First, thanks to Anne-Marie Slaughter for peeling the band-aid off an open wound of American womanhood. It’s our dirty little secret: balancing work and family is still impossible for elite American women because of the way we structure work, family, love, marriage, careers, masculinity, and dignity.
Yes. It’s that bad. Fifteen years ago, when I began to write Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflicts and What To Do About It, I thought that all we needed to do was to reshape work and careers. The key problem for women, I pointed out, is that workplaces still are designed around an ideal worker who starts to work in early adulthood and works, full time and full force, for forty years without a break, taking no time off for childbearing, childrearing, or anything else. The result is a clash of social ideals. The ideal worker norm clashes with the norm of parental care: the widespread and uncontroversial sense that children need and deserve time with their parents.
The solution is to reshape workplaces around the values we hold in family life. Careers need to be more flexible, such that career breaks do not spell career doom. Hours expectations need to be more flexible, such that a failure to work “full time” does not derail one’s career. Face time needs to end, allowing people to work when and where they need to, so long as the work gets done. Each of these ideas has subsequently been further developed. Here are twogood examples.