The Atlantic published an article by Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter entitled Why Women Still Can’t Have It All in the July/August 2012 issue. It was the most read article in the history of the magazine, and with almost a million readers in its first week alone, Slaughter has been busy in the weeks since.
She has travelled to numerous countries to speak to journalists in places like Britain, Germany, India, Australia, Japan and Brazil. In the United States, she’s spoken with the likes of former CBS news anchor Katie Couric and she was a guest on Stephen Colbert’s July 16 episode of The Colbert Report.
It’s no surprise a woman like her would be in such high demand after reading the article, and then learning that Slaughter’s credentials list as a professor of Politics and International Relations at Princeton University, former dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Politics and International Affairs, and for two years she was the Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. State Department in Washington. She is also married with two teenage sons.
But it was juggling between a highly successful political career and her family obligations that eventually forced Slaughter to declare the inevitable: she could not have both. It was this stark realization that motivated her to write her article and to pose the question: have feminists sold young women a fiction? Is it possible to balance hard ambition without compromising the needs of a family? Yes, argues Slaughter, but not without help.
Slaughter says certain criterion has to be met first in order to achieve a perfect equilibrium: first, be superhuman and never sleep; second, be rich so you can hire help; and third, be self-employed. The problem is that the majority of people don’t have access to luxuries as setting their own work hours.
Major changes need to happen in the system, argues Slaughter. She outlines specific ways to improve the situation for working mothers and fathers across America, like changing the culture of face time, revaluing family values and redefining the arc of a successful career. She spoke to one mother who said if school schedules could be matched with work schedules it would make life a lot easier for the parents, employers, teachers and children alike.
The problem has not yet caught up with the solution however. The main barrier to changing the status quo is that there is not enough female presence in power positions. That is what motivated actress and filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom to produce the documentary film, “Miss Representation,” which explores the significance of multimedia in the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence in America.
Currently women make up 51 percent of the U.S. population, yet only 17 percent compromise of Congress; a total of 34 U.S. governors have only ever been female compared to the 2,300-plus men who have served, and the U.S. is 79th in the world when it comes to women in national leadership roles.
Only 3 percent of women in the United States hold any positions of clout in the fields of telecommunications, entertainment, publishing and advertising. At the time Newsom released her film, Walt Disney, perhaps the biggest perpetrator of gender roles, had only four female members sitting on their board of directors out of 12. This ratio was mirrored throughout of all of the major U.S. conglomerates producing our media, including Viacom (2 of 11), CBS (2 of 14), Time Warner (2 of 13) and the always “Fair and Balanced” Fox News with a whopping 1 female board member out of a possible 16.
What that means for us, according to Carol Jenkins, co-founder of the Women’s Media Center, is that 97 percent of what we know and accept about ourselves, our culture and the world comes from the male point-of-view. “It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong,” says Jenkins, “it just means that in a democracy where you talk about equality and full participation you’ve got half, more than half of the population, not participating.”
There is an apparent disconnect between the values we try to instil in our children, i.e. the Golden Rule, and the powers that disseminate information about our behaviours and attitudes towards one another as adults. President and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman, said aptly that “you can’t be what you can’t see.” And what do girls see? That underrepresentation to the point of complete invalidation is the disease of women’s rights, and the academic term for it is called symbolic annihilation.
It’s said that when American suffragist and abolitionist Lucy Stone was born in the early 19th century, her mother cried “Oh dear! I am so sorry it’s a girl. A woman’s life is so hard.” Fast forward a century in 1963 and Betty Friedman is publishing The Feminine Mystique, calling “it” “the problem with no name.” Fifty years later or so in 2011, women like Newsom are still fighting against the default role of women; and, in 2012 Anne-Marie Slaughter has confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that real concrete policy and system changes have to be made NOW for the sake of ourselves, our children and our happiness.