That Piece in the Atlantic

by katyhuff

I finished reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’s piece in the Atlantic, and now I’m angry. So angry. For a while I couldn’t see through the blinding anger to know whether I was angry about some disagreement I have with her work or suddenly mystified by the big bad world. Having been in male-dominated academic science for most of my conscious life, the latter was unlikely.

Did I disagree with her?

She points out that work life balance with an ambitious job (tenured professor, world leader, etc.)  is basically impossible. Okay, agreed. She points out that women are failing to make it to the top. Only 9/190 heads of state are women. Sure, I’ve seen that. She suggests that videoconferencing and flexible work hours will help. Of course I agree. Virtual research meetings currently help me live in the same city as my partner.

Then, she claims that women are powerless against the biological desire to be caretakers.

Absolutely not.

Or are we?

The fear began to mount when she said,

Still, the proposition that women can have high-powered careers as long as their husbands or partners are willing to share the parenting load equally (or disproportionately) assumes that most women will feel as comfortable as men do about being away from their children, as long as their partner is home with them.

And I didn’t doubt the truth of it when she said,

In my experience, that is simply not the case.

But when she said,

Many factors determine this choice, of course. Men are still socialized to believe that their primary family obligation is to be the breadwinner; women, to believe that their primary family obligation is to be the caregiver. But it may be more than that. When I described the choice between my children and my job to Senator Jeanne Shaheen, she said exactly what I felt: “There’s really no choice.” She wasn’t referring to social expectations, but to a maternal imperative felt so deeply that the “choice” is reflexive.

My heart caught on the word. Reflexive. So, this incredibly intelligent lady (former director of policy planning for the state department, tenured professor, respected former colleague of Hillary F*ing Clinton…) has decided she knows why women can’t juggle families at the same time as hyper ambitious jobs. Women are biologically tuned, evolutionarily and socially programmed, to choose the kids over the job… it’s a reflex.


Physiology . noting or pertaining to an involuntary response to a stimulus… any automatic, unthinking, often habitual behavior or response.

I’m angry, but not because she was wrong. I don’t know whether she’s wrong.

I’m a housecat baring its teeth at the lion, angry with the fear that I might be eaten alive.