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‘Women Can't Have It All’ article ignites work/life debate

Monday, July 9, 2012  
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Women and men around the globe reopened the debate over whether or not women "could have it all” after a June article in The Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female State Department Director of Policy Planning, went viral.

From The Huffington Post, to The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, political blogs, Sunday talk shows, and innumerable international and local media outlets, people weighed in on "Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” in which Slaughter said it was time for women to stop fooling themselves about having both high-powered careers and a satisfying family life. In the essay, Slaughter took on what she called "half truths we hold dear,” such as "It’s possible if you are just committed enough.” or "It’s possible if you sequence it right.” or "It’s possible if you marry the right person.”

Slaughter, who resigned her post under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2011, wrote: "I still strongly believe that women can 'have it all.’ But not today, not with the way America's economy and society are currently structured.”

She goes on to say that "among those who have made it to the top, a balanced life still is more elusive for women than it is for men.”

The article launched international discussion about whether it's truly possible to balance work and family life adequately without leaving something behind. "Women can't have everything they want all of the time. Neither can men. Who ever thought otherwise?” Lori Gottlieb, author of  Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, wrote on The Atlantic website in "Why There's No Such Thing as ‘Having It All’ — and There Never Will Be.”

"Nobody, male or female, married or single, young or old, tall or short, educated or not, pretty or plain, wealthy or poor, with kids or without, can have it all -- neither in the very narrow way Slaughter defines "it," nor in the broader context of life,” Gottlieb wrote. "Recognizing this makes people happier. In fact, the people who accept this don't lie awake at night wondering why they've been handed the keys to the palace but the gilded moldings just aren't sparkly enough.”

As the blogosphere buzzed with feedback,workplace and relationship experts, such as Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, addressed the topic. "Women's success is based on changes society needs to make,” Weil wrote. "Three things have to be in place for women to be successful in both home and work life: A partner must help out at home -- doing half the work, or sometimes more, in support of the working woman; women should not underestimate their own abilities; and women should not cut back on their own ambition based on the fear that they won't be able to balance demands of both career and home.”

As the controversy grew, Slaughter, now a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and the mother of two teenage boys, told PBS she defined "having it all” as women "having the same choices as men,” and noted, "I think I regret that that's the way the issue has always been formulated when I was coming of age. I think, today, it sounds very entitled because there are so many Americans who have very, very little. But really what it means is that women should be able to have the same choices about being able to have a family and being able to have a career that men do.”

Prior to her position with the State Department, Slaughter said, her own ability to "have it all” was a function of the flexibility of her job as a tenured professor. "I work incredibly hard. I certainly put in the same kinds of hours that anybody else does at a very high level. But I have flexibility. And the minute I got myself into a job that is the kind of job that the vast, vast majority of working women have, where I was on somebody else's schedule and really had a boss, a boss I adore, Hillary Clinton, but I realized I couldn't make it work with my family.

"And that's when I really decided that it's time to have another round of conversation and make another round of changes that will allow both women, working mothers and fully engaged fathers to have better choices.”

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