K's Reviews > Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family

Unfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter
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really liked it
bookshelves: readablenonfiction, thought-provoking

I appreciated this book on women, work, and family, finding it more nuanced and realistic than Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Slaughter opens her book with a personal anecdote. In 2010, she accepted a prestigious opportunity to work for Hillary Clinton in Washington, D.C. This job meant that she would be a commuting parent, living in Washington during the week and spending the weekends at home with her family based in Princeton. Slaughter accepted the job with the ostensible support of her husband and her two sons, aged 10 and 13 at the time; however, she began to feel that her children were paying a heavy price for her absence. Slaughter ultimately decided to leave the job, which raised a great many questions for her as a career-focused, achievement-oriented feminist. This book attempts to tackle those questions.

Slaughter begins by analyzing what she calls "half-truths women hold dear" and offering more realistic versions of these "feminist mantras." To "You can have it all if you are committed enough to your career" Slaughter adds, "and if you are lucky enough never to hit a point where your carefully constructed balance between work and family topples over." To "You can have it all if you marry the right person" Slaughter adds, "[if that person]...is willing to defer his or her career to yours; you stay married; and your own preferences regarding how much time you are willing to spend at work remain unchanged after you have children or find yourself caring for aging parents." To "You can have it all as long as you sequence it right" Slaughter adds, "as long as you succeed in having children when you planned to; you have an employer who both permits you to work part-time or on a flexible work schedule and still sees you as leadership material; or you take time out and then find a good job on a leadership track once you decide to get back in, regardless of your age." Clearly, having it all is at least as much about luck as it is about choices one makes.

Slaughter also makes an interesting point about the dichotomy she labels "care vs. competition." In contrast to popular views of work vs. family as a women's problem, Slaughter posits that our society tends to value competitiveness and self-development over caring for others. Women and men both suffer as a result; women are often relegated to caregiving roles that earn less respect, and men are often expected to step up at work at the expense of time with their families. For example, while men are often offered paternity leave on paper, they are viewed negatively by their companies if they take advantage of this offer. And women who adopt more flexible roles at work so that they can meet caregiving responsibilities at home are often automatically viewed as no longer on the leadership track, despite the fact that they may have skills and abilities which could make them valued leaders at work at a later date when their family responsibilities become more manageable.

Slaughter suggests a number of ideas for how men and women can rethink their various roles and their contribution to work-family issues. She also has a number of ideas for workplaces, some of which sounded more idealistic than practical to me (lots of vacation time to avoid burnout! Lots of flexibility about when, where, and how much you work!). But it was interesting to imagine a world in which professional and caregiving responsibilities could be seamlessly integrated rather than in opposition to each other.

All in all, this book spoke to me more than Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead did. While Slaughter's suggestions can be critiqued and may need a great deal of tweaking, they represent an interesting attempt to address conflicts that many of us are experiencing between our professional and caregiving roles.

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Reading Progress

October 23, 2015 – Shelved
October 23, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
Started Reading
December 9, 2015 – Shelved as: readablenonfiction
December 9, 2015 – Shelved as: thought-provoking
December 9, 2015 – Finished Reading

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