A close friend of mine recently wrote about the futility of superficial movements, particularly focussing on feminist activism in the wake of Pres. Trump’s election.
Her piece struck me a chord with me. The contemporary women’s movement—if we may boil down the feminist struggle into a cohesive political struggle—risks criticism for lacking focus, and with good reason. The 2017 Women’s March was a historic event of civic activism. But, like so many organized civic actions, participants in the march are asking:
- What’s next? How can I get involved to make change in my community and my state?
- I know that women are not equal to men in American society. What are the specific policies I can advocate for in my government, my company, my community, and my family?
As a man who recognizes the drastic inequalities that still exist in American society I, too, want answers to these questions. Luckily, I recently stumbled upon Anne-Marie Slaughter‘s 2015 book, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family.
Slaughter’s resume is diverse and robust. She holds degrees from Princeton, Oxford, and Harvard Law School. Slaughter has worked in academia both as a professor and a dean. She worked as the State Department’s Director of Policy Planning for the first two years of Hillary Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State. She has been a member of several corporate boards. For the past several years she has served as the President and CEO of New America, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Her experience spans the academic, government, business, and non-profit sectors. She has served as an employee and a manager of people. With the exception of the Great Recession, women have been participating labor force at a higher rate with each decade that passes. Today, more women are entering college than men. With these fundamental changes to the labor force in mind, few people can guide us into the next phase of the women’s movement better than Slaughter.
Her advice to individuals and policymakers is far from radical. But, for both women and men, the results could be revolutionary. Some of her arguments include:
- We must value care just as much as we value competition. Stock managers no more valuable to society than those who care for, educate, and discipline the next generation. Further, why does society so often value those who bring home the bacon over those who cook bacon in the home? Breadwinning and caregiving deserve to be treated as the equal components of providing for a family that they are.
- Paid family leave must be available to men and women.
- While the “on-demand economy” advances at a breakneck pace, we provide legal protections against discrimination for part-time and flexible workers. These jobs can be a solution for parents juggling breadwinning and caregiving. However, they often lack the protections against discrimination that are given to full-time employees.
Perhaps most compellingly, she argues that the next women’s movement is a men’s movement. It’s difficult to disagree. As women continue to outpace men in their education attainment, their earnings will surely increase. Thus, as more women become the primary breadwinners, it becomes rational for more men to become primary caregivers. As a society; however, we must let men become primary caregivers.
Much of this can be accomplished by simply valuing caregivers more. We must celebrate women who switch to part-time work so they are able to spend more time taking care of their children as making a positive change in their careers. Not taking a break. Not quitting. We must do the same for men who step up by reducing hours or even becoming full-time, stay at home dads. We must destigmatize fathers who act as primary caregivers to their children.
Slaughter provides the example of NPR’s Guy Raz whose unconventional schedule allows him to spend more time taking care of his kids during the day. Raz writes that “even in the most open-minded communities, there’s always the snickering and ‘Mr. Mom’ jokes.” Men and women must work to elevate the status of caregivers. More men, then, need to be more willing to allow their stellar spouse to take promotions that require longer hours or more travel. In this situations, men should embrace the role of being the primary caregiver to their children.
Slaughter presents her ideas with clarity and nuance. Her book is follow-up to her Atlantic article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.” In Unfinished Business, she successfully incorporates the perspectives of those who criticized some of the shortcomings of her Atlantic article. For these reasons it is a worthwhile read.
Even better, Slaughter provides us with a roadmap for what the next phase of the women’s movement may look like. Best, Unfinished Business can serve as a guidebook to not only policymakers and corporate leaders, but for spouses, and employees, and college students. I’ll be keeping a copy within reach.