Now It’s Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Turn to Get it Wrong on the Work/Family Balance

August 3, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Maybe it’s something in the water. What else can explain the sudden bloom of articles about work/family balance? Whatever the case, Anne-Marie Slaughter makes it three in a row here (Dallas Morning News, 7/31/15). She seems to have made an honest effort at sorting out the issues that confront men and women faced with deciding who works for a living, how much, who cares for the kids and how much. Or has she?

If it is an honest effort, it’s a weak one. Time and again, Slaughter just doesn’t get it. Try as she might, she just can’t manage to think her way out of her feminist box. She seems vaguely aware that there’s a whole world out there beyond those self-imposed walls, but she can’t quite do what it takes to find out what they are.

Slaughter’s basic assumption is that women are champing at the bit to pursue careers and that caring for their children is a secondary concern to be taken care of by fathers who, if they’re sufficiently enlightened, might just be able to make good-enough caregivers. Biology? Yes, she’s heard of that, but assures her readers that it’s “mutable,” and therefore not worthy of much discussion.

To anyone reasonably well educated in the issues she attempts to discuss, Slaughter’s opening paragraphs show her bias. She begins by calling working mothers “targets,” and by paragraph two she’s recycled the long-debunked myth that women work a “second shift,” i.e. they work a full-time job and then come home to do all housework and childcare.

That of course is completely false. In fact, as Dr. Catherine Hakim has demonstrated using data from the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, men do more work than women. That is, when men’s paid and unpaid work are aggregated and women’s are as well, men’s total is greater than women’s. Countless studies have disproved the “second shift” notion, but, like so many feminist myths, some commentators find it convenient to keep that one alive.

Slaughter informs us that “a far larger [than that of chief executives] group of women simply want to advance in their careers at a steady pace — at least keeping up with the men in their offices — without feeling overwhelmed by dueling demands at home.” That may well be true, particularly given the fact that the number of female chief executives is so small, but Slaughter’s point is deeply misleading.

To suggest to readers that women generally want career advancement the same as men do is unsupported by evidence, contradicted by substantial amounts of same and presumed wrong by biology — that unfortunate distraction Slaughter doesn’t want to talk about. As I’ve said in two recent pieces here and here, elites like Slaughter have decided that traditional sex roles are passé. The trouble with that decision is that large majorities of men and women beg to differ.

I won’t go into the minutiae of that again; my previous pieces did. But suffice it to say, that across all boundaries of race, class, education, religion, etc., and after 50 years of Second Wave Feminism, men and women are pretty much sticking to what they’ve always done. Yes, more men are doing more childcare than before and more women are earning more. But time and again, the data show that women aren’t comfortable in the breadwinner role and opt for childcare when they can. And men do the converse.

If women are so eager to work for a living, why is it that only 56% of those over 20 years old are even in the workforce? Not working, mind you, in the workforce. That means 44% of women are neither working nor looking for work. Slaughter ignores the fact. And why are there six million stay-at-home moms compared to only 186,000 stay-at-home dads? Slaughter doesn’t say. And why do only 13% of married women out-earn their husbands? No word from Slaughter on that either.

The fact is that sex roles are now and always have been expressions of our biological makeups. In culture after culture over countless millennia, women have tended to choose as mates the best resource providers among high-status males. Unsurprisingly, males have tended to strive to be good providers. That evolution via sexual selection has brought us to where we are today. Feminists like Slaughter tell us we can ignore all that, a claim more thoughtful (and more intellectually scrupulous) observers seriously doubt.

Biology is indeed mutable, as we’ve seen in last year’s study of male and female brains regarding parenting roles. According to that, a father can take on the primary caregiver role at the drop of a hat, provided he’s been able to do some hands-on childcare. Dads’ brains move readily between the primary and secondary caregiver roles.

But that’s a far, far cry from concluding, as Slaughter wants us to, that sex roles are interchangeable or, more importantly, that men or women want them to be. What do we know about women’s brain chemistry as it relates to being the primary resource provider? Essentially nothing. After all, men have never selected women as mates on that basis, so there’s been no evolutionary influence that way on the female brain.

The opposite of course is true. Female brains are wired for childcare which is why they’ve done so much of it throughout human history. Slaughter tosses aside millions of years of evolution with a single word — “mutable.” Biology is indeed alterable by the environment. If we work at it hard enough, maybe in 100,000 years, Slaughter will have a point. But until then, she doesn’t.

Weirdly — and this is where we see her straining (and failing) to peer outside her feminist box — Slaughter spends a lot of her article explaining how hard it is for her and other women to set aside their need to be mothers, to play that role in their families and in the lives of their kids.

I remember the first time one of our sons woke up in the night and called for Daddy instead of Mommy. My first reaction, to put it politely, was deep dismay. I’m his mother. Kids are supposed to call for their mothers.

If I’m honest, however, the hardest emotion to work through at that moment was less guilt than envy. Even with all the rewards of my career, I would still like for our sons to call for me first. As the psychiatrist Andras Angyal wrote: “We ourselves want to be needed. We do not only have needs, we are also strongly motivated by neededness.”

To her credit, the point of her article (as revealed by its headline) is that women need to “step aside at home” if they’re to realize true equality in the workplace. That’s true enough. It’s a point I’ve made many times. It’s one former NOW president Karen DeCrow made back in the early 80s. But what Slaughter never comes to grips with is why women aren’t stepping aside in order to “get to the top.”

The reason is that they don’t want to be at the top. Oh, a few do, but the huge majority just aren’t wired that way. Countless studies of children’s interactions reveal that boys are far more competitive and hierarchical than are girls. And this is not a cultural phenomenon; countless different cultures around the world report the same thing. The same dynamics hold in later life. Women are far more likely than men to opt out of work and into childcare and among the ones that don’t, large majorities say the wish they could.

Slaughter tells us that “something has to give,” but actually it doesn’t. There is no reason under the sun why half our hands-on parents have to be men and half our chief breadwinners have to be women. Apart from feminist orthodoxy, there is nothing that requires that outcome. The only thing that’s required is that we treat parenting and paid work as legitimate undertakings for both men and women. Once we do that, we should let the chips fall where they may.

And when the chips fall, don’t be surprised to find greater segregation of the sexes into their separate roles, not less. Sex segregation in jobs is significantly greater here in the West than it is in, for example, China. That’s because we have greater freedom to choose due to our prosperity. Women in China get and keep the best jobs they can find because making ends meet there is harder than it is here. By contrast, in the United States, women have much greater ability to choose motherhood over paid work and unsurprisingly, they do just that. That is, they tend to do what biology dictates, and men do as well. Why wouldn’t they?

It’s a message with which Anne-Marie Slaughter is none too comfortable.

And of course, given that her feminist lens is smudged, Slaughter doesn’t notice one of the most obvious reasons why mothers do so much childcare and fathers don’t do more — family courts. She claims she wants mothers to “step aside,” but what if they did? Would fathers pick up the slack? Many would, but family laws and family courts argue long and loudly against mothers stepping aside and fathers stepping up.

Should a father invest the time and energy required to be a primary parent when he’s likely to lose the child should he and his wife split up? Face it, the financial rewards of child support and alimony are powerful incentives to mothers to ignore the already weak voice encouraging them to work and earn. What mother would stifle her powerful urge to care for her children, just to fit with a feminist narrative she didn’t choose, particularly when the economic incentives are all the other way?

Does Slaughter really want moms to step aside? If she did, wouldn’t she call for the dismantling of all those structural impediments men face to becoming the fathers they can be? Wouldn’t she demand more reasonable child custody laws, child support laws and an end to alimony as we know it? She would, but she doesn’t, and that strongly suggests either that her grasp of her subject is weak or that she doesn’t really mean what she says.

I can’t say which it is, but articles like hers are better left out of serious publications. If someone wants to comment on the work/family balance, fine. But next time that someone should at least know the basics.


National Parents Organization is a Shared Parenting Organization

National Parents Organization is a non-profit that educates the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents, and extended families. Along with Shared Parenting we advocate for fair Child Support and Alimony Legislation. Want to get involved?  Here’s how:

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One reply on “Now It’s Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Turn to Get it Wrong on the Work/Family Balance”

Family law welfare, not biology, is the main driver behind the disparities you’re talking about. Eliminate legal marriage, divorce, alimony, marital property, “child” support, etc. and the “pay gap” will disappear in a generation.

If you take away the incentive to work for any reason, for man or woman, people will “stay-at-home”. This is why communism doesn’t work. And it’s why lions in the zoo sleep for 23 hours a day. We’ve known this about public welfare for many decades, but trad con ideologues can’t seem to get it in regards to marital and family law.

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