High achiever who reached top tells why she went home again
AMERICA:A Princeton professor’s account of why women still cannot have it all has got people talking
THE PRINCETON professor Anne-Marie Slaughter was already known for her lucid commentary on the Arab Spring and the Occupy Wall Street movement.
But since Slaughter published “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, a provocative essay in the July/August edition of the Atlantic magazine, she has become the defender of the overwhelmed career woman who struggles – and sometimes fails – to reconcile work and family.
The magazine cover shows a baby stuffed into a briefcase held by a woman. It has attracted record numbers of readers and provoked a public debate on work-family balance.
Slaughter explains why she stepped down after only two years as the state department’s first woman director of policy planning – the post once held by George Kennan, who devised the cold war strategy of “containing” the Soviet Union.
Slaughter’s intense admiration for her boss, secretary of state Hillary Clinton, couldn’t make up for the 4.20am starts on Monday and long weeks apart from her husband, a Princeton professor, and the couple’s two adolescent sons. (Clinton’s chief of staff, Cheryl Mills, “famously gets up at 4.00 every morning” to check emails before her school-age twins wake up, Slaughter notes.) Slaughter’s 14-year-old son was “skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him”. Crises seemed to occur “invariably on the day of an important meeting”.
Not only did she need to be with her family, she realised, she wanted to be home in New Jersey. Slaughter’s husband had shouldered more than his share of parenting, but, she admits, “men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.”
Sheryl Sandberg, the Harvard-educated second in command at Facebook, is the villain of Slaughter’s piece. Sandberg has looks, brains, money and a family, and seems to lord it over women who are merely mortal, in a series of inspirational videos and a commencement address at Barnard women’s college in New York.
“Women are not making it to the top,” Sandberg lamented. Of 190 heads of state, only nine are women. Women hold at best 16 per cent of top corporate jobs and only 13 per cent of seats in parliaments across the globe.
Sandberg condemned the “ambition gap” that causes women to “lean back” professionally as soon as they start thinking about having children. “Sandberg’s exhortation contains more than a note of reproach,” Slaughter writes. “We who have made it to the top, or are striving to get there, are essentially saying to the women in the generation behind us: ‘What’s the matter with you?’”