Sunday, June 24, 2012

Have Angst, Will Travel

As if I could not talk about the Slaughter article in The Atlantic. It's like someone got paid to express my angst.

I think Slaughter's article is good, but loses some of the best observations in a) her poor framing of feminism as striving to have a model, high-power career while raising happy children and a great marriage; b) forgetting that the "time macho" problem affects the physical and mental health of men as well; c) and failing to consider how single parents and same-sex parents conceive of the same overwhelming pressure.

And it is overwhelming pressure. My general experience as a working mother is filled with despair that I am half-assing it at work and half-assing it at home. Ideally, I let work happen at work and home happen at home, but even on my more successful days, the reality remains that parenthood does not have defined borders.  Only I can do my current assignment at the moment--literally, as I have no back-up in my section. Only two people can parent our small children and both of us are sitting in the same building all day. Husband and I have complete economic parity, and we are co-parents in the true sense of the word. This is good. We both would like to win the lottery and just stay home with our kids. This is unlikely. We frequently discuss the state of emergency the constant juggle feels like.

I'll be in Country A, you'll be in Country B. Who will have the kids? How much will that cost? I have to work late, can you put them to bed? You have a meeting, but I have a meeting! Who will pick up Child? How much do we owe Nanny in overtime?

This is something that every working parent deals with, as no matter what your profession or your marital status you have two opposing forces at all time: Your Income/Contribution to the Way the World Works, and the People Who Depend on You to Literally Survive. In some other places, you might have grandparents and aunt and uncles to help you, a village even, but not here.

Under no circumstances do I think there is a magical fairytale land where both parents have shining careers that result in Lots of Power while their well-adjusted children don't get thrown out of school or contract viruses and everyone rides unicorns ALL THE TIME. I think my colleagues with or without children who are helping aging parents or a sick spouse feel similar pressure. I do think, however, that we seem to have concocted a parallel fantasyland, where employees are beholden to their employer's needs above all things and shall never let real life interfere. Needs of the Service, and all. 

It's Are You Mom Enough? versus Are You Employee Enough?

At any rate, as you probably know from reading my hand-wringing, I haven't yet grasped the solution. Below is the original article and some of the responses it has generated (along with excerpts that had me nodding along).

"Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter (Atlantic)

"Can Modern Women 'Have It All'?" by Rebecca Traister (Salon)
We don’t lay the same booby traps for men. We don’t constantly quiz and evaluate and poke and prod and take their emotional temperature, asking if they feel fulfilled and happy, if they have everything they want, if their every youthful aspiration has been met sufficiently, if they feel that they’re measuring up at the office, in the kitchen, in bed.  If we did, we might find out that they – especially younger ones, increasingly used to sharing workplaces and domestic and familial responsibilities with women – also feel stressed, guilty, anxiety-stricken, unfulfilled, questioning. But it’s not likely that we would then use their admissions of discontent to diagnose a larger male inability to balance effectively, or conclude that they are not realistically able to maintain the dominance they’ve enjoyed for millennia because having so much power is a) bad for them, b) unnatural or c) impossible. We’d probably just blame their dissatisfaction on feminism.

Can You Have It All? Talking About the Atlantic Piece That Everyone Is Talking About (Slate)
Farhad Manjoo: Even though Traister argues that "having it all" is a straw man, I suspect that a lot of striving young parents—men and women—really do believe they can have it all, and are shocked when confronted with the reality. I certainly thought so. I thought that my wife could continue in her career, I could continue in mine, and that we could simultaneously be the sort of extremely doting two-parent couple who used to annoy me. But in our situation, for more or less exactly the reasons that Slaughter describes, my wife's career had to go on hold.

I Don't Want to Have It All by Doree Shafrir (Buzzfeed)
A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with a friend who's a top editor at a women's magazine. She has two small children, and she's finding it increasingly difficult to balance the hours and stress of her job with raising her kids. "I just don't think I want to be an editor-in-chief," she told me. "I never thought I'd be someone who said that — I spent my 20s working harder than anyone else so I could get where I am now. But now that I'm here, I see what I would need to do to become an editor-in-chief, and it just doesn't appeal to me anymore."

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