June 23, 2012
Have you read the epic, flag-planting, fierce-debate-inspiring cover story in The Atlantic? I came across it the evening it was published and immediately -- though it was past 1 a.m. when I finished -- read the entire story, 12,000-some words and all. I wanted to stop in the middle several times to say, "this is ground breaking! This is amazing!" but I read through to the end. Of course, by this time, it had already begun to create controversy.
I read it almost like gospel. In my opinion, Anne-Marie Slaughter eloquently and persuasively make the case for why it is impossible for women today to "have it all at once" -- the high-powered career, and children who are well-cared for -- and how societal expectations, policies, and our own relationships might be changed to make "having it all" possible. For one, the "culture of face time" needs to be wiped out (something I agree with so much I'd happily write an entire 12,000-word column on that alone); for another, family values, even the sort that value older parents and siblings and partners, need to be re-valued (this one's worth a couple of books).
The biggest criticism of Slaughter's article is that she doesn't discuss the potential contribution of dads enough; she makes a point that "having it all is possible if you marry the right person" is one of the "half-truths we hold dear." Her husband, indeed, was a working dad rock star, a nurturing dad who helped his boys learn lines for the school play and made Hungarian palacsinta for foreign food night. She mentions Sheryl Sandberg, who famously pointed to her own husband and said, "There’s my work-life balance." Well, great. Not all of us make such brilliant choices; and even if we do pick fantastic husbands, it's still not ideal to put far more of the parenting load on dad. There are times we as moms want to be around; there are times we're really just needed; there are times that a culture that valued family more than work would be nice. OK: that would be nice all the time. We're also going to have to stop expecting any young parent to dedicate him or herself to a job. It's just ridiculous that any boss (or financial backer) should see a new parent or parent-to-be and think: "well, we'll give them a week or two off for family leave and then the responsibility will be done." We should change the expectation of work entirely; 40 hours should be more than enough. You should be able to go home and turn off, even if you do work in a high-powered job. Unless actual lives are actually depending on you. (And then it's probably better if you're actually happy.)
Slaughter makes a point of the Washington in-joke, that those who say they're leaving a position to spend time with their family are using it as a euphemism for "fired," and that when one does actually leave to spend time with one's family, everyone rushes to say, "it's true! FAMILY! Really!" and hardly anyone believes it.
I left my last full-time job to spend time with my family. But, to be honest, this was also a euphemism. My family took more than the hours "after" work could fit. I didn't "marry the right person." I had kids with extraordinary (in the literal meaning of the word, "outside the ordinary," not "insanely difficult beyond all reason" as it often has come to mean) challenges that kept me running around to IEP meetings and to pick them up from school and up at night, literally. They required more from me than someone who wants to vault up in her career can handle.
So, I -- if you are to take literally the weird and logically-flawed reasoning of another Atlantic writer, Elizabeth Wurtzel -- became an unreal feminist. (Here's what she wrote, so you don't have to click, "Let's please be serious grown-ups: real feminists don't depend on men. Real feminists earn a living, have money and means of their own." Her argument was based on "1% wives," who she tarred and feathered as being "dumb" and so obsessed with yoga that they had no room in their brains for anything else, and were ruining feminism for us all by being so dumb and making their 1% husbands think that's what all women are like. I am not exaggerating her piece at all. Like I said: weird.) I started to, over time, depend on a man whose living is mostly made on the other side of the planet driving VIPs to their Very Important Appointments for the Army.
So I can't have it all. And I'm only a feminist in the eyes of the generous. Throwing off an Ivy League MBA for the thrift-shopping, bike-riding, weed-pulling, dish-washing life of an Army wife is fullscale traitorism in Wurtzel's mind, and I'll bet Anne-Marie Slaughter would never have made this call in her 30s, though maybe she would consider it in retrospect.
This is when we find something else. I'm an idea person; I make up what-I-imagine-are-paradigm-shifting ways to run the business world while I shower and while I run and while I bike and while I wash dishes. One of my many such plots was "Mom VC." A venture capital firm run by mothers, kind of micro-social venture capital. Each woman would contribute either time or money -- not a lot by VC standards, $1,000 or so -- or their skills as lawyer/marketer/graphic designer/accountant/strategy expert/content writer/editor. A board would decide where investments would go. We'd all be "job creators," creating jobs for other moms, jobs they could make as flexible as their family needed them to be.
I still love this idea. But it would take an extreme amount of time and dedication to make it happen. Could we? Would we? I think so. In the meantime we have Kickstarter. And it's, amazingly, becoming the kind of place where we can have, not "it all," but a little bit.
I think of it as a version of my Mom VC, but not just moms, and you can buy in with anything. Here are three projects you can support -- use your own venture capital in any amount -- for Portland mothers working to create jobs we can believe in.
- Stealing Time, a literary magazine for parents. This is my project and it's already shown me just how incredible the community here in Portland, and across the U.S. social media landscape, can be. We've had donations of time and talent and love beyond what I could hope for, mostly by moms, but some of it by people who just care about great writing and reading. It's a literary magazine for parents to take the place of the closing-down Brain, Child, and to also be something more; one issue a year will be devoted to pregnancy and childbirth, creating the only regular venue for truly literary writing about pregnancy. Funding ends July 2.
- Yankers, time- and stress-saving baby clothes. These adorable and sensible baby clothes are the brainchild of Rosalee Rester, a mom whose funny Babywit was the stuff of consumer lust when I first became a parent. She's back with "stylish, modern, all-in-one outfits designed with a unique and simple pull down panel in the back. This panel allows easy access to your baby's diaper without having to deal with any snaps or fasteners." I love innovation like this; it's exactly the sort of thing a Mom VC would back. Funding ends July 13.
- Dark and Light, a love story for babies. This board book series was created by sweet Portland mom Shasta Kerns Moore, one of whose twin sons has cerebral palsy. The book "is an elegantly simple board book aimed at very young children. The pictures are straight-forward enough that babies can follow along while adults can consider the wider implications of the story's metaphors." Funding ends June 27.