Last week we looked at the conundrum women face, according to politics professor and former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter, in choosing between a high-powered career, a spouse with a professional vocation, and being an available and competent parent. Her article appears in the current The Atlantic. “I mean that women should be able to have the same choices as men,” Slaughter explained on the PBS News Hour.
Our only objection is that we know few, if any, men who get to exercise those choices. Slaughter paints a picture of the professional world for women as being akin to that of the 1960s as depicted on TV’s Mad Men.
We would venture to say that most professional men would like to have a spouse with a career of her own and, if they have kids, be able to give the kids all the daddy-time they could handle. But who says that in modern America the primary parenting role is synonymous with motherhood?
Ms. Slaughter appreciated the fact that when she was a Princeton professor she could work hard but set her own hours. Her husband, too, is a professor. But then Hillary Clinton called upon Anne-Marie to join her in the State Department. “And the minute I got myself into 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 I adore . . . 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 working mothers and fully engaged fathers to have better choices.”
Really? Parents need to work out these contingencies before they become parents. They need to set their priorities and their goals before they set out to add their progeny to the gene pool, unless they’re the Gateses or Trumps or Spielbergs and can afford an army of full-time help. And even then, nannies cannot substitute for daddies and mommies. In the chapter “Impact on Parents” in our book, Enough of Us, we discuss these issues at some length.
Slaughter seems to be a very compassionate person and concerned mother. On more than one occasion she had to leave Washington for home in order to deal with one of her troubled teenage sons, despite the fact that her husband had become the primary at-home parent. And she had to commute between home and D.C. every weekend.
Naomi Decter, a public relations firm vice-president and mother of three, appearing on the same News Hour show, countered Slaughter’s assertions. “I think it’s time to stop the whining and accept the world for what it is. . . . No one can have it all. Men can’t have it all either. And I think the changes Anne-Marie is talking about are lovely ideas.
“I’m fortunate enough myself to be able to work from my home, although all my children are all grown. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that when they were young as well. But the sad fact is, that is not going to work for most of the world. And no one is ever going to run the U.S. State Department in their P.J.s from the kitchen table.”
Slaughter says that with technology, society can allow parents to, say, work from home one day a week. We wonder, what then for non-parents? Do they get the same benefits or does that mean that those who show up at work every day bear an extra burden compensating for their absentee colleagues?
So what’s the solution? Easy, don’t have kids, or keep one parent at home, or don’t have the misfortune to have a prestigious, glamorous, high-powered profession in another town.
“I think it’s a pointless and circular conversation. I think, you know, we’re saying, if women ruled the world, then women would be able to rule the world,” says Naomi Decter. “But until women rule the world, they won’t be able to rule the world.”
“We all have choices that we have to make in life . . . And those choices may be different between men and women because of their nature and because women actually have the children and give birth to them.
“But men have to make choices, too. Sometimes, we will make choices that we regret . . . And I think we need to stop thinking that we’re going to engineer some kind of a world where all of our problems are taken care of for us.”
Amen, sister. Amen.