Professor Slaughter, as a proud member of the Class of ’78, I am pleased to know that we crossed paths at Princeton, although we did not know each other and have never met. Your accomplishments, both professional and familial, are admirable, and your struggles to fulfill career goals while maintaining personal commitments as a hands-on mother are ones that many of us can relate to.
When I saw your piece in The Atlantic, I had many responses, even to the title: Who ever said that women, or anyone, for that matter, can have it all? Where is it written that there is such a thing as a perfect work/family balance? And isn’t it always a juggling act, given the huge demands of parenting itself?
Second, I liked your article very much, and found it honest in all ways. I agree that there is little preparation for the impossibility of doing everything, once a working woman decides to have children. I could understand perfectly the pull to be closer to home, especially as children reach the chaos of adolescence. Similarly, it was clear that many people, both women and men, would not feel this pull, and would put their career goals above all else. Having carried a child for nine months, given birth, and raised a baby through the teenage years, I would find it physiologically and psychologically impossible not to be deeply connected to the struggles that my child experienced.
As the child of a single parent, I saw the push and pull my mother went through in the early ’70s, as feminism was trying to spread its wings, and there was, as yet, no prediction about the impact this would have on the children. In fact, my mother, Shelley List, a journalist and novelist, published an op-ed piece in The New York Times in 1972 that was an open letter to me and my sister, then 15 and 11, about her quandaries in trying to fulfill her dreams of working as a writer while, in effect, neglecting our emotional needs (“To Julie and Abigail,” March 17, 1972).
From this perspective, as a white, middle-class person born to a heterosexual mother who divorced my father when I was 9, I contemplated all of those who are not mentioned in your article nor in the responses you received as published in PAW (Perspective, Sept. 19). In most of the articles I have read about feminism, the work/family balance, and the opportunities of advancing professionally, there is little attention given to issues of race, class, or sexual orientation. Thus, these struggles seem to apply, by default, only to white, middle-class, married, straight, women. It is primarily white women who have the opportunities to get advanced education, or have the privilege of making the choices you and I have had the luxury of making. In addition, we are the ones who have raised children within heterosexual relationships, which until recently were the only kinds of couples who could reap the benefits of a legal union. We have the choice whether or not to work, in many cases, and to decide whether we prefer to work part time when our children are small (as I did) if we have husbands or partners who take the parenting role as seriously as we do. And, finally, being middle-class, we also have the luxury of deciding if we can afford to hire someone to help us with our children.
For single parents, who would like nothing more than to fulfill career goals, there are the pressing issues of finding good child care, paying the bills, and stretching themselves very thin, financially and emotionally. For women of color, especially those who are single and poor, who always face some form of overt or covert racism and ever-present institutional racism, the choices are fewer still. And for lesbians, there is a whole other set of obstacles and legal challenges that they must face.
So, while I agree with the struggles we have as white, middle-class, heterosexual women, I cannot wholeheartedly support the argument without a more thorough investigation of how trying to strike a work/family balance affects all women. From the start, the ideals of feminism have applied primarily to white, middle-class women, and, as a result, I fear we are neglecting many of our sisters in this discussion, and not only our children.
This does not minimize the very real struggles you identify in your article; neither does it negate all of the points you make so well. I just wish that we, as professional women and mothers, would broaden our exploration and learn not only from each other but from other women who face different and more difficult struggles.
Thank you for your contribution, as a Princetonian, as a professional, and as a loving mother.