Anne Marie Slaughter On Creating An Equitable Society
April 28, 2022
Anne-Marie Slaughter is an American international lawyer, foreign policy analyst, political scientist and public commentator. From 2002 to 2009, she was the Dean of Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and the Bert G. Kerstetter '66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs.

Slaughter was the first woman to serve as the Director of Policy Planning for the U.S. State Department from January 2009 until February 2011 under U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She is a former president of the American Society of International Law and the current President and CEO of New America. Slaughter has received many awards for her work and is the author of several books. Her most recent book is Renewal: From Crisis to Transformation in Our Lives, Work, and Politics. She revived a national debate over gender equality in the 21st century in The Atlantic article titled "Why Women Still Can't Have it All." Here, she offers advice and possible solutions for a more equitable society.

Your 2012 Atlantic article ignited a huge debate around women and work/life balance. What was the initial purpose in writing it?

I wrote the article to express that having it all, in my view, means having the same work and family choices as men do. It's that simple. It doesn't mean having everything you want. Nobody has everything they want. Nobody should have everything they want. That's not real life. That's a fairy tale.

In the 70s, the idea was a woman could have a career just like a man could, in addition to a family as she'd always had a family. That was considered having it all. The point of the article was to point out that having both family and a career is still very hard.

What compelled you to write the book Renewal?

Almost 2 million people read the piece in The Atlantic, and I received over 1,000 emails as a result. I wrote the book to give a voice to those that wrote to me. Women from different ages and walks of life reached out. Many of them told me they cried when they read the article because they saw themselves reflected in it.

These women told me stories of how they came out of school with ambitions to make family and career work, but things came up preventing it from happening. A child got sick, or a spouse got sick. Women wrote to me saying that maybe if they woke up at 4 am instead of 5 am, they could have the work-life balance they desired. They told me they’d had to compromise on their desires and now felt like they'd failed.

In the 70s, the idea was a woman could have a career just like a man could, in addition to a family as she'd always had a family. That was considered having it all. The point of the article was to point out that having both family and a career is still very hard.

What are two or three workplaces changes you would suggest that would better support women and working mothers?

The simplest would be to get together with the folks in your office and decide the ideal time for people to be in the office. It would be 10 am-2 pm for most, after kids go to school and before kids come home. That timeframe would be the only time to schedule meetings.

Michele Flournoy, the third-highest woman in the Pentagon, had a policy where employees had every 10th day off. Every 10th day, her staff could schedule doctor's appointments, go to the store and do all the things people try to cram into the weekend.

It comes down to playing the long game. We want employees who are happy and healthy and productive over time, rather than people who are going to burn out and drop out because they are squeezed dry. That's a national issue. That's not just a women's issue. That's a universal issue.

How do you see men playing a role in possible solutions, and what kind of reaction have you gotten from them?

I received three categories of responses. The first category is very grateful women. The second is criticism- there's plenty in that. The third category is men.

The men have appeared in two categories. There are a lot of fathers who are witnessing their daughters making trade-offs that they're not happy about. There are also men who are bumping up against gender stereotyping in terms of what it means to be a "real man." They agree that women have it hard and simultaneously express that it is challenging to be a man who wants to take paternity leave.

What is your message to young women starting out in their careers?

Be ambitious. The sky's the limit as to what you can accomplish, but be realistic about the fact that children take time. What's critical to understand is that your own preferences will change. When my kids were small, I wanted to be there for them more than I wanted to be at my job. I thought it would change when they became teenagers, but it didn't. I became even more aware of how much they needed me that I only had a few more years with them before they left the nest.

To accommodate that dilemma, an ideal way of assembling a career is what the British call a portfolio career. It is where one figures out everything one wants to do. For example, I'm a professor, but what does that mean? I write, speak, teach, mentor and administer. I can slice up my profession into various things. From there, I can combine and recombine those parts of my profession in less intense settings.

I think that's good career advice, period. But it's certainly the way I think this generation of women ought to approach their careers.

What is your advice for women mid-career, say in their 30s?

If you've spent most of your life focused on your career and decide you want to have a family later on, my advice would be to be open to nontraditional options. Many women who have found themselves in that scenario rectified it by having a combination of biological and non-biological families.

Do you identify as a feminist?

I am a proud card-carrying feminist. I would not exist but for feminism. I grew up in Virginia in the 1960s. Back then, women were supposed to be seen but not heard, preferably pretty and not heard. I spent high school standing at frat parties trying to act dumb. If it were not for the women ahead of me in the feminist movement, I can't imagine what my life would have been like. I would have been really miserable.

I define feminism as the freedom to choose whatever we want. We should not define women as mothers or workers. The point is men and women are supposed to have equal choices.

What did your mother think of The Atlantic piece?

Initially, my mother was horrified. She was worried that I had destroyed my professional identity. But that goes back to her upbringing. Women did not put themselves forward, not in Belgium in the 50s and not in Virginia in the 60s in the 70s. This sense that I was out there and exposed was controversial. If it had been the equivalent situation for my brother, she would have had a very different reaction. Now she is 100% supportive, although some of her reaction is what we still have to fight against.



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