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Ruth Marcus: Women can have really, really a lot

BY RUTH MARCUS Published: June 27, 2012

The most unintentionally funny part of Anne-Marie Slaughter's Atlantic article, the latest in the “mommies-can't-have-it-all” genre, comes when she describes her supersonic version of the Mommy Track.

“I have not exactly left the ranks of full-time career women,” writes Slaughter, who downsized from a top policymaking job at the State Department to resume her tenured professorship at Princeton. “I teach a full course load; write regular print and online columns on foreign policy; give 40 to 50 speeches a year; appear regularly on TV and radio; and am working on a new academic book.”

Whew. Just reading about Slaughter's pared-down, family friendlier schedule left me exhausted. This hardly seems proof, as the headline claims, of “Why Women Still Can't Have It All.”

Actually, it seems like proof that Women Can Have Really, Really a Lot.

At the State Department, where she was the first woman to head the prestigious Office of Policy Planning, Slaughter worked punishing hours while her husband, an academic, stayed back home in Princeton with their adolescent sons. It's safe to say that George Kennan, the job's first occupant, never worried about whether his difficult 14-year-old was failing math or being summoned with frantic calls to take the next train home, “invariably on the day of an important meeting.”

That Slaughter found this arrangement untenable for longer than two years is no surprise. Who wouldn't, male or female? Yet Slaughter is brave enough to say flat out that she thinks mommies feel the pang of this frenetic juggling more acutely than daddies, and I agree.

Men, she writes, “do seem more likely to choose their job at a cost to their family, while women seem more likely to choose their family at a cost to their job.” Again, this seems less like proof that women still can't have it all, than that women, more wisely, tend to decide that having it all isn't actually worth the price.

The real surprise is that Slaughter found herself so surprised by “how unexpectedly hard it was to do the kind of job I wanted to do as a high government official and be the kind of parent I wanted to be, at a demanding time for my children.”

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