Friday, June 22, 2012

Can I have it all?

  In my first post, I wrote that I was a young scientist that wanted to have it all. On Wednesday, Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote an amazing article for the Atlantic titled “Why women still can’t have it all”. Should I take that as my final answer?
  I’m still working my way through the ideas and implications in the article – I suspect it will take a couple readings – but I think that it’s got many interesting and valid points. Prof. Slaughter writes from the perspective of a former high-level director at the State Department, and what struck me was that for her a return to academia represented a return to a more reasonable schedule. For me, the academia schedule is the highest bar I want to have to deal with! The main message I came away with from this article was that ‘having it all’ is nigh impossible in the current culture of work and family. This is in contrast to the message that women can have it all, perhaps just not at the same time. The extreme amount of time Prof. Slaughter devoted to her job meant that her family life suffered, even more so than when she was a professor. Obviously she is an intelligent, driven, well-spoken woman (argh, don’t read the comments after the article if you want to have a good day), and her inability to have a satisfying work and family life means, to me, that something’s wrong with what we expect women to give up in order to succeed.
  Another idea in the article I responded strongly to: the idea that if you’re working late or long hours, you must be more committed. I’ve not doubt that late and odd hours are often the only time working mothers have to attend to work matters when they’re home. I think of graduate students with children (it takes a much stronger person than I do make that work) who spent nights in the lab to insure they’d be around during the day, or who juggled babysitters to make sure they could teaching for hours in the afternoon*.  I feel lucky that my graduate department and current post-doc institution didn’t demand long hours in the lab or imply that all-nighters were the sign of true dedication. For me, time to unwind and exercise mean I’m more productive during the hours I work. And if/when I’m a parent, I don’t want to feel that if I’m not at work at all times, I’m a bad scientist.
   Why did I decide to write this blog? It’s not meant for navel gazing, it’s meant for me to air my concerns and worries about what being a successful scientist means for my personal life. And this article resonated with me in part because I worry that ‘having it all’ really means ‘having half of all of it’. As you probably guessed, this article has spawned a large debate about how women can be successful. The New York Times wrote a summary article (one response to that article by blogger Dr. Isis here) and included a very thoughtful conversation with the author. I look forward to reading more, because just having the debate means we’re thinking about these issues.

 *One idea for changing academia for the better – consult professors and teaching assistants with children about their worktime preferences before scheduling classes or assigning lab sections.

Literature Cited
Slaughter, A.-M. (2012). Why women still can't have it all. The Atlantic. July/August.

P.S. Lori Gottlieb posted a reply on the Atlantic's site here. She argues that the fact that Prof. Slaughter wants it all is not a feminist issue, but a life-time-management issue, and that in short there's not enough time in the day to have it all. And she compares Prof. Slaughter to a kindergartener.


  1. if Anne-Marie Slaughter was hoping to start a conversation, she did it! Two articles in the NYTimes opinion section July 1: one a direct response "To have (it all) and have not" by Susan Chira, and, indirectly, "The Busy Trap" by Tim Kreider. the second spoke to me as I see how young families succumb to the pressure to sign their kids up for so much stuff, and then become slaves to those activities (just say no to a 6am Sunday soccer practice). A little off the subject- but the point being that parenting is a balancing act in and of itself, full of decisions. And with small children you are never really in charge of the schedule.
    As a musician, I'm still painfully aware of the number of musicians in pop, jazz, rock, etc. that are women (even fewer if we're talking instrumentalist instead of vocalist), and working in a church I'm still aware of the "stained glass ceiling" for women.
    Sadly- the same issues as for women scientists in one sense.
    I do know that I was a better mom by having a career as well as a mom- that I was happier with a balance and with being able to do a job that I (mostly) enjoyed and received satisfaction from.
    I so appreciate your reflections and your links to other's thoughts.

  2. Thanks for your comment!
    For those interested, here are links for those articles. Chira's:
    And here's yet another response, this one from the Atlantic's site:
    by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, which I really like. There are lots of 'quotable' lines that rang true, including "As my aunt likes to say, women still operate from a position of scarcity rather than a position of abundance."
    Prof. Slaughter mentioned Sheryl Sandberg as someone advocating that women can have it. Here's her Stanford commencement address that Slaughter references:

    1. Apologies - it's from Sandberg's TED talk.