October 19 2012

Clinton and I See Eye to Eye on Work-Life Balance

Sabrina Schaeffer

 

Hillary Clinton and I don’t often see eye-to-eye, so you can imagine my surprise when I read the recent interview she gave to Marie Claire. During the interview, Clinton responded to the question “can women really have it all?” prompted by The Atlantic’s recent cover story, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All,” by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Clinton told Marie Claire:

I can’t stand whining. I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made. You live in a time when there are endless choices. … Money certainly helps, and having that kind of financial privilege goes a long way, but you don’t even have to have money for it. But you have to work on yourself. … Do something!

Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs. … Other women don’t break a sweat. …They have four or five, six kids. They’re highly organized, they have very supportive networks.

For the Secretary of State who witnesses the very real atrocities and inequalities facing women around the globe, I'm sure she really does want women here at home to stop "whining."

The fact is, at the same time that women have shattered the ceiling in education, medicine, law, media, corporate America, even politics, women like Slaughter are still lamenting the fact that it is often difficult to balance the most high-powered careers with family.

I suppose this should come as no big surprise. Traveling the globe as the former director of policy planning at the Department of State would definitely make it difficult to be home when her kids got home from school. But her situation is an extreme outlier in the work-life balance curve. Shifts in social norms, growing numbers of women in the workplace, changing technology and communication tools, and a strong economy (until recently) have given more women (and men) greater flexibility in their lives. More and more workers enjoy the benefits of telecommuting, shared jobs, and flexible work hours, but the fact remains that there are still only 24 hours in a day and that means that men and women have to make choices as to how to allocate their time.

Maybe fewer women would be “whining” if more of them accepted that the reality is you can’t do everything – and neither can men. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman conclude in their book Womenomics sometimes women “actually don’t want to make it to the very top of the ladder if it costs us so much else in our lives.” But this is what old-style feminists – Slaughter included – can’t accept. They are increasingly disappointed in the failure of their own gender.

I’m the mother of three young children. I understand deeply the challenge of balancing a career with family. And I certainly don’t always get it right. But it’s clear Clinton and I agree on one thing: choices are hard, but choices are what make us free. 

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