Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family
September 28, 2015
Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose famous Atlantic article documented the struggles women face when pursuing a career and raising a family, now has a full-length book that offers solutions.
The article was called "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," a title I was soon to regret but that undoubtedly sold more magazines that the more accurate but decidedly less catchy "Why Working Mothers Need Better Choices to Be Able to Stay in the Pool and Make It to the Top." Within five days, the online version had received over 400,000 views; a week later that number had reached a million; today it is the most read article in the 150-year history of The Atlantic, with an estimated 2.7 million views. Clearly, it seemed, a sizable group of women and a growing number of men wanted another round of the now fifty-year-old conversation about what true equality between men and women really means.
The reaction ran the gamut from teary-eyed thank yous for speaking what seemed like an unspeakable truth to anger for betraying the tenets of feminism. As she received these responses and traveled the country giving speeches, she "listened to questions, and grappled with answers" and her thoughts on the matter crystallized. And what she realized is that while "Feminist pioneers like Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem broke free of stifling stereotypes that confined women," the feminist movement is far from over, and has created some stereotypes and confinements of its own that need to be broken.
It is a movement that remains unfinished in many ways. And at the turn of the twenty first century, I am increasingly convinced that advancing women means breaking free of a new set of stereotypes and assumptions, not only for women, but also for men. It means challenging a much wider range of conventional wisdom about what we value and why, about the measures of success, about the wellsprings of human nature and what equality really means. It means rethinking everything from workplace design to life stages to leadership styles.
I want a society that opens the possibility for every one of us to have a fulfilling career, or simply a good job with good wages if that's what we choose, along with a personal life that allows for the deep satisfaction of loving and caring for others.
The truth is that rising to the top of any field has always required trade-offs and sacrifices. She received letters from men stating as much, detailing the hard choices they made in sacrificing time and relationships with children to advance their careers. Of course, those men miss one important fact: they had a spouse that had agreed to not chase a career as aggressively, to be "full-time or at least lead caregivers." The challenge is different for women because it is still rare that a husband agrees to forgo their own career ambitions to care for their growing children, aging parents, or a sick relative. We may support out spouses completely, but we view it as a 50/50 arrangement. It is still rare for men take a stay-at-home role, or even the lead role. And, even when they do (as Anne-Marie Slaughter's husband did when she became the first female director of policy planning at the State Department and was only able to be home only on the weekends, while he stayed in Princeton with his job and the kids full-time), it's often still not enough to make the situation work. And that's because these are choices we shouldn't have to make. Because it goes beyond women's success at work. As a father to two young children with a very career minded wife who wants to have it all, I can attest to this truth because I witness it every day. Women (and men) should not be made to sacrifice one for the other.
After praising the work Sheryl Sandberg has done with her message to women to Lean In, not only in helping women be more aggressive in taking on roles but giving them the very vocabulary and mindset to do so, she points out where she differs from this message:
Sandberg focuses on how young women can climb into the C-suite in a traditional male world of corporate hierarchies. I see that system as antiquated and broken. When law firms and corporations hemorrhage women who reject lockstep career paths and question promotion systems that elevate quantity of hours over quality of the work itself, the problem is not with the women.
The difference is that Sandberg focuses on getting more women into leadership roles, while Anne-Marie Slaughter wants to change the very nature of those roles.
We must rework our society so the expense and headache of childcare and eldercare doesn't sink women and their families, and we need to remodel our workplaces so that our employers no longer assume that a lawyer or businessperson can be available 24/7 to answer email or that a restaurant worker or clerk can be available 24/7 to staff a shift. This kind of change goes far beyond feminism. If we can adopt policies and practices that support and advance women at every level of our society, we will make things better for everybody.
And this goes to what is perhaps my favorite part of this book. It not only addresses the issues of women who choose a pursue careers, it also addresses those who have always had to work, because after all, many women have never had much of a choice, and that percentage of the population has been growing. This affects us all, and the solutions Slaughter offers would be a benefit to all.
Gloria Steinem once said that "Women have two choices: Either she's a feminist or a masochist." I've always thought that men had two choices, as well, to be either a feminist or a misogynist. What Anne-Marie Slaughter has taught me is that I had that wrong. Men have the same two choices, to be either a feminist or a masochist, because the advancement of policies and practices that make it easier for women "to have it all" make it easier for all of us. And that's because feminism, for all the vitriol against it in some quarters, isn't about "hating men." It's simply about advancing women, which advances all of us. There's even a chapter on why "The Next Phase of the Women's Movement Is a Men's Movement" that encourages us to eliminate the double standard, gender roles, and social pressures that confine men, as well.
Whether you're a business leader, owner, manager, employee, or just a citizen who cares, this book will have a lot of food for thought on how we can do things better at work. And if you're a mother, father, daughter, or son, you'll find that it may help you at home, as well.
After all, it's not enough for women to break the glass ceiling, we have to rebuild the entire house. Unfinished Business provides a blueprint to do so.
We have 20 copies available.