By JAMILA RIZVI
Anne-Marie Slaughter is the kind of woman I have always aspired to be. She’s had a phenomenal career: from Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton to director of policy planning at the US State Department, working directly with Hillary Clinton. It’s the stuff my geeky political West Wing-esque dreams are made of.
Slaughter has a husband whom she loves and who loves her in return. She has raised two sons. She’s well respected in her community and is widely reported to be kind and funny and be nurturing of young female talent.
So when a woman with those sort of swoon-worthy credentials says that she’s been selling women of my generation a bullshit line and that we can’t actually have it all – I was just a little bit gutted.
Slaughter has penned an essay for American magazine The Atlantic that is set to be one of the most shared articles in history. (Clocking in at a little over 12,000 words, it is by no means an easy or light read but it justifies the time if you have it.) In it she explains her decision to quit the world of politics and policy in order to spend more time with her family.
In the essay Slaughter says:
I routinely got reactions from other women my age or older that ranged from disappointed (“It’s such a pity that you had to leave Washington”) to condescending (“I wouldn’t generalize from your experience. I’ve never had to compromise, and my kids turned out great”).
The first set of reactions, with the underlying assumption that my choice was somehow sad or unfortunate, was irksome enough. But it was the second set of reactions—those implying that my parenting and/or my commitment to my profession were somehow substandard—that triggered a blind fury.
Suddenly, finally, the penny dropped. All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family…
Ouch. Cue glass shattering around me. You see, I do that.
I’m one of those women who is all smiles and nods and is fiercely supportive of my friends’ choices to pull back from their previously career-driven lifestyles to have children. But I’m judging them. There is a small part of me that is smugly assuring myself that I’ll be different, I’ll strike that perfect balance and I won’t ever compromise the things I want to achieve, in order to have a family. Nor will I give up the perfect husband, two kids, a puppy and a white picket fence dream (actually no fence, don’t like fences).
Now, just a second, hold your smirks – I know that’s what you’re doing, I can feel it. When I talk this way, my own mother gets this knowing look behind her eyes and I bet she’s thinking “at least it’s going to be a little bit fun saying ‘I told you so’ when it all goes to shit for my absurdly naive eldest daughter.”
The debate about women ‘having it all’ is not new. And the debate about what ‘all’ actually is – isn’t new either.
I recall nodding along to every chapter of Virginia Haussegger’s great book “Wonder Woman – the myth of having it all’ and thinking “gosh I’m lucky to live in a generation where I know all about biological clocks. I’ll make sure not to forget about those.”