The Ongoing Assault on Work-Family Balance

I hesitate to make a “must-read” recommendation late in the (eastern-time-zone) afternoon, particularly with respect to a piece that I’ve just read once, and hastily at that. But I have a strong feeling Anne-Marie Slaughter’s long meditation at The Atlantic about the forces that drove her as quickly as possible from her dream job at the State Department is going to be discussed for quite some time.

I understand Slaughter’s (and her editors’) framing of her lament as a commentary on “you can have it all” feminist rhetoric, and feminists (among whom I count myself) need to hear what she has to say on those terms. But in many respects what she’s mainly combatting is an idiotic American workplace culture, which is particularly powerful in elite professional circles, that values “face-time” in office work, meetings, and sheer, animal, competitive physical presence to the exclusion of any real measurements of productivity. In reading this piece, I was most reminded of Sara Robinson’s recent Alternet article on the demise of the forty-hour work week, and its irrationality from any empirical point of view. Like Robinson, Slaughter does not suggest the country, employers, or employees trade “efficiency” for “family-friendly policies,” but instead insists we are sacrificing both.

Read both pieces and see what you think. I think these two women–both of whom I know a bit and respect a great deal–are on to something very basic that illuminates the ever-increasing American dilemma of a nation that supposedly values work and family above all things yet sets them at odds and rewards them less every hour of every day.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.