“No, sweetheart,” my mother chuckled, “I mean for work — do you want to be a scientist, a lawyer…”
I come from a family of working women, single mothers, who sought to make a better future for their daughters. They wanted my sister and me to grow up to escape the near-poverty we lived in, to thrive in male-dominated workplaces, and to prove that women could be anything we want to be. They instructed us on how to shake hands “with authority” and how to properly write a resume.
The women in my family taught me these lessons with the best of intentions, but there was another thing that my sister and I learned implicitly: the desire to care for a family over climbing corporate ladders was looked down upon.
In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an article for The Atlantic titled, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” In it, she discussed how mothers are still systemically discriminated against in the workplace. From lower pay to missed promotions, the progress that second-wave feminism promised women has still not panned out.
In Slaughter’s new book, “Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family,” she broadens her view to include all caregivers and the various loved ones they care for, and comes to the realization that the next step for feminism is to not “make it” in a male-dominated world.
The Washington Post published this interview with Slaughter, in which she acknowledges that her Atlantic article engaged in “trickle-down feminism” and that the modern discourse on work-life balance leaves out huge swaths of people in our society. She also notes that, as a society, we rank certain professions (bankers, politicians) over others. People who have caring professions (teachers, nurses) are devalued. Those who do not, or cannot, maintain employment as a by-product of caring for others are at the very bottom of the heap (stay-at-home moms).
We need a paradigm shift in our thinking about caregiving and work. Compassion should be cultivated, not condemned. And when we think about gender liberation, we need to remember that it is not a one-way street. Taking on the roles of those in power does not change the dynamic of power; instead, it reinforces old modes that have proven inadequate. All of us should be free to work and love and look after one another as we see fit.
Slaughter’s parting advice is to “break the mold. Do not accept the hierarchies you are given. Do not accept the assumptions about the workplace that you are given. Do not accept the ideas about male and female roles you are given.”