Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, June 26, 2012 --
Women's efforts to juggle career and family have not been very successful. Perhaps "having it all" isn't all it's cracked up to be.
The Capitol Hill neighborhood is flush with small children, but walk its streets on a workday, and you'd be forgiven for thinking it a ghost town. With both parents at jobs into the early evening, children are almost never seen outside playing. Without other kids on the streets and parents to keep a watchful eye, conventional wisdom says any child outside is easy pickings for child molesters. Parents shuttle off kids to a sequence of play dates and organized sports and lessons, with barely any moments left for unsupervised play. The neighborhood even offers a storefront "Playseum" where parents can pay $6 admission to enter with their kids and engage in supervised play with others.1
It's not just children who lose in this arrangement, it's the parents, too. With at least eight waking hours away from their children, parents feel the need to spend all of the few remaining waking hours around the kids. Parents' personal lives become exclusively child-oriented. No adult vacations. No adult nights out. As a result, baby sitters have largely become a historic anachronism, and finer restaurants are flush with screaming toddlers at 9 p.m. With that, everybody loses.
This phenomenon is most pronounced in places filled with professional women, like at ground zero on Capitol Hill, where there is another type-A personality everywhere you look. One of these personalities, Anne-Marie Slaughter, wrote the latest cover story for the Atlantic lamenting the obstacles that still prevent professional women from "having it all."2 The article has spawned a national controversy, particularly among feminist-thinking women, about the how women fit in the workplace.3
The article makes it clear just how badly professional mothers want to believe they can have it all. But badly wanting to believe something does not make it so. It doesn't take 12,000 words of kvetching in the Atlantic to see an answer so obvious and simple that it can be summed up in one word: choose.
Women must be willing to make a choice between having a high-powered career and raising a family. Acknowledging the need to choose is no betrayal of feminism -- the right to have the choice is feminism's victory. Yet the existence of rights does not change laws of physics, or basic biology. Human lifespans are finite, and people cannot be in two places at once. That's why having it all just doesn't work.
Clearly, having kids isn't for everyone. Women who fall into this camp and have the desire and drive to focus and succeed in their careers should not hesitate to do so.
If you are professional women who yearns for a family, however, there is news that might make your choice easier: Your job just isn't that important. While it may seem important to you, it's likely obscure, bureaucratic and of dubious value to humanity. If you quit, plenty of other people are available to take your place. This is true of everyone up to the American President -- that's what the Vice President is for.
Your children, meanwhile will look to you for everything. And if you are really looking to change the world, it's hard to imagine a situation where you have more power to change another person's life.
None of this is to suggest that women don't belong in the workplace, nor that working women shouldn't be treated as men's equals. But women who want to raise their own kids must not be bamboozled by feminist dogma into thinking that raising children can be relegated to the margins of their day. Professional men were able to do so for so long only because they had women to stay home and raise their children for them. Very few women can realistically hope to find partners willing to do the same.
Much of this reality is acknowledged by Slaughter in her Atlantic article, but she insists that it still should be possible to have it all if only we can restructure society and the workplace to make it possible. Such a prescription would have terrible effects on our society. It would entrench the dogma of the virtue of having it all and expand the opportunity for Americans to participate in the dysfunction that dominates Capitol Hill and other professional enclaves.
Yes, it is unfair that in years past and even today men don't have to face such a stark choice about careers vs. children. But Mother Nature isn't exactly fair in the way she hands out ovaries.
Such a choice is hard to swallow for women reared on feminist dogma about having it all. But once you give up the dogma, is it really so bad? What is so wrong with a less demanding job? Does it really have to be less fulfilling? Rebalancing life away from work toward family and leisure is something that should give Americans -- women and men alike -- no shame. If they just give it a chance, American professionals may find a rich personal life more fulfilling than yet another late meeting in the office.
David and his wife live on Capitol Hill where they are among the few professionals who have chosen not to have children.
2. The Atlantic, Why Women Still Can't Have It All, July/August 2012
3. New York Times, Inciting a Debate on Women and Work, June 26, 2012