No, Virginia, you can’t have it all
Posted on June 21st, 2012
If you haven’t yet read “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” in the Atlantic, it’s well worth the time. Anne-Marie Slaughter discusses why women can’t have a family and a high-powered career at the same time — and do both well. Yes, she come out and says it.
The article is much, much more than the excerpts below, but I did like that she blows away “the half-truths we hold dear” including:
It’s possible if you are just committed enough.
Our usual starting point, whether we say it explicitly or not, is that having it all depends primarily on the depth and intensity of a woman’s commitment to her career. That is precisely the sentiment behind the dismay so many older career women feel about the younger generation. They are not committed enough, we say, to make the trade-offs and sacrifices that the women ahead of them made.
It’s possible if you marry the right person.
Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them. In my experience, that is simply not the case.
It’s possible if you sequence it right.
The most important sequencing issue is when to have children. Many of the top women leaders of the generation just ahead of me—Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Patricia Wald, Nannerl Keohane—had their children in their 20s and early 30s, as was the norm in the 1950s through the 1970s. A child born when his mother is 25 will finish high school when his mother is 43, an age at which, with full-time immersion in a career, she still has plenty of time and energy for advancement.
Yet this sequence has fallen out of favor with many high-potential women, and understandably so. People tend to marry later now, and anyway, if you have children earlier, you may have difficulty getting a graduate degree, a good first job, and opportunities for advancement in the crucial early years of your career. Making matters worse, you will also have less income while raising your children, and hence less ability to hire the help that can be indispensable to your juggling act.
As someone who “opted out” for the benefit of my daughter and my family — and not for my own benefit — it’s a welcome, honest, harsh look at the reasons why.
One quibble is I know men who have made similar sacrifices — and I think they have paid a price for it in their careers, albeit one that’s easier to bounce back from.
Take the time to read the whole article when you can.
The most fascinating aspect of the article is the difference in attitude between older women and younger women in looking at “balance.” There is an attitude among older women that the younger women are giving up in opting out of the high-stakes game, whereas the younger women are looking at the older women whose children were raised by nannies and saying, we want the career, but we also want time with our children. Where is the model for that?