The Must-Read I Should’ve, But Didn’t, See Coming

by Deborah Pearlstein

The cover story in this month’s Atlantic magazine is an article by former U.S. State Department head of policy planning, former dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public & International Affairs, former Harvard Law professor Anne-Marie Slaughter. Anne-Marie’s writings on international institutions and international networks are, I’m sure, known to many OJ readers. For this reason alone, I count the piece as fair fodder for our international law and policy blog.

The article, however, is not about international law or policy. Not per se. It is, I suppose, about some of the key jobs in the U.S. international security and foreign policy establishment. It is about her experience, to some extent, of her State Department job. But mostly, it’s about women in these, and other substantive, high-level, professional positions. And whether, and to what extent, it’s possible for women in such positions to “have it all” – that is, a fulfilling career and rich, involved family life. Her conclusion: Outside of academia, not so much.

The significance of the piece is not especially its insights about the difficulty of having both professional career and family life. There are other pieces about the dearth of women in leadership roles in the national security establishment (and at the most senior levels in a host of other professions). There are other pieces about the absurd way in which public school schedules still function as if it hadn’t been more than a decade since our society became one in which the majority of married couples with children have both parents working outside the home. There are other pieces recommending more flexible work places. There are many other pieces about the costs vs. benefits of motherhood earlier vs. later in life. One could go on.

The significance of this piece is its author. There’s a personal cost to writing from one’s personal experience. There’s a risk in engaging the personal as political. Anne-Marie Slaughter didn’t need to write a piece like this. But I’m grateful that she did.

2 Responses

  1. It’s a good piece. If it’s any consolation, not sure men can have it all, either – the kind of punishing work life she describes takes a toll regardless of whether it’s mom or dad (though no doubt professional women get tagged with responsibility for problems at home more than dads do).

  2. This is a great article by Anne-Marie Slaughter.  She is discussing a huge issue that is of central importance to our society.  We in the academic world have it incredibly easy because we have so much freedom over our schedule.  Anyone who has worked the grueling pace in a law firm or government knows she is speaking the truth about these family struggles.  I left private practice when my kids were five and seven and remain eternally grateful that I have a job that allows me to balance work and family.  But few international lawyers have the luxury of an academic life, or other enriching jobs in which they are in control of their schedules.

    Roger Alford   

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