Find Out ‘Why Women Still Can’t Have It All’

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Leading Voices in Higher Education

Anne-Marie Slaughter’s 2012 Atlantic essay, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” fueled a national debate on how the difficulty of finding a work-family balance has limited women in the top echelons of business and government.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Anne-Marie Slaughter will speak about “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” on Wednesday, April 3, at 4 p.m. in Cook Auditorium at the Tuck School of Business. (Photo by Denise Applewhite, Princeton University)

The rounds of debate over the “power gender gap” and the imperative for social, institutional change to close that gap have continued to swell, says Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton.

“I think I caught a generational wave and it turned into a tsunami,” Slaughter says.

She will speak on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All: Getting to a Place of Equal Opportunity” at Dartmouth on Wednesday, April 3, as part of the Leading Voices in Higher Education series. It begins at 4 p.m. in Cook Auditorium at the Tuck School of Business.

The conversation she sparked with her article is building, she says. Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead tops the New York Times bestseller list; Debora Spar, president of Barnard College, has a book on the topic scheduled for release in September, and Slaughter is working on a book that builds on her article coming out next year, she says.

Slaughter left her dream job working for Hilary Clinton as the first woman director of policy planning at the State Department to return to Princeton so she could take a more active role in parenting her 14-year-old son who was foundering in school and withdrawing at home.

She set about busting what she calls the “we can have it all” myth and the harmful assumptions that women who drop out are just not committed enough, picked the wrong partner, or didn’t plan career and family in the proper order. The problem is our society fundamentally devalues the family side of the work-family balance. It is not individual choices but cultural structures that must change, she says.

One example Slaughter offers in the article makes the point:

“My longtime and invaluable assistant, who has a doctorate and juggles many balls as the mother of teenage twins, e-mailed me while I was working on this article: ‘You know what would help the vast majority of women with work/family balance? MAKE SCHOOL SCHEDULES MATCH WORK SCHEDULES.’ The present system, she noted, is based on a society that no longer exists—one in which farming was a major occupation and stay-at-home moms were the norm. Yet the system hasn’t changed.”

Pointing ahead

Slaughter’s thinking has evolved. In her upcoming book, she will broaden the base of her argument to look at the way our society devalues caregivers at every level.

“I think this is an issue, as I define it, of caregivers and breadwinners. The fact is the majority of Americans have to be both at some point in their lives, whether it is for their parents or their children, and our workplace assumes that those two functions are entirely separate. They’re not,” she says.

“When men are caregivers—and there are more and more single fathers and more and more men who are taking time out of their careers—they are also disadvantaged. I see this as a much broader social issue,” she says.

The ongoing “Leading Voices in Higher Education,” part of the strategic planning process, has featured visits from prominent writers, university presidents, and figures in higher education.

Here is a list of upcoming Leading Voices speakers:

  • April 9: Amanda Lenhart, senior research specialist at the Pew Internet & American Life Project, speaking on “‘How Do [They] Even Do That?’: How Today’s Technology Is Shaping Tomorrow’s Students,” at 4:30 p.m., Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences, Room 003.
  • April 25: Andrew Delbanco, (the William Jewett Tucker Lecturer for 2013), the Mendelson Family Professor of American Studies and Julian Clarence Levi Professor in the Humanities and director of American Studies at Columbia University, speaking on “College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be,” at 4:30 p.m., in Moore Hall’s Filene Auditorium.
  • May 7: Richard DeMillo, Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology and director of the Center for 21st Century Universities, speaking on “Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities,” at 4:30 p.m., Rockefeller, Room 003.