April Feature Review: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”

By Elizabeth Novara

When I volunteered to write this blog post on Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” from The Atlantic (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/), I realized almost immediately that I didn’t really have time to be writing a blog post. But, it was such an interesting and inspiring article, I couldn’t resist commenting on it. Besides, I am one of the women, just as many of you are, facing the challenges that Slaughter discusses.  I have many commitments that I am juggling right now – working full time as an archivist, parenting and family, and going to graduate school part-time. In fact, I first read Slaughter’s article shortly after returning to work full time after maternity leave and was gearing up to start my part-time graduate program. I know — crazy! – but I want “to have it all,” as Slaughter so rightly puts it. Although this article is especially appealingly to working moms, it can also appeal to new working parents, and anyone who plans to be a parent someday.

While Slaughter focuses mainly on her more high-profile career as a director of policy planning at the State Department, she experiences several realizations that are relevant to women in all walks of life. She discusses several reasons for “unresolvable tension between family and career” and comes to the conclusion that “I still strongly believe that women can ‘have it all’ (and that men can too). I believe that we can ‘have it all at the same time.’ But not today, not with the way America’s economy and society are currently structured.”   This is her main argument throughout the article and one that is both disheartening and liberating.  

First, this message is disheartening because it demonstrates that women still have not yet achieved equity with men in the workforce, something most of us realize already. Even though the archival profession now consists mostly of women, there remains a gender gap between men’s and women’s salaries, which holds true to many professions in the American economy. Men tend to hold the leadership positions, while women tend to make less money, even when they do rise into equal leadership roles.   Most archivists do not have high-profile careers, as Slaughter does, but our jobs can still be very demanding depending on where we work and these demands can greatly affect work-life balance for women and men. Archivists who work in academia generally have more flexibility with their work schedules, but usually have more demands from a service and scholarship standpoint than compared to archivists outside of academia, while government archivists generally have higher salaries, but less flexible schedules.  

Slaughter notes that there continue to be myths associated with women balancing work demands and having children such as “it’s possible if you marry the right person” or “if you sequence it right.” These myths are just that. Sometimes things just don’t work out. There is no hidden key to finding success, although perseverance does help, sometimes we are just stuck in a work situation that is less than ideal for a good work life balance. Continued bias against women in the workplace is highlighted in even more recent articles than Slaughter’s, especially in regards to women being discriminated against in the hiring process. [1] Women are perceived as less self-promoting and therefore less ambitious than men.   However, when women do promote themselves they are often seen negatively by others. How do we overcome these biases?

Feminist beliefs are shifting, at least Slaughter argues that hers are, so what does it mean to be feminist in today’s society? My view is that it’s important to remember that feminism is not just about women. It is really about equity across various identities – gender, race, class, ableness, etc. All of the oppressions associated with an individual’s various identities intersect with each other and affect everyone in a society.   This is something to consider not just for women in the workplace, but also in regards to struggles with encouraging more diversity in the archives profession in general.

Slaughter does provide her readers with hope, however, and gives women a plan for action. She argues against women adapting to or adopting the values of a patriarchal society, but emboldens us to create a new society in which women and everyone can achieve success. She states that women need to frame work-family balance issues “in terms of broader social and economic issues that affect both women and men” and that “we must insist on changing social policies and bending career tracks to accommodate our choices, too. We have the power to do it if we decided to, and we have many men standing beside us.” She goes on to say that “America’s social and business policies, rather than women’s level of ambition” explains the lack of women in top leadership positions.   “It means fighting the mundane battles – every day, every year – in individual workplaces, in legislatures, and in the media.”

In my view, this is the single most inspiring quote from Slaughter for those of us struggling to deal with parenting and the workplace.   My personal take on Slaughter’s article: Ask for the things that you need: time and a place for pumping breast milk, more telework time to reduce commuting time, and more flexible work schedules.   Set up support: create a community of new moms or new parents who can talk about issues that are relevant to parenting and working for your particular organization.   Change attitudes: show your workplace and other communities that ambitious women are not a negative stereotype and that they can be good parents too.

Slaughter also paints a broader picture of a more inclusive American society. She writes: “The best hope for improving the lot of all women…is to close the leadership gap: to elect a woman president and 50 women senators; to ensure that women are equally represented in the ranks of corporate executives and judicial leaders. Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone.”

 It’s really attitudes that have to change, not women’s ambitions.


[1] Robin Wilson, “Lowered Cites,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, March 17, 2014, Last accessed March 21, 2014, https://chronicle.com/article/New-Gender-Gap-in-Scholarship/145311/ (subscription required); and Will Yakowicz, “How To Remove Gender Bias From the Hiring Process,” Inc.com, Last accessed March 21, 2014, http://www.inc.com/will-yakowicz/how-to-help-end-gender-bias-while-hiring.html

Interested in writing a review? Contact us! women.archivists.roundtable@gmail.com



April WAR Member Presentations

Below are the upcoming WAR member presentations for April. If you like to plan ahead, we have member presentations at conferences across the country going through July 2014 on the Member Presentations page of the WAR blog.

At the Texas Library Association Annual Conference, in San Antonio, Texas (April 8–11) Amanda Norman will be presenting “Blogging History: Students Bring the University Archives to the Web.” Amanda is University Archivist at Baylor University and can be contacted at amanda_norman@baylor.edu.

At the 2014 AAAS Conference in San Francisco, California (April 16–19), Helen Kim will be presenting “Thru Our Eyes: Community History Keepers and Presenters.” Helen is the Archivist at Visual Communications and can be contacted at helen@vconline.org.

We have 2 WAR member presentations at “Film, Freedom, and Feminism,” the MARAC Spring Conference in Rochester, New York (April 24–26).

• Shira Bistricer, Nicole Greenhouse, Susan Woodland, and Christine Anne George are presenting the panel, “Forgotten Firsts: Women Lurking in the Archives.” Shira and Nicole are Archival Processing Assistants on the Johanna Spector Project at the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary and can be contacted at shbistricer@jtsa.edu and nigreenhouse@jtsa.edu. Susan is the Senior Archivist for the UJA-Federation of New York Collection at the American Jewish Historical Society and can be contacted at swoodland@ajhs.org. Christine is the Archivist & Faculty Services Librarian at the Charles B. Sears Law Library and can be contacted at cgeorge3@buffalo.edu.

• Ashley L. Taylor, L. Rebecca Johnson Melvin, Danna C. Bell will be a part of a roundtable discussion moderated by Cheryl Stadel-Bevans, entitled “Leaning In to the Archives: Women in the Archival Profession.” Ashley is the Archivist at the Archives Service Center at the University of Pittsburgh and can be contacted at alt64@pitt.edu. Rebecca is from the University of Delaware, Danna is from the Library of Congress, and Cheryl is from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If you have an upcoming presentation or a recent publication you would like to share, please email the relevant information to cgeorge3@buffalo.edu to add to our blog and monthly email blast.