NEW YORK (AP) – A first-person lament by a former State Department official on “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has attracted more visitors to The Atlantic website in a 24-hour period than any magazine story the site has ever published.
The piece by Anne-Marie Slaughter described her struggles balancing a high-powered career with raising her two sons.
“I knew this was going to resonate,” said Slaughter in a phone interview, but “I did not expect it to go viral quite this fast.”
Slaughter, 53, served as the first female director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., and commuted home to Princeton, N.J., on weekends while her husband, Andrew Moravcsik, a professor at Princeton, served as primary caregiver for their two boys.
In the article, she recalls a glamorous reception she attended with the Obamas and other VIPs where she couldn’t stop thinking about her 14-year-old son, who was “skipping homework, disrupting classes, failing math, and tuning out any adult who tried to reach him.”
Eventually Slaughter left the State Department to resume her career as an academic at Princeton because, she wrote, “of my desire to be with my family and my conclusion that juggling high-level government work with the needs of two teenage boys was not possible.” (Her son, she says, is now doing fine.)
While the challenges of being a working mother are not exactly news, Atlantic editor-in-chief James Bennet said the magazine was certain Slaughter’s story would generate a strong response. “Every family experiences this struggle and every generation has to grapple with it anew,” he said.
Clicks were “approaching 450,000 uniques” on Friday and had more than 75,000 Facebook recommendations, magazine spokeswoman Natalie Raabe said.
Slaughter spoke to AP Friday by phone from her home in New Jersey.
AP: Describe the response to the story.
SLAUGHTER: I’ve just been bowled over by the powerful things women have been writing me and men, too. The majority are younger women but not all. They start out by saying, `Your article made me cry.’ Then they write about what they’re juggling, how they’re feeling, that they’ve been blaming themselves for the difficulties they’re having. Many of the stories make ME cry. There are women’s voices and men’s voices that do need to be heard. If writing this article gets those stories out there, that’s the greatest reward.
AP: You note that older successful women like Hillary Clinton and Ruth Bader Ginsburg had their children first and then built careers, while many women of your generation worked on careers first, then had kids, but struggled to make it work and often had to choose one over the other. Have we been lying to young women that they can do both?
SLAUGHTER: I’ve said for ages that `Yes, you can have it all, you just have to work at it.’ I didn’t realize how much of that depended on my being able to control my own time. I don’t think it was a lie, but I think the women coming up are facing new circumstances where there are all these opportunities, opportunities men have always had, where they can try to get tenure, or try to be a partner at a firm. They’re also seeing so many women in my generation who had children late and many of us had all sorts of fertility problems. They say, `I don’t want that but I want to have children. How on earth am I going to get established in my career?’ So this is new for our whole society.
I think it’s right that we’ve gotten to a place where women who are at the top or close to the top are willing to be more honest. Every generation defines itself at least in part against the one that came before. We’ve got a whole new generation of very accomplished young women saying, `We want different role models but we can’t find them.’
AP: In the article you say you are writing for your demographic, “highly educated well-off women who are privileged enough to have choices in the first place.” How does your message relate to women who struggle with more basic issues like poverty, lack of child care, being single moms?
SLAUGHTER: I am acutely aware of the millions of women who have no choice about working and being with their children. Part of what I’m arguing is that we need to change our social policies more fundamentally with good day care, schools that end the same time work ends, and really providing for a more integrated work and school life, not to mention health care and other things. We need many more changes to allow mothers and parents to be able to spend more time with their children and have a better work-life balance. As a society, that’s also about investing in our children by allowing parents to do that. Another part of what I’m arguing is that we don’t have enough women politicians. We still don’t have a woman president, we don’t have enough women at the top of corporations. If you’re going to have wider social change, part of that does come from who’s in the leadership.
AP: Where do husbands, fathers and life partners figure in?
SLAUGHTER: Having a life partner who is committed to being an equal caregiver is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Without my husband, I never could have gone to Washington. My husband’s a hero; he was willing to take the kids during the week. That’s essential. I think there are many more men than ever before saying they want to be with their kids and spend more time with them. But even with a wonderful husband, I found _ and it was the hardest thing to admit to myself _ it was still very important to my sons for me to be there. Even if you marry the man of your dreams, it doesn’t solve everything.
AP: Any final advice for women who want careers and kids?
SLAUGHTER: This won’t work for every profession, but having control of your own time is important. If you control your own schedule and your kid gets an ear infection, you can deal with it. If you don’t deal with it, an entire week’s worth of meetings and work can tumble like dominoes. Of course if you’re a surgeon you can’t say, `Sorry, hold that appendix!’ but for many professions, we can do it, especially with the technology we have.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)