When a woman declares that women can’t have it all, is she a traitor to the feminist cause or merely stating what should have been obvious to everyone?
In the latest edition of The Atlantic magazine, Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and formerly the director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department, made a bold declaration when she wrote that women cannot have it all.
The demands of a professional career, marriage, motherhood, housekeeping and, on top of all that, needing to stay thin and pretty are too much for anyone. I applaud Slaughter for coming out and saying something men have known since time immemorial. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that men think women can’t have it all. I’m saying that men have known for a long time that no one can have it all.
Men certainly can’t. Traditionally, men have always had to sacrifice their home lives and, quite often, their families for a career. It’s a special man who can actually do well at work, help out at home, make it to the PTA meeting, coach the children’s football team or supervise a dance class. Men have usually relied on their spouses for most of this because their careers were so demanding.
So when a woman breaks with the feminist line and laments that women can’t have it all, I say: join the club.
But then statistics show that Thai women seem to have the greatest chance of having it all. Thailand has the highest percentage in the world of women in senior management positions (45%). Not only that, Thailand leads the way with 30% of companies employing female CEOs.
There are those who would argue that the women in leadership positions in Thailand are of an economic status that allows them to have hired help, but I think that’s only part of it. Yes, women who have been able to afford educations that lead to becoming a CEO are likely to be able to afford help, but if that were all there were to it, career women anywhere should be able to have it all. And granted there is the fact that helpers are cheaper in Thailand than in America and that they are more likely to stay for their whole lives. But still, even in a country like Thailand, which is generally more sexist that the west, women have a noticeable advantage.
We live in extended families in Thailand. No matter how much money people make, they are more likely to live in a family compound with parents, siblings and children. When I was growing up, it was normal that we would spend our days with our cousins at my grandmother’s house. It gave us a chance to connect with the older generation and with other family members of our own generation. If a parent was away or busy, there was always someone to watch over us. This support system is noticeably lacking in western nuclear families. And not only do children there suffer from the lack, so do the parents who are trying to have it all. As Hillary Rodham Clinton once famously said, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’
From a man’s point of view, however, it makes no difference whether a spouse or a village raises the children because it is generally assumed that the man will take a secondary role in a child’s upbringing due to the demands of his career. The problem, from a liberated male perspective, is that the women’s movement has made it possible for a woman to be a stay-at-home mum and get the respect that job deserves, but when a man does not step up to the responsibility of a demanding career, he’s a deadbeat or, at the very least, a failure. For the most part, when a man decides to be a stay-at-home dad, he’s usually given a hard time for mooching off his wife.
As a gay man who is the main breadwinner in our household, I see my boyfriend of 15 years (now my fiancé) having to justify himself to all manner of people who feel that he is taking advantage of me. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if we had children, but for some reason, I don’t think that’s the case. The fact that my fiancé is a successful and respected photographer holds no water. Never mind that he takes care of things I don’t have time for because I’m running around like an idiot trying to make money. Don’t even mention how he helps me to schmooze colleagues and clients when I can’t possibly pay attention to everyone without coming off as superficial or spreading myself too thin. There’s always the nudge-nudge, wink-wink of how lucky he is to have landed someone with my financial means. I can only just imagine what it’s like for a straight man who has taken on the job of a stay-at-home dad.
I think it’s great that a successful woman like Slaughter is willing to come out and say that women can only have it all if they have careers that will accommodate the needs of a family. The women’s movement has come far enough that making the family a priority is not denigrated in the way it used to be.
The next step in any development of modern society should be to acknowledge that all people who contribute deserve our respect, no matter how they contribute. This includes men.
02/07/2012 - 11:41