Can women have it all? Probably not. Can anybody who isn't wildly wealthy "have it all?" I don't think so.
I have long admired Anne-Marie Slaughter as both a foreign policy intellectual and as a role-model for women. But I was filled with annoyance and dread as I read her Atlantic cover story, which, as Jessica Valenti notes, was rather problematically packaged.
I'm annoyed because the problem of not being able to "have it all" is NOT about "the failures of feminism," but, in Slaughter's case--in which she left the State Department to return to her job as a tenured professor at Princeton--about the particularities of the Washington power structure and the intense expectations on high-up political appointees. I personally know both men and women who've struggled with the lifestyle of an appointee; indeed, no one seems to want to stay in these jobs for more than two years or so. I don't see why it's surprising that appointees often lose steam after a short time, since this kind of job isn't personally sustainable for the vast majority of people of either sex. A small number of individuals want to risk their personal relationships and private happiness for the sake of having an internationally important job. As Slaughter notes, more of the people willing to do so are men than women, because of the history of expectations on men to be breadwinners and women to be caregivers. Here I agree with Slaughter that we need to deploy technology in the service of changing workplace cultures to make them more flexible and family-friendly for both sexes. We should also acknowledge that working in the State Department or White House will always be intense and not suited for all people indefinitely.
But I also felt dread. As a woman in my late twenties who is, in fact, incredibly privileged, I am sick of being told to approach my personal and professional future with anxiety and foreboding instead of optimism and activism. (Men are never expected to wring their hands in this way, though plenty of men I know struggle with the exact same work-life balance challenges.) I am sick of hearing about the failures of feminism when actually what we need to fix these problems for all families, across socioeconomic distinctions, is more feminism, not less. Such as:
I'd like to see college-educated women and men who care about work-life balance devote some of their energy to advocating for the above proposals. We need to raise active support for these ideas among folks who are affluent enough to spend their way out of these problems, through nannies, private schools, housekeepers, and the like.
*To answer commenter John Romano's question, the BLS stats show men still do more lawn-care, for example, than women. If outdoor and indoor chores are combined, men do about 40 percent of all "household activities." I'd only add that there is a minute-to-minute, day-to-day quality to food preparation, indoor clean-up, and childcare that "outdoor" housework lacks. Hat-tip to Doug Henwood for help analyzing the BLS numbers.