Guest post by Susannah Clear

There was a discussion in my friendslist last week where someone commented that they thought LGBT advocates were verbally aggressive and that LGBT individuals should keep their relationship status in their private bedrooms. As a follow-up response, I think that it’s worth considering Sally Ride, whose partner of 27 years is ineligible for federal death benefits after Sally’s death this week because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Consider Sally….astronaut, PhD from Stanford in physics, national heroine as the first American woman in space, esteemed academic, founder & CEO of company focused on providing science education opportunities for children, idol of geeky little girls everywhere, and lucky enough to have a pop song that coincidentally immortalized her name, as if all her real accomplishments weren’t enough. She was a woman that from the outside, appeared to have done EVERYTHING right. Yet in the eyes of the federal government, she died less equal than her fellow astronauts because she had the nerve to love a woman, not a man.

You can view her obituary here.

There is a fresh batch of mom-on-mom hate boiling over.

Have you read the recent Atlantic Monthly piece on having it all?  I first heard of it through the profanity-laced Tweet-rant of an author I admire.   (This adds to my previous argument that if you don’t like something in the public eye, STOP TALKING ABOUT IT.)

The essay is an honest account of the challenge of balancing parenthood with a demanding career.  Anne-Marie Slaughter’s struggle led her to leave a high-level position in Washington, D.C., for academia and home during a difficult time in her son’s young life.

She did not quit or advocate abandoning one’s career.  She went back to being a professor at Princeton, which even from our first world perspective, is pretty damn high fallutin’.

She talks about the challenges still present for working mothers and what she believe needs to change.  She says, I believe, what we all need to hear.

As I read the article, I knew of the backlash brewing.  I wondered how the judgment would have fallen if the decision-altering circumstance had been a sick parent or spouse.  Or if this was a man’s essay?  And why aren’t there stories from men on this topic out there, anyway?  Because I know lots of fathers who make career choices that accommodate time with their families.

I am thrilled to have found this one in print.

On the same day I read the essay, I later met an old friend for coffee who works in academia.  He happened to mention making choices that allowed him to experience family life, which immediately brought me back to the AM article.  When I brought it up, he was familiar and agreed with Slaughter’s characterization that when one steps down from a high level government position, the professional community assumes that “family time” is code for a less honorable explanation.

In case I appear to be espousing a barefoot-and-pregnant existence for women, I am not.  Going back to work has been an enormous and long overdue boon to my mental health.  And as a person going through divorce, I do not take the economic gender gap lightly.  And I don’t dispute some of the criticism of the essay.

But I also know that I worked far harder for the employer that gave me schedule flexibility and acknowledged the importance of my family demands, than the one that held me constantly to a rigid hourly schedule.  The flexible employer had me happily checking my emails at 10pm from home.  The other had to wait until I arrived at the office.  I observed the same variation among my two sets of coworkers, regardless of gender.

Workplace flexibility is not just an issue for parents.  Our society includes the largest percentage and longest living elderly population in history.  Many of us are going to need work flexibility to meet their needs as well.  We all have personal lives, which sometimes need attention during business hours.

Slaughter’s essay inspired behavior which exemplifies a negative stereotype of women in the workplace and in society.

The catfight.

Did the brave feminists who paved my path fight for choice, or did they fight for another obligation with which to saddle the next generation of women?  Haven’t we heard enough of “You should…” ?

And is it really productive feminism to model womanhood after the historical path of manhood – all ambition and no nurturing? Maybe the struggle we should fight jointly is for a better humanity.  Maybe the fight for women’s rights must also include the right of a man to be complex and capable, just as we know we are.  Isn’t that a more productive endeavor than criticizing each other on the interwebs?

I recently read Adapt by Tim Harford, filled with compelling evidence of how traditional theories of top-down management often fail.  It illustrates how a very opposite structure often saves the day, and humbly admitting failure and learning from it lead to better solutions.

Male or female, do we really want our country run by people who need ambition more than human connection?  And are we women really leaders if we only repeat the bad habits and mistakes of the past we had little say in creating?

The author who pointed me to Slaughter’s piece as she ripped it to Tweeting shreds is a smart woman and an amazing writer.  Without a doubt, she cares deeply about the issues of women all over the world.  She is also, however, a best selling author, married to an even better selling author.  I don’t think politicians and executives dictate her or her husband’s schedule with their four children.

I’ll leave you with this:

“In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.” – Austin Kleon

If “having it all” was such a realistic aspiration for any of us, then “what really matters” would not be such a constant part of our collective pondering.