Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter reminded me somewhat of Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought, although Crabb’s Australian perspective made it easier for me to relate to (not to mention more difficult to think ‘doesn’t happen here’). An academic who took a two-year hiatus to work with the Policy Planning staff with the State Department under Hillary Clinton, she returned to academia both to stay on tenure track and stabilise her family life. Despite the fact the two year hiatus was very common amongst academics on tenure track, she received a lot of flack over her perceived willingness to give up her Washington career for the sake of her family, and she details in the book how, like most things in life, it wasn’t that simple.
The reason I compare Unfinished Business to The Wife Drought is because Slaughter talks at length about the sacrifices women are expected to make if they want to achieve the same success as men – the same sacrifices said men are expected to make if they want illustrious careers at the peak of their professions – while conveniently forgetting (or it never having occurred) that the very reason these men have been able to make those sacrifices is because they had a wife to pick up the slack at home – managing the house, raising the kids. It’s remarkable how much more energy you can invest into your career if you don’t have such inconveniences eating up your time.
In short, for women to have the same material success as men, there need to be men willing to make the same ‘sacrifices’ that women have been making, to be the one who puts a career on hold to look after the children, to be the one who gives a job without another (better) one lined up because their wife received great opportunity that involves relocating, to do one of a hundred things that says, in actions as well as words, that their wife’s career is a priority.
Slaughter goes into the inherent lack of value associated with caring – there’s a great line about how we associate caregiving with giving but working with winning – as is illustrated by the fact so many careers associated with child raising and caregiving teaching, nursing etc – are low paid despite requiring high levels of education and a broad skill set (show me a nurse who isn’t equal parts doctor and confidante on top of their actual job description.) She also talks about the double standards you see when men and women switch traditional roles, employs a favourite trick of mine, gender-flipping. Women are still consider smart if they have a working knowledge of a male-dominated field that would be expected basic knowledge for a man, and men are treated as extraordinary if they prove to be competent, let alone gifted when it comes to child-related responsibilities.
It’s a fascinating read that comes back to the fact that much of a mens’ success has come because a woman has compromised on her own dreams to support him, and that any partnership that involves children needs one of them willing to take a less materially successful role, and that the default position should not be that the woman be the one to take that role.