Dear Ms. Slaughter,
Do not let this moment pass.
Do not allow your argument to be swallowed by the tangential, the misdirected, the cleverly obtuse. You began a conversation that exposed one of the flashpoints of the half-finished sexual revolution in which we all live and work. You have the power, and the connections, to continue that conversation on your own terms, to frame the argument. I implore you: do not allow America’s preoccupation with choice, privilege, and the discussion du jour sweep aside an opportunity to foment change.
I don’t mean to imply that the conversations generated by your eloquent and deeply necessary article in The Atlantic are without merit. Precisely because, as you put it, addressing the issue at hand meant you were “…stepping on treacherous ground,” that ground was bound to shake with anger and frustration, and so it has. I’ve read many a response to your article that attacks your position of privilege and power—these arguments, while based in valid social and personal frustration, miss the point. It is precisely because you have privilege and power that you could write this article, and that you can work to implement the change you advocated. And that change, if properly handled, would benefit all working mothers.
I have also read responses to your article—the most notable, and most eloquent, written by Keli Goff—that point out an option you failed to mention: choosing not to have a child. Again, this is a valid response within a discussion of women’s lives and choices; and again, it misses the point. Choosing not to have a child should be every woman’s right, and discussing the ways in which the childless woman is harangued and overlooked (or prevented from existing, by preventing the choice in the first place) is vital. Discussing it in the middle of a conversation about how to help women with children balance work and family life, however, is like discussing vegetarianism in the middle of a conversation about the meat-packing industry. Choosing to abstain from a problem does not help those in the thick of a problem.
The response that set me afire—and I hope you as well—came from the brilliant and insightful Naomi Wolf. Ms. Wolf got right to the heart of the matter: policy. Among her many spot-on observations are the following:
- Globally, the issue is no longer just a woman’s issue
- Much of the work-life imbalance for affluent women is unloaded onto lower-income women, usually women of color
- “… Americans have a remarkable tendency to reduce problems that others addressed through public policy to a matter of private ‘choice’ and even personal psychology.”
- Other developed countries, such as Canada and the Netherlands, solve these issues with public policy. In the United States, political attempts to solve these problems are often blocked by lobbyists and those with vested interests in businesses that profit from paying women less money for equal work.
The way the United States sees parenthood (read: motherhood) is at the crux of the problem. “Women’s rights” are a “woman’s issue,” and a “woman’s right to choose” determines whether she can “have it all”—and so we debate, endlessly, the flashpoints around a mother’s body and a child’s life, without ever putting our finger on the hot-button center of it all: it isn’t just about women. It’s about families, and it’s about life. The only one we get to live.
At several points in your article, you did put your finger on that hot-button center, and you were willing to step onto treacherous ground to do it. You created a genuine opportunity, and I hope you will not let others own the conversation until it fades, slowly but surely, into the next conversation.
As a woman of privilege and power, you know the phone numbers of people most of us will only see and hear via the media outlets. You can’t do it alone, but you could be a catalyst for change in this country: you could use your voice, your intellect, and your truth to mobilize like-minded women and men with power to shape a policy, or a series of policies, that would allow families of all types to live more reasonable lives.
If not you, then who? If not now, then when?
With Warm Regards and Deep Admiration,
Elizabeth Hall Magill