Wise Women Can and Do Have It All. Professor Slaughter, You Missed the Boat on Feminism—You Had Too Much
The Atlantic Magazine’s feature article this month was hailed by some women as a long needed revelation, almost a soul bearing confession, one that freed them from the bondage of too many choices. This sensationalist account of one woman’s mourned inability to spin more than 100 plates and simultaneously juggle 6 balls at once is dishonest and even harmful to women. All she did is put up another roadblock to women who aspire to have full lives. I know that I am not the only one who believes we can and do have it all.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, PhD, Princeton professor, lecturer, writer, researcher, mother of two sons and wife to an almost saintly hubby, you need to get a grip on reality. You had it all before you went to DC. Once the price got too high (your son’s well-being) you no longer wanted that job as much as you wanted other things.
You had it all. You wanted more. You wanted too much.
I can say this with complete honesty and knowledge since I am also a woman who had it all and wanted more. A surgeon for 30 years, on-call about every 4-5th night for over 35 years, a mother to three productive, happy now-adult children and wife to the same great guy for 33 years. Author of more than 100 scientific papers and 2 academic books (one a “best seller”), lecturer on four continents, and formerly a full professor with tenure (at a school who never had a woman as full professor in surgery). Oh, I also have a consulting business, and am co-author of an Amazon best-selling anthology. I definitely “have it all,” wouldn’t you say?
Hmm, maybe not? I also wanted to climb that career ladder and become a chair of a medical school department. I wanted to build, to lead, to plan, to create, and to rub elbows with giants. I passed up that dream in 1997 when faced with an offer to move back to New York and serve as chair of otolaryngology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in the Bronx. Why? It was too much. It was the wrong time.
Our eldest, our son, was in high school, our older daughter would begin the next year. They were settled and happy. And even though my household help was excellent, I knew this time was critical to keep them on the track we had carefully planned, and hoped they would take. I wasn’t willing to risk it. Neither was my husband. I had heard the teen years were tough. I decided to wait; I knew there would be another chance, another, better time.
That time never came. Buffalo medical politics, being what they are, conspired against me when leadership positions opened up only a year later. Passed over, I then found out that I was compensated so much less than my male colleagues. Ten years later we settled a federal gender discrimination lawsuit. The turn in my career was not what I wanted. I lost my academic career in Buffalo—if you complain you have to leave. It’s part of the game. I had made a choice and it didn’t turn out the way I had hoped. But I had a choice and I made it.
And that is what wise women do. That is what liberated women do. And that is what men do as well. We all make choices. Wise ones. If you think that men have it all, they don’t. Men make choices to marry women who will choose to make their own lives more supportive of their husband’s careers and involved with their children’s lives far more than either you or I could ever be. The men have made a choice to have a spouse who will not bring home a paycheck or widen their circle of power. And their wives made good choices because that is what they believed they wanted to do.
Didn’t you consider how difficult it would be to be substantially involved in your sons’ lives living hundreds of miles from home for most of the week? Didn’t you think that 18 hour days were a bit cuckoo if you wanted to have other people in your life? Didn’t you know that to experience the rarified atmosphere of the highest levels of government you would have to give up much more than you really wanted to? Certainly if you studied the life of the Clinton’s, you would see that they had only one child, and Hilary did not work in a conventional job as she supported Bill’s career while she unconventionally built her own.
You made many good suggestions. But none of them depend on a woman in the White House. They depend on us continuing to support each other in realizing our dreams and making as many wise choices as possible. Even in the face of what still is an uneven playing field and a rough road to climb to the top, wherever that may be.
Wise women set themselves up for success. Wise women also know their limitations. Wise women are careful about timing. They have the help they need. They negotiate, whenever possible, for the conditions of employment that allow them to meet their multiple obligations and experience their multiple joys.
Professor Slaughter, with your power and talents, your connections and knowledge, you should have seen this coming. You do have it all. It’s a pity that you just don’t know it.