By AMBAR J. CALVILLO on June 26, 2012
Appearing on at least five of my news feeds last Wednesday, Ann Marie Slaughter’s article for Atlantic magazine, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All”, caused quite the stir. It was emailed, and recommended to me by three friends before I had the courage to finish reading it. It was the title. I was subconsciously afraid to read a well-written, very popular article, which in my mind, would include all of the reasons why women would be doomed forever. As soon as I was finished reading it I devoured countless responses from major media outlets, most written from women who declared to be proof that Slaughter was wrong.
Most of these reactions and responses missed the point, and I continue to blame the title. This title, along with the message that the “feminist credo has failed women”, has revived a public antagonism between women. As my director said over email: “let the ‘mommy wars’ continue”. The spotlight, though, has been on the voices of the few privileged women who have tons of choices afforded to them. The media is overwhelmingly saturated with responses from the quintessential ‘super-mom’ –– educated, wealthy, successfully employed (maybe self-employed), married, and with superb time-management skills. I can see them, shaking their fingers and nodding their heads in disapproval at the idea that someone couldn’t manage to ‘have it all’ (or their version of it all to be precise).
Such as Kamenetz’s piece, “Yes, We Can Have It All – Here’s What It Takes” where she not only confesses to be part of the “oh-so small sector of the population; upper class educated women” who work, not because they have to, but because they want to. She then continues to include her nanny and husband as part of the equation to “having it all”. Well…good for her. Now, where is the representation of the million other single mothers, working two to three jobs, trying to afford childcare? What happens when a nanny, husband, flexible or dependable work schedule are not a variable? What kind of standard are we setting for women? These responses are individual approaches to ways in which some women can make it work and “have it all”. We should be looking at the challenges that affect everyone (regardless of class, education, or type of family) and collectively look at ways in which all women and caregivers can decide what “having it all” means to them, and then having the opportunity to have it.
The major media outlets should take responsibility for setting up an “us vs. them” effect: those who think they have the magic equation to really “have it all”, and shaming those that are falling through the cracks. Most of the cracks are set by employers and work environments that don’t value family. It is not the “feminist credo” that has failed women, it is the policies and systems in place that have failed women.
Feminism, never promised things would be perfect. As two friends discussed with me over lunch, feminism began so that women could have the choice to have a career, a family, and a chance to change what wasn’t working for them. Feminism allows us to identify what it means for us to (ideally) “have it all” and then have an equal opportunity (and support systems) to chase it. Like our sisters, leading the first wave feminist movement, we should stand together, not alone.
The issues, such as the underrepresentation of women as corporate executives and judicial leaders, which Slaughter discuses, are often framed as individual problems, but they are not. The challenges keeping the leadership gap this way should be analyzed and discussed as a much-needed systemic overhaul. We should work together to ensure our country provides the very basic policies that value working caregivers and their families. If these policies were in place, women (and men) wouldn’t have to become a juggling act or superhuman mythical creature in order to have a career and care for a family. Women and men should not have to worry about being punished at work, taking a demotion, or passing up great career opportunities because they are also working to succeed as family members. The standard should be better, and they should work for the millions of people working everyday to survive and to “have something”.
Bravo describes the following policies we need NOW (not when a woman is elected president) in a Women’s Media Center post:
- Paid sick days that protect jobs or paychecks for being a good mother and staying home with a sick child. Right now two in five workers lack even a single paid sick day, and nearly half of those who earn sick time can’t use it to care for a sick child.
- Family leave for all workers to protect jobs for those with a new baby. Half the workforce is this country isn’t eligible for the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides that job protection.
- Family leave insurance that would keep new mothers from being forced to rely on welfare and other public programs after giving birth. Today nearly half of women in the U.S. workforce do not receive a penny of pay during maternity leave—too often forcing their families into poverty.
- Equity for part-timers and predictable schedules so women don’t have to decide which bill will go unpaid because the work schedule changes from week to week, with very short notice and usually too few hours—or just enough shy of 40 to deny eligibility for benefits.
So what can we do? Enter Andrea Paluso, Executive director of Family Forward Oregon, one of the organizations working to change the systems that are failing caregivers and families. Family Forward’s vision is to have statewide policies that value the work of caring for loved ones, which every state could/should model. It views this process as “critical to [the] social and economic health” and one that should not “jeopardize anyone’s job or long-term security”. Family Forward Oregon (FFO) is an advocate to develop an “equal playing field” for everyone when it comes to universal policies that include “paid family leave, paid sick days, and affordable child care”.
“Whether it’s 16-month long maternity leave in Sweden or paid sick days in Japan, family-forward policies make economies more competitive — not less. The result is a more resilient, stable, and healthy workforce. The United States needs to catch up with the rest of the industrialized world. As a grassroots organization, we mobilize parents to advocate for bold, universal policies that benefit ALL families. No matter how your family is configured, what type of work you do, or how much money you make, we know that we are all in this together”
Working to educate employers, parents, and policy makers is an important process everyone can be a part of to change systems, attitudes, and policies to support the success of all families and caregivers – so we can ensure everyone has the opportunity to define their own success and ‘have it all’.