Why Don’t We Talk About Whether Men Can ‘Have It All’?
4:00 pm, June 21st | by Amy Tennery
In a piece for The Atlantic today, former State Department Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter details the hurdles she’s faced trying to, yep, “have it all.” Juggling a demanding career, commuting to Washington D.C. and raising two teenage boys took its toll — so after her two years at the State Department, she left the job.
When a woman struggles to balance work and family life, we lament that she “can’t have it all.” But when a man struggles to balance work and family life, we shrug our shoulders. In fact, we don’t even notice. Men don’t ask if they can “have it all,” because that’s not something we accept as a real “thing” with guys. The definition of that old “have it all” term is vastly different for men and women. For women, “having it all” means having a prosperous career and 2.5 kids and an insufferably quaint house somewhere in the suburbs. For men, “having it all” it means… well, what does it mean? Our standard for what constitutes a reasonable work-life balance is vastly lower for men, and it’s hurting working women.
While many women fight to try and “have it all,” a lot of men don’t — at least not publicly. And Slaughter’s piece serves as an excellent reminder that this is the real problem.
Of course, Slaughter’s piece isn’t perfect. For starters, the premise, that after she “found [her]self in a job that is typical for the vast majority of working women” she was unable to have a real personal life, is patently ridiculous. No, Slaughter, “Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department” is not a job that’s “typical for the vast majority of working women.” Sorry. No. And while Slaughter argues that “many young professional women feel under assault by women [her] age and older,” I also sincerely doubt that is true. Her piece reads like an attack on feminism, if anything — one that puts to shame those of us doe-eyed enough to buy into the more optimistic notions of working motherhood.
But her story does point out one crucial piece of the broken working woman puzzle: When we get more women into leadership roles, our well-being will improve. In her story she points to Hillary Clinton — who reportedly makes a point of getting into the office and 8 a.m. and leaving at 7 p.m., sharp — as an example. Secretary Clinton, of course, worked more hours at home. But she kept those specific office hours so that her employees could go home, be with their families — you know, have a life. (Nice little nugget of PR for Clinton, eh?) That’s something that women think about. Women are conditioned to worry about when other folks need to be home to take care of their families and their personal lives. Men aren’t — at least not nearly to the same degree.
As Slaughter points out, “men are still socialized to believe that their primary family obligation is to be breadwinner.” But it cuts a little deeper than that. The American work schedule is as fundamentally at odds with fatherhood as it is with motherhood — and until both people are compromising, neither can.
Just a few days ago, we probed the issue of available paternity leave (or lack thereof) in the U.S. And while the legal regulations are the same (men and women are entitled to 12 weeks unpaid leave, hinging on a wide variety of caveats that disproportionately discriminate against employees at small businesses — but that’s a discussion for another time), men simply don’t take time off the way women do.
In fact, it was only when Sweden, long a pillar of egalitarianism, penalized heterosexual couples for not opting into the paternity leave offering, that men started taking advantage of it en masse. It’s no wonder that Sweden has some of the most gender-diverse workplaces in the world — the pressure was no longer on women alone to take the lead in childcare.
Slaughter notes that some “men are joining the cause,” by her estimation, talking more about how to be active parents and support their partners’ careers. But this is a mere trickle, where it should be a flood. We need to stop framing the conversation as whether women can have it all and start asking whether men — or any of us — can.