Why Women Still Can’t Ask the Right Questions

When women reach the summit of corporate power – as Sheryl Sandberg recently did at Facebook – they garner massive attention. But if public policies were in place to help all women – whether CEOs or their children’s caregivers – such women would be no more newsworthy than any other highly capable people living in a just society.

NEW YORK – We are just recovering, in the United States, from the entirely predictable kerfuffle over a plaint published by Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department and a professor at Princeton University, called “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” The response was predictable because Slaughter’s article is one that is published in the US by a revolving cast of powerful (most often white) women every three years or so.

The article, whoever has written it, always bemoans the “myth” of a work-life balance for women who work outside the home, presents the glass ceiling and work-family exhaustion as a personal revelation, and blames “feminism” for holding out this elusive “having-it-all ideal.” And it always manages to evade the major policy elephants in the room – which is especially ironic in this case, as Slaughter was worn out by crafting policy.

The problems with such arguments are many. For starters, the work-family balance is no longer a women’s issue. All over the developed world, millions of working men with small children also regret the hours that they spend away from them, and go home to bear the brunt of shared domestic tasks. This was a “women’s issue” 15 years ago, perhaps, but now it is an ambient tension of modern life for a generation of women and men who are committed to gender equality.

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