A “primer” I wish Mr. Dorment had read before writing this commentary: “The Doctrinaire Institute for Women’s Policy Research: A Comprehensive Look at Gender Equality”
By Richard Dorment | Esquire | June/July 2013
Lately, the raging debate about issues of “work-life balance” has focused on whether or not women can “have it all.” Entirely lost in this debate is the growing strain of work-life balance on men, who today are feeling the competing demands of work and home as much or more than women. And the truth is as shocking as it is obvious: No one can have it all. Any questions?
The baby has a heartbeat. The ultrasound shows ten fuzzy fingers and ten fuzzy toes and a tiny crescent-moon mouth that will soon let out the first of many wails. We have chosen not to find out the gender, and when the question comes, as it does every day, we say we have no preference. Ten fingers, ten toes. A wail in the delivery room would be nice. But in private, just us, we talk. About the pros and cons of boys versus girls, and about whether it would be better, more advantageous, to be born a boy or a girl right now. It’s a toss-up, or maybe just a draw — impossible to say that a boy or a girl born in America in 2013 has any conspicuous advantages because of his or her gender.
Consider the facts: Nearly 60 percent of the bachelor’s degrees in this country today go to women. Same number for graduate degrees. There are about as many women in the workforce as men, and according to Hanna Rosin’s 2012 book, The End of Men, of the fifteen professions projected to grow the fastest over the coming years, twelve are currently dominated by women. Per a 2010 study by James Chung of Reach Advisors, unmarried childless women under thirty and with full-time jobs earn 8 percent more than their male peers in 147 out of 150 of the largest U. S. cities. The accomplishments that underlie those numbers are real and world-historic, and through the grueling work of generations of women, men and women are as equal as they have ever been. Adding to that the greater male predisposition to ADHD, alcoholism, and drug abuse, women have nothing but momentum coming out of young adulthood — the big mo! — and then…
Well, what exactly? Why don’t women hold more than 15 percent of Fortune 500 executive-officer positions in America? Why are they stalled below 20 percent of Congress? Why does the average woman earn only seventy-seven pennies for every dollar made by the average man? Childbirth plays a role, knocking ambitious women off their professional stride for months (if not years) at a time while their male peers go chug-chug-chugging along, but then why do some women still make it to the top while others fall by the wayside? Institutional sexism and pay discrimination are still ugly realities, but with the millions in annual penalties levied on offending businesses (and the attendant PR shitstorms), they have become increasingly, and thankfully, uncommon. College majors count (women still dominate education, men engineering), as do career choices, yet none of these on their own explains why the opportunity gap between the sexes has all but closed yet a stark achievement gap persists.
For a fuller explanation, the national conversation of late has settled on a single issue — work-life balance — with two voices in particular dominating: The first belongs to former State Department policy chief Anne-Marie Slaughter, whose essay “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” was the most widely read story ever on The Atlantic’s Web site and landed her a book deal and spots on Today and Colbert. Slaughter’s twelve-thousand-word story relies on personal anecdotes mixed with wonk talk: “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.” The scarcity of female leaders to effect public and corporate change on behalf of women; the inflexibility of the traditional workday; the prevalence of what she calls ” ‘time macho’ — a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you.” All these factors conspire to deprive women of “it all.” (The “it” in question being like Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: You know it when you have it.)
The second, and altogether more grown-up, voice belongs to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whose “sort of feminist” manifesto Lean In urges women to command a seat at any table of their choosing. Like Slaughter, Sandberg references the usual systemic challenges, but what it really boils down to, Sandberg argues, is what Aretha Franklin and Annie Lennox prescribed back in the eighties: Sisters Doin’ It for Themselves. Sandberg encourages women to negotiate harder, be more assertive, and forget about being liked and concentrate instead on letting ‘er rip. She believes that women can, and should, determine the pace and scope of their own careers, and for her audacity in assigning some agency to the women of America, her critics (Slaughter among them) say she blames women for their failure to rise farther, faster, rather than the real culprits: society, corporations, and men (which is to say: men, men, and men). Commenting on the Lean In debate in a blog for The New York Times, Gail Collins asked, “How do you give smart, accomplished, ambitious women the same opportunities as men to reach their goals? What about universal preschool and after-school programs? What about changing the corporate mind-set about the time commitment it takes to move up the ladder? What about having more husbands step up and take the major load?”
Her questions echo a 2010 Newsweek cover story, “Men’s Lib,” which ended with an upper: “If men embraced parental leave, women would be spared the stigma of the ‘mommy track’ — and the professional penalties (like lower pay) that come along with it. If men were involved fathers, more kids might stay in school, steer clear of crime, and avoid poverty as adults. And if the country achieved gender parity in the workplace — an optimal balance of fully employed men and women — the gross domestic product would grow by as much as 9 percent…. Ultimately, [it] boils down to a simple principle: in a changing world, men should do whatever it takes to contribute their fair share at home and at work.”
Two men wrote that, incidentally, which must make it true, and among those who traffic in gender studies, it is something of a truth universally acknowledged: Men are to blame for pretty much everything. And I freely admit, we do make for a compelling target. Men have oppressed their wives and sisters and daughters for pretty much all of recorded history, and now women are supposed to trust us to share everything 50-50?
Allow me to paint another picture. One in which women are asked to make the same personal sacrifices as men past and present — too much time away from home, too many weekends at the computer, too much inconvenient travel — but then claim some special privilege in their hardship. One in which universal preschool and after-school programs would be a boon to all parents (and not, as Collins suggests, simply to women). In which men spend more time with their children, and are more involved with their home lives, than ever before. In which men work just as hard at their jobs, if not harder, than ever before. In which men now report higher rates of work-life stress than women do. In which men are tormented by the lyrics of “Cat’s in the Cradle.” In which men are being told, in newspapers and books, on Web sites and TV shows, that they are the problem, that they need to help out, when, honestly folks, they’re doing the best they can. In which men like me, and possibly you, open their eyes in the morning and want it all — everything! — only to close their eyes at night knowing that only a fool could ever expect such a thing.
My wife makes more money than I do. We majored in the same thing at the same college at the same time, and when I chose to go into journalism, she chose to go to law school. She works longer hours, shoulders weightier responsibilities, and faces greater (or at least more reliable) prospects for long-term success, all of which are direct results of choices that we made in our early twenties. She does more of the heavy lifting with our young son than I do, but I do as much as I can. (Someone else watches him while we are at work.) I do a lot of cooking and cleaning around our house. So does she. I don’t keep score (and she says she doesn’t), and it’s hard to imagine how our life would work if we weren’t both giving every day our all.
According to a study released in March by the Pew Research Center, household setups like ours are increasingly the norm: 60 percent of two-parent homes with kids under the age of eighteen are made up of dual-earning couples (i.e., two working parents). On any given week in such a home, women put in more time than men doing housework (sixteen hours to nine) and more time with child care (twelve to seven). These statistics provoke outrage among the “fair share” crowd, and there is a sense, even among the most privileged women, that they are getting a raw deal. (In April, Michelle Obama referred to herself as a “single mother” before clarifying: “I shouldn’t say single — as a busy mother, sometimes, you know, when you’ve got a husband who is president, it can feel a little single.” Because really: The president should spend more time making sure the First Lady feels supported.)
But the complete picture reveals a more complex and equitable reality.
Men in dual-income couples work outside the home eleven more hours a week than their working wives or partners do (forty-two to thirty-one), and when you look at the total weekly workload, including paid work outside the home and unpaid work inside the home, men and women are putting in roughly the same number of hours: fifty-eight hours for men and fifty-nine for women.
How you view those numbers depends in large part on your definition of work, but it’s not quite as easy as saying men aren’t pulling their weight around the house. (Spending eleven fewer hours at home and with the kids doesn’t mean working dads are freeloaders any more than spending eleven fewer hours at work makes working moms slackers.) These are practical accommodations that reflect real-time conditions on the ground, and rather than castigate men, one might consider whether those extra hours on the job provide the financial cover the family needs so that women can spend more time with the kids.
Also, according to women in the Pew study, it seems to be working out well. Working mothers in dual-earning couples are more likely to say they’re very or pretty happy with life right now than their male partners are (93 percent to 87 percent); if anything, it’s men who are twice as likely to say they’re unhappy. (Pew supplied Esquire with data specific to dual-income couples that is not part of its published report. There is plenty of data relating to other household arrangements — working father and stay-at-home mom; working mother and stay-at-home dad; same-sex households — but since the focus of Slaughter, Sandberg, et al. is on the struggles of working mothers, and most working mothers are coupled with working fathers, the dual-income data set seems most relevant to examine here.)
Ellen Galinsky has been studying the American workplace for more than thirty years. A married mother of two grown kids with a background in child education and zero tolerance for bullshit, she cofounded the Families and Work Institute in part to chart how the influx of women in American offices and factories would affect family dynamics. “In 1977,” she says, “there was a Department of Labor study that asked people, ‘How much interference do you feel between your work and your family life?’ and men’s work-family conflict was a lot lower than women’s.” She saw the numbers begin to shift in the late 1990s, and “by 2008, 60 percent of fathers in dual-earning couples were experiencing some or a lot of conflict compared to about 47 percent of women. I would go into meetings with business leaders and report the fact that men’s work-family conflict was higher than women’s, and people in the room — who were so used to being worried about women’s advancement — couldn’t believe it.”
What they couldn’t believe was decades of conventional wisdom — men secure and confident in the workplace, women somewhat less so — crumbling away as more and more fathers began to invest more of their time and energy into their home lives. Though they still lag behind women in hours clocked at the kitchen sink, men do more than twice as much cooking and cleaning as they did fifty years ago, which probably comes as a shock to older women who would famously come home from work to a “second shift” of housework. In reporting her book, Big Girls Don’t Cry, a study of women’s roles in the 2008 election, Rebecca Traister interviewed dozens of high-achieving women who were in the thick of second-wave feminism and encountered the generation gap for herself. “I remember one day, right before Thanksgiving, a woman who had grown children said something like ‘I would love to keep talking to you but I have to start my two-day slog to Thanksgiving.’ And I said very lightly, ‘Oh, my husband does the cooking in our house.’ This woman then got very serious, as if she had never heard of such a thing. For people [in their thirties], isn’t it totally normal for guys to do a lot of cooking? In fact it’s one of the things about today — dudes love food, right? But it was so foreign to her.”
In speaking with a variety of men for this article, I found that most men say they share responsibilities as much as circumstances allow. One of the men who spoke with me, Dave from Atherton, California, runs a successful business, and both he and his wife (a fellow technology executive) say that they split their family duties 50-50. “We have a Google calendar that we share so that everyone is on the same page, and on the weekend, we plan out our week: who’s doing what, who’s driving the kids which day, what dinner looks like each night during the week.”
Yet Dave still considers himself an anomaly. “There is still this expectation that women are going to do the majority of the housework, and deal with schools and stuff, while men can just make it home for dinner and show up at sporting events and be like, ‘Wow, I’m being a great father.’ It is a real issue, and it is something you really have to work at. You have to try and make sure that you’re doing the other stuff around the house in a way that’s fair and equal.”
He makes a valid point, and in trying to figure out why men don’t do more around the house, we could discuss any number of factors — men generally spend more time at work, out of the home, than women do, so they don’t have as much time for chores; women are inherently more fastidious; men are lazy and/or have a higher threshold for living in filth—but the most compelling argument comes from writer Jessica Grose in The New Republic. “Women are more driven to keep a clean house because they know they — before their male partners — will be judged for having a dirty one.” Rather than confront or ignore paternalistic expectations, some women seem willing to cede to them, and this whiff of put-upon-ness recalls something Slaughter acknowledged in an online chat with readers following her article’s publication: “SO MUCH OF THIS IS ABOUT WHAT WE FEEL, or rather WHAT WE ARE MADE TO FEEL by the reactions of those around us.” Between the all-caps (hers) and the sentiments expressed, this writing wouldn’t be out of place on a teenage blog, and as anyone who’s ever argued with a teenager knows, it’s hard to reason with feelings.
However, I will try. The validation of one’s feelings is the language of therapy, which is to say that it is how we all talk now. This is not to denigrate the language or the feelings; it is only to say that to use one’s feelings as evidence of an injury is no way to advance a serious cause. And to imply that one has been made to feel any way at all — well, no grown man has ever won that argument before.
A final point about housework: It is not always as simple as men volunteering to do what needs to be done. To give a small, vaguely pitiful example from my own life: We share laundry duty in my house, and yet whenever I’m through folding a pile of clothes, my wife will then refold everything, quietly and without comment. This used to annoy me — why do I even bother? or, conversely, Is this the Army? — but now it mostly amuses me. When I press her on it, she tells me that I’m doing it wrong, and this too used to annoy me, until I realized that it wasn’t really about me. “If I’ve talked to one group of people about this, I’ve talked to hundreds,” says Galinsky. “Women will say ‘Support me more,’ and men will say ‘But you’re telling me I’m doing it wrong.’ I wouldn’t say it’s biological, because I’m not a biologist, but it feels biological to me in that it’s very hard to let someone else do something different, because it might mean that the way you’re doing it isn’t right.” When I asked Galinsky if this could explain why a wife would refold a pile of laundry that her husband had just done a perfectly good job folding, she laughed. “Exactly.”
What you’re about to read is a passage from “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” and though it’s long and windy, I feel the need to quote from as much of it as possible. You will understand why:
“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…. From years of conversations and observations… I’ve come to believe that men and women respond quite differently when problems at home force them to recognize that their absence is hurting a child, or at least that their presence would likely help. I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do, but men do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.”
(Dr. Slaughter, you had me at “I do not believe fathers love their children any less than mothers do….”)
Since Slaughter doesn’t provide any evidence to support her claim, it’s impossible to say whether the men she’s referring to are the sole breadwinners in the family (meaning: the ones who feel the intense weight and pressure of being what one writer described as “one job away from poverty”) or are in two-income households, or what, but it’s worth keeping in mind that this comes from a person whose husband, by her own admission, sacrificed much in his own academic career to do the heavy lifting with their children, all so she could pursue her dream job and then complain about it, bitterly, in the pages of a national magazine.
The trouble with probing men’s and women’s emotional relationships with their children is that the subject is fraught with stereotypes and prone to specious generalities (see above), but here goes: In my own experience as both son and father, I’ve learned that one parent’s relationship with a child (and vice versa) isn’t inherently richer or deeper than the other parent’s. It’s just different, and with more and more fathers spending more and more time with their kids today — nearly three times as much as they did in 1965 — that has become more true than ever. “There is a dramatic cultural shift among millennial and Gen X-ers in wanting to be involved fathers,” says Galinsky. “And I don’t just think it’s just women who are telling men they need to share. Men want a different relationship with their children than men have had in the past…. They don’t want to be stick figures in their children’s lives. They don’t want it on their tombstone how many hours they billed. That ‘Cat’s Cradle’ song is very much alive and well in the male psyche.”
“Men are being judged as fathers now in a way that I think they never have been before,” says Traister, and just as women are historically new to the workplace, men are new to the carpool and negotiating these fresh expectations (their own and others’) as they go along. Not only do working fathers from dual-income homes spend just as much time at work as their fathers and grandfathers did (all while putting in many, many more hours with kids and chores), they also spend more time at work than non-fathers. Seven hours more a week, according to Pew, a trend that Galinsky has noticed in her own research and that she attributes to the unshakable, if often illusory, sense of being the breadwinner. “There are these expectations, even among men whose wives bring in 45 percent of family income, that they were still responsible for the family.”
There is the matter of guilt and whether women find it harder than men to be away from their children — which, if that’s the case, would mean that women looking to advance in the workplace would have heavier emotional baggage than their male peers. Any husband who’s watched his wife cry before taking a business trip (and wondering — silently, I hope — to himself, why?) will tell you that men and women have different ways of experiencing and expressing ambivalence, frustration, and, yes, guilt. “I have no idea if it’s societal or genetic or whatever,” says Dave, the California businessman, “but it’s certainly real that I think my wife feels more guilty than I do when she’s gone from the kids. There’s no question.” I can’t claim to speak for Men Everywhere, but in the interviews I conducted for this article, nearly every subject admitted to missing his kids on late nights at the office or aching for home while on a business trip, yet they couch any guilt or regret in the context of sacrifice. Chalk this up to social conditioning (men are raised to be the providers, so it’s easier for them to be absent) or genetic predisposition (men are not naturally nurturing) or emotional shallowness (men aren’t as in touch with their feelings), but there is the sense, down to the man, that missing their kids is the price of doing business.
And so we all do the best we can. Dave and his wife make weekends sacrosanct and family dinners a priority. “My wife famously said she leaves her office at 5:30 so we can be home at 6:00 for dinner, and I do the same thing, though we’re both back online doing work after the kids go to bed.”
(Dave’s last name, by the way, is Goldberg, and his wife is Sheryl Sandberg, and thanks to Lean In, she is famous. Goldberg is the CEO of a company named SurveyMonkey, which provides interactive survey tools for the masses, and he helped build it from a twelve-person operation to a staff of more than two hundred and a $1.35 billion valuation. All while splitting parenting responsibilities 50-50 with a really busy wife. They have the means, certainly, but more importantly, the will.)
Speaking of: In her commencement speech for Harvard Business School in 2012, Sandberg addressed an issue that comes up often — men need to do more to support women in the workplace. “It falls upon the men who are graduating today just as much or more than the women not just to talk about gender but to help these women succeed. When they hear a woman is really great at her job but not liked, take a deep breath and ask why. We need to start talking openly about the flexibility all of us need to have both a job and a life.”
Among the various ways men can help women, paternity leave is sometimes mentioned as a good place to start, the idea being that if more men took a few weeks off following the birth of a child, they would help remove the professional stigma surrounding maternity leave and level the playing field. Anyone who has watched any woman, much less one with a full-time job, endure third-term pregnancy, delivery, and the long, lonely nights of postpartum life would tell you how necessary a national paid maternity-leave policy is. Expectant and new mothers are put through the physical and emotional ringer, and they need that time to heal without worrying about losing their job or paying the bills. There are really no two ways about it.
Dads, however, are a different and more complicated story. In California, the first state to fund up to six weeks of paid leave for new moms and dads, only 29 percent of those who take it are men, and there have been numerous studies lately exploring why more men aren’t taking greater advantage of the ability to stay home. The general consensus is reflected in a paper out of Rutgers University: “Women who ask for family leave are behaving in a more gender normative way, compared with men who request a family leave…. Because the concept of work-life balance is strongly gendered, men who request a family leave may also suffer a femininity stigma, whereby ‘acting like a woman’ deprives them of masculine agency (e.g., competence and assertiveness) and impugns them with negative feminine qualities (e.g., weakness and uncertainty).” This is some paleolithic thinking here, starting, for instance, with the idea that “acting like a woman” means anything at all, much less weakness and uncertainty.
I’m lucky enough to work for a company that provides paid paternity leave, but a few days after my son was born, I was back in the office. It’s not because I was scared about appearing weak to my mostly male coworkers or employers, and it’s not because I was any more wary of losing my job than usual. At work, I had a purpose — things needed to be done, people needed me to do them. At home, watching my wife feed and swaddle our son and then retreat to our bed to get some sleep of her own, I learned what many first-time fathers learn: assuming an absence of any health issues related to child or mother, the first six weeks of a child’s life are fairly uneventful for men. A baby eats (with about 80 percent of women today choosing to breast-feed); he poops; he sleeps. There is potential for valuable bonding time, and a new mother could almost certainly use another pair of hands, but a man’s presence is not strictly necessary. Baby book after baby book warns parents that new fathers typically feel “left out,” and there’s a reason for that: because they are typically left out. More and more companies offer paid and unpaid paternity leave, and a man should feel proud to exercise that option if that’s what is best for him and his family. Maybe with the next baby I will. Maybe I won’t. But when the doctor delivers a newborn to my exhausted, elated wife, I won’t kid myself thinking that I, of all people, really deserve a little time off.
In her Harvard speech, Sandberg also evoked the specter of good old-fashioned sexism by claiming that ambitious, assertive women are generally less well liked than ambitious, assertive men. (In her book, she cites a now famous study conducted by a team of Columbia and NYU professors in which two groups were asked to assess two hard-charging executives, a man named Howard and a woman named Heidi, who were identical in every way except their names. Howard was considered the Man. Heidi, the Shrew.) It’s a compelling and convincing study, and Sandberg is persuasive when she argues that too many women too often get an eye roll when they open their mouths. Two things I would hasten to add, though. One: Productivity, profitability, drive, and talent trump all. (I’m reminded of Tina Fey’s defense of Hillary Clinton in 2008: “She is [a bitch]. So am I…. Bitches get stuff done.”) Women might suspect that men don’t like assertive, confrontational women, which is only half the truth, leading to my next point: that nobody wants to work with a nightmare of either gender. While the Howard-Heidi problem suggests that some men may get a longer leash than some women, the workplace is not every man’s for the shitting all over.
“Advertising is a very small world and when you do something like malign the reputation of a girl from the steno pool on her first day, you make it even smaller. Keep it up, and even if you do get my job, you’ll never run this place. You’ll die in that corner office, a midlevel executive with a little bit of hair who women go home with out of pity. Want to know why? ‘Cause no one will like you.” Don Draper said that. Not me. And the wisdom he drops on Pete Campbell in the pilot of Mad Men shows that men can be just as vulnerable to office politics as women.
Finally, there is the issue of flex time, with some suggesting that men should demand more options for when and where they can do their work so that women alone aren’t penalized for requesting it. It has never been easier to work remotely for many professionals, yet many jobs — and in particular the top jobs, the leadership roles that history (men) has deprived women of in the past — don’t have much give to them. Marissa Mayer at Yahoo was dragged into the flex-time debate when she decided that in order to save a struggling business with abysmal morale, she would do away with the company’s generous work-from-home policy and require her employees to show up to an office. She was immediately painted as elitist and antiwoman, and it’s easy to see why. Even though men and women are equally likely to telecommute, they typically don’t place the same value on being able to do so. According to the Pew study, 70 percent of working mothers say a flexible schedule is extremely important to them, compared with just 48 percent of working fathers, and for many of those women (including my wife, who often works well past midnight at a crowded desk in our bedroom), the opportunity to do some work from home is the critical difference between a life that works and one that doesn’t. That’s what Mayer was messing with when she ordered all hands on deck, and
it’s what any employer faces when trying to balance family-friendly policies with the sometimes soul-destroying demands of a competitive marketplace.
When Barack Obama entered the White House, he talked about how he wanted his administration to be family-friendly, offering up Sasha and Malia’s swing set to staffers so they could bring their own kids to work on the weekends. Rahm Emanuel famously assured him that it would be — “family-friendly to your family.”
It was classic Obama — well-meaning, forward-thinking, mindful of the struggles of the common man — undermined by classic Emanuel, which is to say reality. The White House staff would be working at the highest levels of government, investing their love and labor into what can only be described as dream jobs at a time that can only be described as a national nightmare, and if that meant kids and partners had to take the backseat for a year or two, so be it. Man, woman, whoever: Get a shovel and start digging.
Slaughter, a tenured professor at Princeton, came on board as Hillary Clinton’s head of policy planning at State, and in her Atlantic piece, she describes her grueling workweek in D. C., her weekend commute back to New Jersey, and her ultimate conclusion that “juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.” She talked about her struggles to a fellow wonk, Jolynn Shoemaker of Women in International Security, and Shoemaker offered her two cents on high-level foreign-policy positions: “Inflexible schedules, unrelenting travel, and constant pressure to be in the office are common features of these jobs.” Slaughter acknowledges that it needn’t be as difficult as all that: “Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, who shares the parenting of his two young daughters equally with his wife, made getting [secured access to confidential material] at home an immediate priority so that he could leave the office at a reasonable hour and participate in important meetings via videoconferencing if necessary. I wonder how many women in similar positions would be afraid to ask, lest they be seen as insufficiently committed to their jobs.”
Slaughter makes an important point here, though probably not the one she intended to make. Steinberg did what he had to do to make a difficult situation work better for him; Slaughter’s contention that a woman wouldn’t feel as comfortable making the same request may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter. The option was apparently on the table. Fight for it, don’t fight for it — it’s entirely up to the individual. But don’t complain that you never had a choice.
In the end, isn’t this what feminism was supposed to be about? Not equality for equality’s sake — half of all homes run by men, half of all corporations run by women — but to give each of us, men and women, access to the same array of choices and then the ability to choose for ourselves? And who’s to say, whether for reasons biological or sociological, men and women would even want that? When the Pew Research Center asked working mothers and fathers to picture their ideal working situation, 37 percent of women would opt for full time; 50 percent part time; and 11 percent wouldn’t have a job at all. (Compare this with men’s answers: 75 percent say full time, 15 percent say part time, and 10 percent wouldn’t work at all.) Assuming that women had all the flexibility in the world, one of every two working mothers would choose to work part time. Perhaps with guaranteed paid maternity leave, universal daycare, and generous after-school programs, more women would be freed from the constraints of child care and would want to work full time. Or, possibly, they’re just happy working part time, one foot in the workplace and one foot in the home. Hard to say.
“I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices…. Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself…. Do something!”
Hillary Clinton said that. Not me. And while she wasn’t referring to Slaughter in her interview with Marie Claire, she offers valuable advice to anyone who’s looking to blame someone, or something, for the challenges they face in life. Getting ahead in the workplace is really hard. Getting to the top is really, really hard. And unless you are very fortunate indeed, there will always be somebody smarter, faster, tougher, and ready and willing to take a job if you’re not up to the task. It’s a grown-up truth, and it bites the big one, but for anyone to pretend otherwise ignores (or simply wishes away) what generations of working men learned the hard way while their wives did the backbreaking work of raising kids and keeping house. Hearing Gail Collins grumble about changing the corporate mind-set (as if competition weren’t the soul of capitalism, and capitalism weren’t the coin of the realm) or reading Slaughter complain that our society values hard work over family (as if a Puritan work ethic weren’t in our national DNA) makes me feel like channeling Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own: There’s no crying in baseball! If you don’t want a high-pressure, high-power, high-paying job that forces you to make unacceptable sacrifices in the rest of your life, don’t take the job. Or get another job that doesn’t require those sacrifices. And if you can’t get another job, take comfort knowing that the guy who sits across from you, the one with kids the same age as yours and a partner who’s busting his or her ass to make it work, is probably in the very same boat. We are all equals here.
Then again, I would say that. I’m a man, with a working wife and a busy schedule and a little boy and another baby on the way, and I live with the choices that I’ve made. That is all I’ve ever asked for, and it is all I will ever need.