Just a few short weeks ago, Anne-Marie Slaughter wasn’t a household name. But then this quite liberal, feminist-leaning, female leader in the public-policy arena said something so controversial – and so true – that she was suddenly on every mainstream talk show in America, in every newspaper, in every magazine.
What was it that caused such an uproar? Well, she wrote a long feature article in The Atlantic magazine, daring to state out loud that women need to be willing to make hard choices that might limit some career advancements if they want to prioritize family during the years children live at home. She, for example, was the first woman to head up policy planning at the State Department, but she pulled herself out of that “dream job” because it required her to live most of her time in Washington and away from her husband and teen sons in New Jersey. She returned to a previous position of heading Princeton’s graduate school of Public Policy, since that allowed her to control her schedule to a much greater degree, and be the mom she wanted to be.
In the Atlantic article, she also veered away from a line that I have heard many times in my work in the corporate women’s leadership arena: that the reason women as a whole don’t rise in their careers at the same rate as men is because they feel “forced” by social expectations to prioritize children instead. But Anne-Marie Slaughter stepped forward to state what many people have observed (without being brave enough to say so) and many women have felt: that women often want to be more involved in their children’s lives. And if it means career advancement takes a backseat for a few years, so be it.
As several people told her when she was agonizing over her choice of what to do (and she has now told many other women), there are many people who could be the director of policy planning at the State Department – but only one who could be a mom to her children during those crucial teenage years.
The moment the Atlantic article hit the streets, the name Anne-Marie Slaughter was everywhere, and her viewpoints were a lightning rod. Suddenly, NPR was having “is she right or wrong” debates live on air, she was getting appalled reactions from some women’s groups and grateful kudos from others, and I’m pretty sure she’ll be able to get a seven-figure book deal if she wants.
No doubt to many people reading this right now, Slaughter’s comments seem self-evident, and the idea that they might be controversial is anything from laughable to alarming.
But outside the evangelical community, Slaughter’s comments go against decades of political correctness. I’m very, very thankful for her bravery in stepping forward and saying them.
Given her position – and the life choices she herself has made – she has a unique ability to speak truth into the lives of women who are drowning under the societal expectations that they should be able to have it all, be it all, and do it all, all at the same time. She described a dynamic that I have seen myself many, many times speaking at women’s leadership conferences – and so has she. Which is that when an accomplished woman dares say these things from the stage, the skilled but stressed women in attendance are so grateful that someone is actually telling them the real-deal truth: that you have to make choices. That there are different seasons of life, and if you want to live life without regrets, you have to prioritize what is most important for your season. (And, I would argue from a biblical perspective, God’s calling and design for you.)
I have never met Anne-Marie Slaughter, and I don’t agree with every single thing in the article, but I feel a great sense of sisterhood and respect for this woman who has very, very different viewpoints than me on many things. She is quite liberal; I’m more conservative. Slaughter crafted her message in a feature article in a hip magazine and is now a household name in the mainstream media; I crafted mine in The Life Ready Woman book and bible study and spend a lot of time equipping the Christian community. Yet both of us are moms first.
We are often so divided as a country. Red states versus blue. Democrats versus Republicans. Tea Party versus Occupy. I’m grateful for a chance, for once, to feel solidarity with other moms of completely different viewpoints and backgrounds. Women who have been unified by this important message that we can all be different, but we all love our children, and we can all be moms first.