Mommy covers seem to be taking a turn for the solely incendiary these days, what with TIME getting a conventionally attractive blonde to model attachment parenting with her boob out and now The Atlantic — which harps on the “Sad White Babies With Mean Feminist Mommies” trend. Author Anne-Marie Slaughter may have raised strong points about the archaic work policies — not the lack of ambition — that keep women and parents from their families, but you wouldn’t know that given how cheaply The Atlantic emblazons that buzz-worthy “have it all” on their cover. A feminist straw man by all means. Rebecca Traister of Salon sets the tone right by going after the “having it all” myth straight on:
Here is what is wrong, what has always been wrong, with equating feminist success with “having it all”: It’s a misrepresentation of a revolutionary social movement. The notion that female achievement should be measured by women’s ability to “have it all” recasts a righteous struggle for greater political, economic, social, sexual and political parity as a piggy and acquisitive project.
What does “having it all” even mean? Affordable childcare or a nanny who speaks Mandarin? Decent school lunches or organic string cheese? A windowed office or a higher minimum wage? Public transportation that reliably gets you to work or a driver who will whisk you from kindergarten dropoff in time for the board meeting? Does it mean never feeling stress or guilt? Does it mean feeling satisfied all the time?
It is a trap, a setup for inevitable feminist short-fall. Irresponsibly conflating liberation with satisfaction, the “have it all” formulation sets an impossible bar for female success and then ensures that when women fail to clear it, it’s feminism – as opposed to persistent gender inequity – that’s to blame…A document like Slaughter’s offers a valuable testament to these remaining challenges. But its presentation as a deadening diagnosis of insurmountability is antifeminist, anti-woman, cheap and reactionary.
The Atlantic’s art department may not have marketed Slaughter’s piece to its strengths, but thank goodness that the author does. The former US State department official and mother of two boys didn’t rely on any of the same tropes as the magazine’s packaging. In her quick TODAY segment, Slaughter stuck to the strongest asset in her piece: how the workplace is still painfully behind in accommodating families, despite that more women than ever are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in their families. The first place, Slaughters says, to start isn’t “lady ambition,” but challenging an old, obscenely out of date, office model.