Women As Allies
Recently, the Atlantic published an article by Anne-Marie Slaughter (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-wome…), a former high ranking State Department official who made the claim that women cannot have it all – that inevitably, women who pursue professional aspirations, will have to choose between being successful professionally or having a stable home life. This is assuming, of course, that a home life entails a family.
Soon the Atlantic article went viral and women everywhere started responding. CEOs, mothers, wives, even other State Department workers shot down Slaughter's opinion as unique to her situation, of her own making, and her own choice. The backlash seemed to insist that women can have it all, if we just try hard enough…work hard enough, mother hard enough, wife hard enough, please everyone hard enough. It is endless.
It seems to me, every time a woman says something or does something outside the socially acceptable parameters of femininity, or if she complains about the patriarchal structure within which women have to function, she is pounced upon for being too unappreciative of the opportunities she's been given. She is branded as dramatic or a radical feminist, and she is shunned most forcefully by other women.
So Slaughter thinks that given our current social structure, it is nearly impossible (or at least incredibly difficult) for a woman to be both a fully committed mother to a young child and professionally successful. She's probably right. The average woman doesn't have a nanny and society (read: people) don't have the same parenting (and professional) expectations of men that they do of women. She was expressing her opinion based on her experiences. So why the backlash?
As women, we are taught that our dreams will one day come true if we believe in them strongly enough. Did Slaughter's article provide too much reality thereby shattering dreams for women still waiting for their girl-aged dreams to come true? Did she generalize her situation to be representative of women everywhere? How does this relate to the average woman who is not a high ranking government official, and maybe who doesn't even want a family?
I've come to realize that having it all is a really personal thing. Each person (man or woman) decides what “it all” is to him or her before deciding whether s/he can have it. For me, my “it all” has certainly changed over the years. During my college years, I really wanted to get a job in international affairs. I did. During my mid-20s, I really wanted to own my own home. I do. During my late-20s, I really wanted to go back to school and fulfill a lifelong dream of studying the law. I am. I don't have a family. I have had a career and I'm working on my next one. I don't have Slaughter's “all,” but I do have my own version and I'm quite satisfied with it.
Nevertheless, other women seem to project their versions of “it all” onto me. Women who I don't feel particularly close with have expressed concern that I am not yet married, that I may be too ambitious for working full-time while going to law school, that I should be satisfied with my current position rather than strive for more. How is this more helpful than Slaughter's cautionary tale of her reality? Where are all the women that I should be able to count as allies through this challenging work/life/school conundrum? Would a man in my position be given the same advice from these not-so-familiar women? Am I indeed too ambitious?
The backlash to Slaughter's article made me realize that as women we should have a stronger sense of allegiance to one another. If a woman decides to pursue her version of “it all,” other women should support her because that's what she wants, not knock her down or tell her that her version is wrong. Each woman is entitled to her own goals, and other women should support her in the goals she chooses.
Even though women now make up more than half of the workforce in the U.S. (http://www.employmentlawdaily.com/index.php/news/women-make-…), employment laws are not uniform in their consciousness of maternal or paternal considerations. But laws don't change people, people change laws. Thus, if half of the workforce shared a stronger sense of allegiance, based on empathy for similar challenges faced and accomplishments earned as women, there might be a shift in our current employment structure (as Slaughter recommends) that enables more women to have their version of “it all.” By changing attitudes and perceptions, we can change social norms and values. At the very least, compassion and support can go a long way in encouraging a woman who is trying to have it all.
Repost from Ms. JD: http://ms-jd.org/women-allies
Bee Moradi is works full-time and is a 3L evening student at American University's Washington College of Law. She received her bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia where she majored in Middle Eastern studies and international relations.
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