Reading Princeton Political Science Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s recent article, Why Women Still Can’t Have it All, in the Atlantic was painful and depressing, not because it was woefully long but because it addressed the ugly truths of our society and the workplace that I wanted to pretend no longer existed and exposed other realities that it forced me to acknowledge. If someone as incredible, accomplished, and renown had difficulties balancing her life and chose her personal life at the expense of her professional life, what hope did that reality have for me in the future?
As a feminist and aspiring career woman still in her undergraduate years with a pretty naïve understanding of the complexities and challenges of the “real world,” it was difficult getting through that article. Although I’ve always been acutely aware of the challenges women face in terms of “making it” in our society, evidenced by the lack of women in the U.S. Congress or in Fortune 500 companies, the struggle for equal pay, or from the basic disrespect women face around the world, I’ve always believed that my ambition, drive, and dedication would be enough to get me through those hurdles women faced. I just needed to try harder than my male colleagues, push harder, and never give up and, in the end, that would be enough.
However, Slaughter points out that enough ambition simply isn’t the cure anymore. Women are ambitious like men but that isn’t what often stops them. What stops them is the decision to have a family that can potentially derail that highly successful career because of those necessary choices and sacrifices that must be made for family.
Slaughter makes the case that women can’t have both because society simply doesn’t value people who choose family as a priority in their lives, and it is that mentality this needs to change. How do we get our country to value family, which is what allowed most of us to succeed in the first place?
It’s not just that society isn’t catering to the needs of women; it’s that society isn’t catering to the needs of families, which are often run by women. Slaughter had it right – though society is changing and more and more men are playing a larger role in running the household, women are still primarily responsible for maintaining the household and are often the ones who lose out on the promotions or other career advancement opportunities for the sake of family. There’s nothing wrong with this choice, of course. For many, family does come first but with the way society is today, people are often forced to choose between raising a family or reaching maximum career advancement.
There are women who decide between the two options, but how about those of us who want both? Why is that reality not a possibility and how do we change that status quo and allow women (and men) to not only be successful in their personal but also in their professional lives? Those are the kind of questions we need to ask ourselves in order to improve the workplace and make these dreams a viable reality.
Overall, I really appreciated how Slaughter debunked the notion that the road to success is only limited by our own shortcomings and instead points to the actual underlying problems that prevent such advancement. She expresses the real issues and sacrifices that women inevitably face in society, serving as an excellent reminder to us millenials who are considering high-stress careers that such extraordinary sacrifices are often inevitable and crucial decisions need to be made.
Slaughter doesn’t paint the world as a rosy place, nor does she offer a way that women and men facing such dilemmas can overcome this challenge in today’s climate. She does offer potential solutions, addressing the changes needed in society for such choices to be made easier, but ultimately the actions that will alter the status quo are left to our generation facing this all too present reality.
Slaughter paints the reality of the workplace with its pressures, demands, and expectations, providing an excellent starting point to have that vital discussion necessary to move society forward for both men and women, allowing my generation to have demanding, high power careers and a wonderful family life.
The internet and the world are finally talking–there have been countless blog posts, articles, interviews, and so forth sparked by Slaughter’s article. It is our generation of millennials who must champion this change because we are the ones bound to lose in the long run if we do nothing to effect the change.
So, I’ll still go out in the world, armed, ambitious, and ready to take on the world. I’ll be ready to take up this challenge and though it won’t be an easy journey, I’ll at least be fully aware what’s to come.
This is my generation and this is our battle.