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Princeton professor’s new take on old feminism debate

Princeton professor’s new take on old feminism debate June 22, 2012

Have you all read this article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”, published Wednesday night in The Atlantic? The author, Anne-Marie Slaughter, is our old pal, the former Dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, who just finished a two-year stint under Hillary Clinton in the State Department.

This article is at the same time super lengthy and impossible to skim, so just getting through it might challenge your work-life balance–maybe try it with a glass of red wine tonight after the kids are in bed!

Women of my generation have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with … because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation,” Ms. Slaughter wrote. “But when many members of the younger generation have stopped listening, on the grounds that glibly repeating ‘you can have it all’ is simply airbrushing reality, it is time to talk.

I never admired Dean Slaughter as a woman, but now I do. And while career is more important to her than it is to most of us, I think her piece is insightful, honest, and extremely thorough. She is frank about the fact that her domestic life in Princeton fell apart over the last two years as she commuted to back and forth to D.C. every day, even with a perfectly supportive husband and community, two teen-aged boys, and everything else in place. She validates all the reasons women choose to stay home–because they can’t easily shake maternal instinct, because they believe in it, because many of life’s simple joys like waffle breakfasts and family traditions are found in family life. She insists that women not blame their own lack of commitment to feminism, or those pesky hormones that make it hard to leave our babies, when we find that it cannot be done.

The second half of her piece suggests the practical ways that the American work culture needs to change in order to accommodate mothers. Her policy analyst side shines here. Her suggestions are incremental, reasonable, and very possible, like matching work schedules to school schedules and increasing work-from-home opportunities (both of which are shown to increase productivity), as well as much longer leaves and even decades-long career breaks during child-rearing years.

Overall, her piece is gentle, honest, practical… and, refreshingly, lacks the screeching, finger-pointing feminist tone that normally characterizes her generation’s take on this question.

The career women of our generation have observed the generation before us, and we’re learning from their mistakes. Slaughter’s piece brings out the simple fact that women are different from men, and in order to truly accommodate women, the work culture has to create space for the unique gifts and geniuses of femininity.  Slaughter quotes our peers, the authors of the book “Midlife Crisis at 30: How the Stakes Have Changed for a New Generation–And What to Do about It”:

If we didn’t start to learn how to integrate our personal, social, and professional lives, we were about five years away from morphing into the angry woman on the other side of a mahogany desk who questions her staff’s work ethic after standard 12-hour workdays, before heading home to eat moo shoo pork in her lonely apartment.

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