Years from now, after the revolution, we’ll look back on these wacky times and laugh (“Feminists with housekeepers and nannies? Bwaa!”), but at present one suffers just a smidge of elite-white-women-and-their-problems fatigue.
I allude to the Anne-Marie Slaughter vs. Sheryl Sandberg knife fight over the eternal (since the 1970′s, anyway) question “can women ‘have it all’?” By which is meant “can affluent, highly educated honky women have it all?”, since everyone knows poor women can’t have jack shit. Sandberg says yeah, if you get off your duff and crank it out like a dude and don’t let the bastards get you down. Slaughter says no, the deck is totally stacked against affluent, highly educated honky women. She has written a now-famous essay addressing the particular issues afflicting her bedraggled women-in-leadership-roles demographic. See Friday’s NYTimes for a recap.
The heart bleeds for Slaughter, who apparently has just realized that patriarchy actually exists. She has probably always suspected that it existed for women in what she quaintly calls “the real world,” but now it’s dawned on her that it exists even for people like her, a tenured international affairs professor at Princeton, TV pundit, and former State Department honcho.
What siren call of reason led her to conclude that she can’t “have it all”? It’s hard to tell, since her lengthy lament in the Atlantic is, I regret to say, liberally obfuscated with personal anecdotes about her kids and the many high-powered Washington social events she attended where the discussions appear to have revolved (conveniently, it would turn out, for the success of her upcoming article on same) exclusively around the subject of “life-work balance.” However, it seems that ultimately what got Slaughter cheesed was the gnawing awareness that parenting a rebellious teen is not as highly valued by DudeNation as racking up 976 billable hours per day, and that she therefore couldn’t run her State Department department without feeling torn asunder by the gnarled claw of maternal guilt.
In other words, life at the top is too grueling for the feminist ladies who wish concurrently to participate in the romance of the nuclear family. Lawyering and politicking and other power-professions need to take it down a notch so women can have fulfilling careers and raise their kids. Slaughter’s thesis appears to be that if patriarchy can be made a little bit more user-friendly for the privileged white ladies of the leadership class, it can only raise the happiness quotient of the entire planet.
I certainly want nothing more than for privileged women to have it easier, and I’m pretty gung-ho about chucking out the status quo. But tweaking the system so that supermoms can office-drone (or write national policy) from home computers is not the solution to getting more women into positions of power. Quoth Rebecca Traister in the afore-linked NYTimes article, this whole “have it all” narrative “irresponsibly conflate[s] liberation with satisfaction.”
Liberation is the solution.
Instead of trying to get the State Department to install classified document equipment in your home office, I suggest we begin by smashing up the core of patriarchy: the nuclear family.
One house, two frustrated parents, two neurotic kids: it’s got to go. It’s a weird, irrational, often narcissistic construct that forces the modern gal into an impossible life of stress, isolation, and failure: she’s a sex provider, fetus incubator, domestic drudge, child care professional, inventory maintainer, bacon bringer-homer, and fry-it-up-in-a-panner. The only way a woman in this day and age can compete with dudes in the public sphere is to contract out half (or more) of the labor generated by this inefficient, insular arrangement (and employing nannies and housekeepers just reinforces an already oppressive caste system).
But because the nuclear family model so elegantly screws women and children over, it has become the most cherished cornerstone of the megatheocorporatocracy. The first job of the nuclear family is to indoctrinate its kids with a thorough appreciation for the Global Accords Governing Fair Use of Women, so essential for the replication of patriarchal mores. The nuclear family relies on guilt to shackle women to the home. The nuclear family makes women financially and relationshipally dependent, feeds corporate greed, replicates heternormativity, promotes social conservatism, inflicts suffering when it fails (as do more than half of nuclear families), and supports fast food, disposable culture, and poor taste.
Thus do women, raised as masochists, crave the dream.
Germaine Greer — in The Whole Woman, I think — has proposed that we harken back to days of yore when humans lived in communal clumps with aunts, cousins, grandmas. Domestic drudgery and child care are spread across a wider pool of talent, everyone has more time for personal pursuits, old people aren’t shipped off to death dorms, and, most intriguingly, Greer maintains that kids in this more diverse environment don’t whine.
Anyway, the point is, as long as the nuclear family is the familial unit of choice, the future success of the culture of domination is ensured.