a career and a family. She laments the faults in this perspective, which ignores the reality of the difficulties that come with trying to have both. It is promising that, as she states, our generation is more understanding of the reality of trying to have both, and the necessary sacrifices that will need to made in each sphere. These attitudes will help for us to achieve happier, healthier lives—ones that have both careers but also families.