We can guess that all of you have read this. You can probably guess that all of us here at Feministing have a ton to say about the piece. This is why we’ll be weighing into Women’s Media Center #sheparty Tweet chat today at 3pm ET on the article and subsequent poopstorm that’s come out of it. So check it (and us!) out! In the meantime, we thought we’d give a roundup of some interesting responses we’ve seen on the piece.
Slaughter’s article contains a powerful critique of the insanely rigid workplace culture that produces higher levels of career-family conflict among Americans — among men and women — than among any of our Western European counterparts, without measurably increasing our productivity or gross national product. And she makes sensible suggestions about how to reorganize workplaces and individual career paths to lessen that conflict.
Unfortunately, the way the discussion is framed perpetuates two myths: that feminism is to blame for raising unrealistic expectations about “having it all” and that work-family dilemmas are primarily an issue for women.
The article seemed to not only take for granted that all women have been told that they should have it all but that all women have–if not intimate–then definitely not adversarial relationships with power. This could be because I am the daughter of a 70s revolutionary, but my feelings about those who possess or embody power are decidedly adversarial. More often than not, power has worked to undermine my reality and my existence. And I don’t mean that in some fuzzy theoretical sense. I mean that when power, for example, starts talking about reforming welfare it is usually meant to be an act made on people who look like me; people with whom I identify even if I do not share their economic status. This act, it should be noted, is irrespective of the political party or intent of the power structure enacting reform on said people. It is the same when the welfare reform is done by Reagan as when it is done by Clinton. It is aggressive–and it alienates people I care about in an intimate way–and so, I see power as being “other”.
The truth is, we no longer seem to have dreams. We have abandoned the creative potential of political reverie to embrace the siren call of “breaking the glass ceiling”. Mainstream feminism (and by this, I mean, the feminist discourse that has the most presence and power across media, be it corporate or independent) has become a tool to enforce the current system of inequalities. We no longer present an alternative. We want full participation in what already is. And again, I say bullshit to that. I want my feminism to be a feminism of daydreaming. I want my feminism to believe in the transformative power of imagining the impossible. I want my feminism to stop chasing this faux equality that puts us on the race to be better managers of exclusion and, instead, gives us the possibility of re-thinking a future where we no longer have underclasses within the underclass. I do not want any more of this reactive feminism that is devoted to creating opportunities for the few that are allowed in detriment of the millions whose only role is to cheer other women’s success in the name of sisterhood. I want a feminism of utopias and imagination.
Women with high-powered careers competing for leadership roles while raising a family face harsh and conflicting pressures, as Slaughter details. But the stark reality is that most working mothers face far more daunting obstacles simply trying to keep their families afloat. And with advertisers geared to young affluents, celebrating a lifestyle that few can afford, the reality of most working mothers is too seldom discussed in the media. [...]
These mothers don’t have the luxury of flexible time or the ability to leave when a child is in trouble or sick. Most can’t afford to take unpaid sick leave to care for their children — and many would lose their jobs if they did, despite the federal law guaranteeing unpaid leave. Many work in jobs — as home-care workers, farm workers, cleaning people — that have scant protection of minimum wage and hours standards. Many cobble together two or three part-time jobs. Child care gets done by grandmothers, neighbors or simply the TV.
There are miles to go before feminism sleeps. But part of the point is: Look how many miles we’ve come, in such a short amount of time! We are still very much in the midst of reversing eons of gendered injustice, overheated headlines (from the, uh, Atlantic) about contemporary female dominance to the contrary. Brains are still getting rewired, systems are still being reworked to accommodate evolving roles. Backlash politics (like the packaging of this article, if not the article itself) pushes back against every female stride, every achievement, and there’s still enormous effort to put into righting gender (and racial, and sexual, and economic) injustices that make true equality elusive. A document like Slaughter’s offers a valuable testament to these remaining challenges. But its presentation as a deadening diagnosis of insurmountability is antifeminist, anti-woman, cheap and reactionary.
And that sucks.
I’ve seen straight, partnered women explain their decision to stay-at-home by noting that childcare would have taken too much out of their paycheck—as if this cost was just theirs to bear! Or couples who call a woman’s decision to quit her job a “personal” issue, while in the same breath noting that it was because her salary was lower than her husband’s. (The last time I checked, the wage gap was a political issue.)
But even more dangerous than the “I choose my choice” brush-off that tends to surface when someone takes the politics of housewifery to task, is the contention that women want to be doing all this work. That we are naturally inclined towards things domestic—especially caring for our children. Perhaps for some women this is true; but the generalization hurts all of us. After all, how can we effectively fight for workplace policies if the presumption is that when push comes to shove, we don’t really want to be there?
And quite possibly my favorite response: