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Do Mothers Just Need To Accept Sacrifice?


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. Every week we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice.

Now, you knew we would get there. Let's call it the shot heard around the blogosphere. Former State Department official Anne-Marie Slaughter was the first woman to direct the Policy Planning Office at the State Department. She left that job after two years to return to her tenured position at Princeton, but more importantly to her family.

After a couple of months, she decided to write about that in a cover story for the Atlantic magazine in a piece titled "Why Women Still Can't Have It All," and I'm sure she expected some reaction, but did she expect almost 800,000 page views so far, some 1,500 comments, more than 100,000 Facebook likes, and a counter-debate that has already sparked more than a dozen essays so far?

The piece argues that many women who work outside the home are driving themselves crazy trying to juggle high powered jobs, children and family commitments, and that they are not necessarily honest with each other about the toll this is taking. That touched a nerve with readers who want to talk about this, so we want to talk about this. Anne-Marie Slaughter is with us now, the former director of policy planning for the State Department and currently a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, and a mom of two.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, Professor Slaughter, thank you so much for joining us.

ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER: It's my pleasure. I'm so glad to be here.

MARTIN: And of course we're joined by three of our regular moms/contributors. Jolene Ivey. She is the mom of five boys. She's also a Maryland state lawmaker. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a mom of three. She is an author, most recently of "Crazy Love: A Memoir." Dani Tucker is a mom of two and an office administrator.

Welcome, ladies, moms. Thank you so much for joining us.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, Michel.

DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

MARTIN: Anne-Marie Slaughter, let's start with you. I'm curious about how this piece came about because I remember hearing you talk about this, actually, at a speaking engagement that we were both participating in, which was not the subject of the speaking engagement, but I remember you speaking very candidly with me in private moments about your struggle around this and leaving your position. And also the flashback that you got from a lot of people when you were honest about why you left the position, which was to spend more time at home.

So how did you decide to write this piece? How did this piece come about?

SLAUGHTER: What made me decide to write it was two things. One was just the reaction of younger women who were so hungry for something more than telling them, hey, you can make it work. You know, just work really hard and you'll juggle it and you can make it work. And they were saying to me, you know, we need more than that. This is really, really hard and we don't see any role models. We don't want to make the same choices that a lot of the women who are in top positions made, but we don't know what to do.

And the other was that suddenly I was on the other end of women and men, but really both, looking at me and sort of saying, gee, what a pity you had to leave your great job at the State Department, and a kind of disappointment that, you know, I couldn't go on and, you know, go to higher office, you know, which many of them said that - you know, wanted me to do.

And I thought, God, this is what it feels like to be a woman who suddenly says, you know, my kids need me and I'm going to take a different kind of job so I can be with them. This doesn't feel good. And I thought, we've got to change that. We've got to validate these choices and make it about living up to your responsibilities as a parent, being a multidimensional person, you know, being - really living up to your own code of values.

MARTIN: Well, I think one of the reasons the piece had such an impact is that, in a way, you're calling out another very high profile woman, Sheryl Sandberg, the CEO of Facebook, who made a big splash with a speech she gave at Barnard College graduation last year, and I'll just play a short clip of it.


SHERYL SANDBERG: I encourage you to think big. Studies show very clearly that, in our country, men are more ambitious than women. They're more ambitious the day they graduate from college. They remain more ambitious every step along the career path. We will never close the achievement gap until we close the ambition gap, but if all young women start to lean in, we can close the ambition gap right here, right now. Leadership belongs to those who take it. Leadership starts with you.

MARTIN: And in a way, Anne-Marie Slaughter, you're calling her out. You're saying what's wrong with this picture is that you're making it the women's fault that women have not yet achieved the same level of representation in these high powered positions. But also, it is much harder than anybody is willing to admit to. Does that about sum it up?

SLAUGHTER: I think that's right. I think it's important to note that Sheryl Sandberg and I start from the same place. We look out and we see too few women at the top and we want to change that, and I think she's absolutely committed to wanting to change that and I applaud her for it.

But I do think that - I guess I don't believe there's an ambition gap because I'm not sure we're asking the right question. I think if we said to women hey, do you want to be at the top of your profession and we're going to make it possible for you to have the kind of family you want to have along the way, you'd see all sorts of women saying yes. But they're looking at a world in which they don't see how they can have both a family and the career they want and that's where we should be focusing on the change. I think there's an accommodation gap.


MARTIN: OK. Well, let's talk about that. Leslie, you've written extensively about this issue as well. You edited a book of essays called "Mommy Wars," which was ostensibly about, you know, the so-called conflict between women who work at home and women who work out of the home. But you're saying it really isn't about that. It's about the conflict within. What's your take on what Anne-Marie Slaughter had say?

LESLIE MORGAN STEINER: Well, I was thrilled to see the article and I think that she is really candid and I was delighted about that. And I'm also - I think the debate around it is great. But what I saw in writing "Mommy Wars" is that women at first blush would say, oh, yeah, everything is great. My husband is great. My boss is great. I'm just so happy. And after they had a drink or two or they really let down their guard, they'd admit to you the truth, that it's so hard to juggle work and family.

And the thing in Anne-Marie's piece that struck me the most is that when she said that she wanted to be home with her kids. Because in my corporate career, I worked at Johnson & Johnson and the Washington Post, and I have an MBA from Wharton Business School, that's what really sort of crippled me too. It wasn't that I was less ambitious than my male colleagues. In some ways it was that I was more ambitious, that I wanted to be really successful at work but I also wanted to be my children's primary caregiver and I found corporate America to be just shockingly weak on accommodation of me and other ambitious working moms who wanted to have it all and we just needed a little bit of help from our employers in terms of flexibility.

MARTIN: But Jolene, what about you? What's your take on this?

IVEY: Well, even with all of that, I couldn't do what Anne-Marie's doing right now, and she's calling it stepping back. But to me, she still has a very full plate. As a state legislator, it is a part-time job - technically. I'm not sure I believe that, but that's what they tell us. And in a way it is, in that I'm flexible, and that's the difference between the women who really can have it all and the women who have a lot more than most women, is just flexibility. So if you have a job that allows you to go to the school when you need to pick up a sick kid, go to the PTA meeting or whatever you need to do, it's flexibility that really what women are after.

SLAUGHTER: Mm-hmm. That is so right.

MARTIN: Dani, what did you think? And I have to say, of all the group here, you were the most skeptical in talking before we got here about this. And you feel what?

TUCKER: This ain't nothing new. That's just me. I mean, I liked the article and I admire what she's done, but I think this conversation - don't we know this already? I mean, some women, if you don't know, you know, the playing field is not level, come on now.


TUCKER: The best part to me about it when she says, where is it that she says don't, we should stop, it's time to stop fooling ourselves. I thought we stopped fooling ourselves a while back. I've never looked to be ambitious as a man. I hope he want to be as ambitious as me, 'cause men can't do what we do.


MARTIN: You understand what I'm saying? They can't do what we do. I'm a mother with my own fitness business and no man can do what I do raising my kids. They just can't do what we do. I don't know. So just for me this is just a little weird, I guess.

But you don't - wait a minute. Wait a minute.


MARTIN: Doesn't - the fact that they're still has yet to be a female president. The fact that women are so much less represented in the Congress of the United States than their numbers that the population would indicate. The fact that, you know, there are still so few women who are leading major corporations and have these major leadership roles, you don't think that's a problem or you feel that it's just...

TUCKER: I feel the problem is this: if we were there it would run right.



TUCKER: It wasn't meant for us to be there. I'm like, let them run their world. Where we run our world to me is where it matters. We raise the families. We are the backbone of the society, in my opinion. That place to me just doesn't work. I'm not saying that, you know, we should be there. I'm just saying I'm OK where I am.

MARTIN: We're talking about the debate sparked a recent article in The Atlantic magazine by Anne-Marie Slaughter. She's a professor at Princeton University and a former State Department official. She's with us, along with three of our regular moms contributors, Dani Tucker, Jolene Ivey and Leslie Morgan Steiner.

Anne-Marie Slaughter, why do you think that your piece struck such a nerve?

SLAUGHTER: Because I don't think it's old to this generation. I guess that's one of the things that I think people of my generation have to understand that, you know, the women ahead of me didn't face this conflict because they didn't have professional options, right? When they were in their 20s they couldn't be lawyers and doctors and judges and all these other things. So they had their children, and then as the women's movement came about and they were leading it, largely they were able to then immerse themselves professionally with their kids out of the house.

And then my generation didn't really think that it was going to be a conflict because most of us never stopped to think that maybe there might be an issue about having kids when we got ready to have them. So we sailed through and tried to, you know, make partner and all that in our mid-30s and then discovered we were going to have a hard time having kids, and many of us did. And in her 40s women started saying, you know, I can't do this exactly as it is. I need more accommodation. And many of those women dropped out of the leadership pool, although they're still working really hard. This generation is facing both a host of professional options and facing having kids soon enough so they don't face infertility problems and they're wondering how on earth do I make it work?

TUCKER: Well, this is Dani. And I just wanted to say this that I think that's where a lot of this driven, especially for women because we care so much about what people say about reaching that pinnacle. I mean you may achieve it and I hope they do if that's what you want to do, but do it because it is something that you want to do, and understand that you are going to have to make sacrifices. I think when we get there because Anne-Marie is there.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

TUCKER: You are a professional woman. You have made it. To me you do have it all.

SLAUGHTER: I do. I agree.

TUCKER: You have it all. But I believe you're OK with that. But I think there are so many women who fall into that stereotype that OK, why then am I not accepted? That's not going to happen. You understand what I'm saying? That's just life. Just be content with what you want to do for you.

MARTIN: Well...

STEINER: Can I jump in her here, Michel?

MARTIN: Go ahead. Yeah. Leslie Morgan Steiner.

STEINER: This is Leslie. One of the main things that Anne-Marie pointed out in her piece was that some woman can have it all but they tend to be superhuman, super rich or self-employed.


STEINER: And I think yes, there are women who are doing great, but we've got to look at the workforce overall and the fact that having a more accommodating workplace is a public good. It's good for everybody. And some of the things that women want and that parents everywhere, and probably employees want in general, are - they are really easy to offer. And it baffles me that government and corporations don't offer it. Because it's such a shame to have so many ambitious hardworking women scale back their ambitions or drop out entirely and become stay-at-home moms and uber-volunteers, which is great in its own way but it's not what we trained to do and it's not our highest contribution.

MARTIN: Well, hold on a second.

SLAUGHTER: That is just so right.

MARTIN: Is it really that easy to offer? I mean Leslie, I'm quite a challenge or question. Is it really that easy? Are these tweaks or opposed to...

STEINER: Well, I mean I think the...

MARTIN: opposed to major restructuring of the way the workplace works?

STEINER: I think that this problem is a relatively easy one for American corporations and our government and entrepreneurs to solve; is how we can find a way to give parents more flexibility at work. And we've already done it, actually. During World War II, when companies were desperate to attract women, we did it. We offered on-site childcare. This is really relatively easy. Yes, it's going to take some time and attention and creativity. But I think the real reason that it hasn't happened, that change hasn't happened, is that we're not demanding it, we're not mobilizing enough - women aren't. And also I think that the people in power who tend to be white men, they don't see that it's worth their while to do it. And I think that one of the great things about Anne-Marie's piece is that she's really banging a drum and saying come on, let's talk candidly about how hard this really is. Because if it's hard for women like Anne-Marie, I promise you that it's really hard for somebody who's working for minimum wage as well.

SLAUGHTER: And I can't...

MARTIN: Anne-Marie, what are some of the things you were going to say that you say in the piece? In fact, a lot of the focus of the conversation has been about the problem that you describe. But what about, you also talk about things that you think could be different. And so talk little bit about that, if you would.

SLAUGHTER: Well, Leslie I think said it's so, so well. There are countless ways where we can in fact make it easier and it's just not so hard. And it starts with everything you can do to provide flexibility. And we all agree flexibility makes such a huge difference. So, for instance, if you need to work from home one day a week, you know, for some women that's going to be all they need. And I've heard from a lot of women who say I could have kept doing exactly what I was doing if I just had that.

And then we get to things that are really important. But honestly, we're in the 21st century, we should be able to change these. Our school schedule is set up for an agrarian world in which there was always somebody at home to pick up the kids and the kids needed to be off in the summer to help with the harvest. Well, you know, we are way behind other advanced industrial democracies in educational output. Maybe it's time to think about redesigning school schedules so that they work with parents schedules in ways that allows parents to put time in with their kids but also to have kids be in school more.

MARTIN: Dani, what about that? Does any of that make sense to you? 'Cause you raised your kids, of all the people here who are in this conversation, you are the only one who raised your kids as a single working parent. Is it that you just don't allow yourself to think about things that would've made your life easier or you think that it's just not going to happen?

TUCKER: It's sacrifice. I hear what she's saying, but to me it's selfish because there is no way I'm going to raise kids - I don't care what I'm doing - and not have to make some sacrifices. You can't make everything twist and change so you can have a schedule you want and a job you want. That's the bottom line. I don't care how much you change anything; it will not change the fact that you have to give something up.

MARTIN: Anne-Marie Slaughter, what do you think?

SLAUGHTER: Of course you do, but we could make it easier. I mean, I'm hearing from women in all different walks of life at all level, and honestly, to you as a single mom, I take my hat off 'cause I have no idea, you know, how I could do it without my husband there. But we can make it easier for single moms. You absolutely still have to sacrifice. You have to make trade-offs, you know, if you're going to have kids, you're taking the responsibility of those kids and that means there's a lot of other things you might want to do that you're not going to do. But we still can make it so much easier for you to both be with your kids and earn the living you need to earn.

MARTIN: Well, you know what? To be continued. This is obviously an interesting conversation, so we'll talk about this again, I believe.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University, former State Department official. She wrote the piece "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" in the July-August issue of The Atlantic. It's still up if you want to check it out for yourself. A mom of two, and we caught up with her in Aspen, Colorado, where she is traveling.

Here in Washington, D.C., Jolene Ivey, the mom of five boys and a Maryland state lawmaker. Dani Tucker is the mom of two and an office administrator and a Zumba instructor and she was here with us in our Washington, D.C. studio. Leslie Morgan Steiner is a mom of three and author of the books "Crazy Love" and the collection of essays "Mommy Wars." And she was with us from New Hampshire Public Radio.

Ladies, moms, thank you all so much for being with us.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

TUCKER: Thank you.


STEINER: Thank you all.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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