Over the past week, I’ve run into several women discussing Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic Monthly confessional, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”. The blogosphere has been atwitter about it ever since. The premise of the piece is that women have been told they can find success in all their various family and professional roles, but the truth is women must and do make choices and compromises, as Slaughter did when she left her position in the State Department to return to her position as a tenured professor. It would seem the only person who thinks Anne-Marie Slaughter (a professor, author, former Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, policy official in the Obama Administration, mother, spouse, etc) does not “have it all” is, apparently, Anne-Marie Slaughter. Some women found her article hostile to feminism. Some women found it refreshingly candid. What is more noteworthy, in my view, is how few men have been moved to express a view. Is “having it all,” a gendered ambition, like good shoes?
For men, there seems to be little to fret over. If men devote themselves to their career, they are living up to breadwinning expectations. If they devote themselves to their families, they are renaissance men. If they give up a work meeting to make one of their children’s recitals or soccer match, they are heroes. If they decide to give up their career altogether and stay home with their children, movies are made about them. While men are set up to have it all, the compromises Anne-Marie Slaughter highlights are no less relevant.
I recall the day I decided to leave the law firm at which I was practicing. I received a call at work from my wife to tell me that our daughter had crawled for the first time. “I wish I had been there,” I said. Later that day, the firm asked me to spend a month in Montreal reviewing documents for a large regulatory case on which I had been working. I realized then this was not a compromise I was willing to make (though it helped that I was not particularly good at what I was doing, so leaving practice seemed the most effective way I could contribute to the success of the firm, and it helped even more that I really love academic life, which I was fortunate to have an opportunity to pursue). Other compromises came soon after. While both my wife and I pursued careers in which mobility would be an asset (and we started our life together in New York), family needs meant we had to stay within driving distance of Toronto. Like the decision to leave practice, this decision also worked out well – Toronto is a wonderful place to live. My family settled in Toronto in the 1880s, and I like the idea that my children will grow up here too.
Like many families where both parents work, my wife and I tend to divide and conquer. My wife has an amazing career. She gets to be a part of virtually everything interesting that happens at Ryerson University. I get tired just following her on twitter (@Hanigsberg). She works under pressure, to deadlines, and has the opportunity to attend exceptionally cool events that I wouldn’t want her to miss. But never for a moment do I think this means she is putting her career ahead of her family. That said, the kids give her a harder time for missing things important to them and she feels lousier when we realize we forgot our daughter’s orthodontist’s appointment. People will expect her to write in her blog about the Slaughter article in the Atlantic, while many will find it odd that I have.
Most nights, she or I will be home getting dinner ready, helping with homework, walking the dog, It is more rare to find us both home, except for Friday nights, when we always are. I have missed some important receptions and dinners and events because they were on Friday evenings. Here, as everywhere, there are exceptions. The Dean’s Formal at Osgoode has been held on Friday evenings for the past two years. Each year, I ask the students not to schedule it on a Friday because it would be awkward for the Dean not to show up for the Dean’s Formal, and it is always a very fun event. Each year, the students explain that to hold the Formal on a Saturday would cost thousands of additional dollars. Each year I make an exception, as I would not be willing to see students pay thousands of additional dollars so that I can make our Friday night dinner. Having it all means every now and then having to give a little.
One could look at these sort of compromises and say “See, Ann-Marie Slaughter is right, you can’t have it all” alternatively, though, “having it all” can be seen as making the right compromises – the ones that allow you to pursue your passion most of the time and be there for those who need you most of the time. For many, this will mean passing on a promotion, or giving up a high-powered but consuming job. For others, this will mean taking a trip, staying late at the office, and missing out on some family time. Women have found the space to explore what they are prepared to compromise – and why, even if it gives rise to anxieties and doubt. For too many men, this space has been missing. This too is changing. I see it in the graduating law students each Spring, as more men plan their careers with their eyes open to the choices ahead, and their consequences, as women have been for a generation or more. I find far more people look back with regret on their failure to make the right compromises than those who look back on the compromises they have made that way. Fewer of today’s graduates will hear about their daughter crawling for the first time over the phone. As long as they do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, I believe those graduates will discover the good can be pretty great. My wife is at a Board meeting as I am writing this – if she were here, she would probably say “that’s easy for you to say…and by the way, did you remember to put the orthodontist appointment on the calendar?”