Anne-Marie Slaughter * Random House * September 29, 2015 * 352 Pages
Anne-Marie Slaughter was Director of Policy Planning under Secretary of State Hillary Clinton–but she’s most familiar to me as the author of her controversial Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. The woman has some seriously impressive credentials, and I was excited to hear what she had to say about the oft talked-about subject of work/family balance, and I was curious to see how her thoughts stacked up against other books on the subject, such as Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder, All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood, and Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.
Amazingly, Unfinished Business adds something new to the discussion. Slaughter’s ideas are refreshing and insightful, and I also happen to think she is spot on. Slaughter’s strongest point is that there is powerful and ubiquitous discrimination against caregiving in the United States. Fifty years ago, women wanted out of the home. They wanted to have freedom to pursue their own goals, while also having the opportunity to support themselves. And over the past half-century, they’ve more or less accomplished this goal. Obviously there is still progress to be made, but there is no denying that women are better off than they were several years ago. They are better educated, more independent, and largely more self-supporting. But, as Slaughter says, “In the long quest for gender equality, women first had to gain power and independence by emulating men.” They may have proven that they can do “men’s work,” but, unfortunately, what was once considered “women’s work,” (i.e., caring for children and the home) is still not valued in our society.
Traditionally, we talk about kids and work/life balance as if these are “woman problems.” But Slaughter argues that having the time and flexibility to provide care–whether to our kids, parents, or friends–is a freedom that everyone, man or woman, should have. Moreover, people should be respected and rewarded for engaging with and taking care of their families–for, say, taking paternity leave or adjusting their schedules in order to attend a child’s play.
In fact, I love how Slaughter sees the next phase of the women’s movement being a men’s movement, where men fight for and ultimately achieve the same range of choices that women have when it comes to caregiving vs. breadwinning. Imagine if men could be accepted, truly accepted, as the lead parents at home, without judgment or condescension. How freeing that would be for both women and men alike!
Slaughter ends the book with several in-depth and creative ideas for creating workplace environments that are legitimately family-friendly. There is little here that is concrete or immediately implementable, but I thought she gave some good jumping off points.
Overall, I loved Unfinished Business. I’m so happy to see more high-powered women writing books like this, books that honestly examine the barriers people face when they try to do their jobs well AND still be present with their families. Talking about these issues is the first step to genuinely addressing the problems.