Sunday 21 January 2018

Christina Odone: Finally, the lie about working women has been exposed

Anne Marie Slaughter, formerly an aide to Hillary Clinton
Anne Marie Slaughter, formerly an aide to Hillary Clinton

ANNE-Marie Slaughter has held top jobs at Princeton University and as Hillary Clinton’s thinker-in-chief. But the American academic’s most important contribution lies in her brave exposure of the Big Lie: women can have it all. For decades feminists have tried to delude themselves and others that a woman can be a good mother and a good professional. No, she can’t, says Slaughter — or at least, not unless she works in a very limited number of fields.

It is only by being mistress of her own schedule that a woman can achieve “life-work balance”. An entrepreneur, a freelance writer, a painter, a psychotherapist or any number of consultants can juggle commitments to school-age children, husbands and boss — but that’s because they are the boss. They don’t mind if the report is written at 2?am on the kitchen table covered with dishes from supper; they can shut the shop when school’s rung to say the eldest has been rushed to hospital with a banged head.

Alas, the majority of women (and men) are not so lucky. They work in a culture that prizes presenteeism but frowns on any hint of parenting. Slaughter, whose essay in The Atlantic magazine last week ignited the debate, remembers trying to change this at Princeton: she would stop meetings promptly at six and announce, “I must go home to fix supper.” After a few weeks, female colleagues came to her office: please, could she desist from dragging her domestic life into the hallowed halls of academe — it robbed her of the necessary gravitas.

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