Thursday, April 25, 2024
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Laura Perrins: Want to be a liberated woman? Ignore your kids


Anne-Marie Slaughter has a new book out Unfinished Business so prepare for many, many promo articles in the papers. There was one in The Sunday Times, the Daily Mail and The New York Times, and that is just a start.

For those of you late to the party, Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote that essay in The Atlantic entitled Why Women Still Can’t have it All. (It comes complete with one of those stupid pictures of a baby in a handbag. I mean who does this? Enough with the baby in a handbag thing.) It exploded all over the web and was read by 2.7 million people.

I have some sympathy for Anne-Marie Slaughter and her views, which are for an American audience. In the US women only get six weeks maternity leave compared to our nearly 12 months.

Slaughter feels that instead of women ‘Leaning In’ in the American workplace, American men and American policies need to change. The workplace must become more understanding of the caring roles both mothers and fathers will assume, and men should ‘Lean Out’ to accommodate their partner’s career.

In particular Slaughter believes society needs to value care more. This is most welcome, but I have noticed that the women who make these calls to ‘value care’ usually do so when they are well past the stage of having to care for young children themselves.

When they did have the opportunity to care for their own children they refused to do so. Suddenly, some ten years down the line and there is a family crisis one experiences a Damascene conversion. Ironic you might think – either ironic or predictable.

I do have a few gripes however. The first is that this conversation only applies to not just the top 10 per cent of the population, but the top 0.1 per cent. It all goes back to the seminal Atlantic piece.

Slaughter felt she could not have it all as she was living 200 miles away from her family for five days a week. She was serving as the first female director of policy planning under Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton (!) in Washington DC; her husband and sons were in New Jersey. One of her sons was on the edge of being expelled from school and this prompted her to return home.

Slaughter also recounts how when her son was six he was asked to draw a picture of his family. He drew a picture of his family and she was depicted as a laptop. Not a woman with a laptop, just a laptop. That should have set alarm bells ringing but some people are slow learners, I guess.

The original piece should have been entitled, “Why working in another state five days a week and treating your family home like a hotel might lead to problems.” But I guess that is less catchy. The truth is very few mothers or fathers would think of pulling this kind of trick, and those that do are part of the 0.1 per cent.

The reality is that working-class women have been working for a long time before the feminists came along. The feminists were not interested in these women. Instead they wanted to claim the jobs their middle class fathers had.

Slaughter admits that she valued her father’s work as lawyer more than her mother’s job caring for her three children and wider family (a view she has since changed). In truth, feminists ordered middle-class degree educated women not just into the workplace but to emulate the 1950s husband.

You were not a liberated woman unless you left early in the morning and returned after the kids were tucked up in bed or in Slaughter’s case you went five solid days in a row without seeing your children.

The mess, the tantrums, the nappies and the nursery rhymes are not for these wimmin. Perhaps the modern father would do it but more likely is that it is delegated entirely to ‘the help.’ If you get caught doing the actual caring even for a short time it is, as Nicky Morgan would say, a ‘waste of your potential.’ No wonder so few women opt to do it. Their Leaning In to work means Opting Out at home.

Anne-Marie Slaughter wants fathers to pull their weight at home. Again, many already do this unnoticed, it seems, by the 0.1 per cent. There are plenty of families out there pulling double shifts – mother works during the day and father at night. The lucky ones might have granny around but the fathers are doing lots of bedtimes.

The feminists don’t know these fathers or only encounter them as ‘the driver’ who transports them to Woman’s Hour where they can complain about how men are useless. Sometimes, I think it is the feminists, and not the conservatives who are trapped in some 1950s time warp.

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter is published by Oneworld, £16.99.

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