The answer is…

I know I haven’t weighed in yet (not that anyone’s waiting for it…) on the Anne-Marie Slaughter recent Atlantic “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.”

But I had to respond to a Jezebel piece that someone sent my way. In response to Slaughter’s article Lisa Wade tells us the answer: Just don’t have kids.

Ah, yes, this will solve the problem Slaughter is getting at! Just like opting out of the workforce. … If you can’t “have it all” just give up on kids or work.

… No offense to those who choose to not have children. This post is not about why we all need to have kids… I do not buy into “compulsory motherhood” or even “compulsory womanhood.” It is a respectable choice to not have children, and (I hope) I’m not saying anything to the contrary here. …

Unless you are a member of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, some people will still have to have children. The public sphere should incorporate these breeders, moms & dads alike, to the extent possible. Parents should be able to pursue work, in whatever terms they define “work.” They should be able to attain satisfaction in life (defined by some as “happiness,” “having it all,” or just plain “lovin’ what you’ve got”).

There are many reasons to not have children. (Yes, even as a mother who loves her son dearly, I must admit that statement is true.) To “have it all,” because currently there’s no other way to get to the top than without kids, should not be one of those reasons.

Now, whether we should all be aiming to get to the top is another discussion (and I have a feeling it’s been covered well in the aftermath of the Slaughter article), but I take Slaughter to be saying that having a satisfying career and having children continues to be impossible for most women. This isn’t the way it should be. And choosing not to have children as a response to the cultural quagmire of work & family is not going to fix anything for anyone. In fact, it makes things worse for all. Yes, even for those without children.

If you choose to not have kids so that you can immerse yourself in your job (I’m not so sure what I’m about to say applies to all “work”…) you’re likely going to perpetuate the idea that workers should be available 24-7. Employers will continue to demand that all their employees work themselves to death. That shouldn’t be so, whether you have children or not.

I don’t think the American workplace is going to change until parents force it to. If employers begin to embrace families, then maybe (just maybe) employers will also respect other personal commitments, however you choose to define your personal life…. with kids or without, caring for a parent or loved one or friend, pursuing a hobby, walking the dog… whatever having a full & meaningful life means to you.

I also have to quibble with something else Wade says in the Jezebel piece. Embracing the choice to not have children is not a reason to tolerate a failing school system, with “good” schools only in expensive family neighborhoods. To suggest that childless folks are contented to live in “cheap” areas with poor schools is disingenuous as best & at worst it’s offensive to both childless adults & the families with kids who are forced to enroll in crappy schools because they can’t afford to live in a better neighborhood with better schools.

Whether to have children (or how many to have) is an interesting topic. But the Jezebel piece just distracts from the really important battle going on in the American workplace. People have kids. Employers need to realize this is a fact of life for some (not all). Not having children isn’t going to make the workplace a happier place for anyone.

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July 13, 2012 · 6:49 AM

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