Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anne-Marie Slaughter's anti-gay bias.

Here's a copy of a letter I just wrote to the Atlantic. It's in reaction to her "much-talked about-discussed--commented on piece on "Why Women Can't Have It All.

Dear Professor Slaughter:

As of now, your piece on "Why Women Still Can't Have it All" has blanketed various media in the US. The fact that your article has received such a great deal of attention by so many testifies to the importance of the topic and the contribution you make. Since I've been following your career and your writing for so long--I received my PhD in Political Science in International Relations from Cornell, but have now left the profession--I was so eager to learn what you had to say about the topic of "work-life-balance" for women. But, like a few others, I was pretty disappointed in your analysis. For a while, I left it to people with more time and stature than me to respond to your article. But, I saw that you will appear on the Colbert Report this Monday. This just reminded me once again that I had something to say in reaction to your piece and wanted to get it out as you appear in an upteenth interview--on my favorite program no less. And I doubt you have heard this perspective elsewhere.

So why the provocative subject heading? First, it's an attention grabber. I know you've probably received thousands of emails about your article by now. And somehow I wanted my points to get through your cluttered inbox [and the Atlantic gatekeeper]. Second, I find the assumptions behind your piece flawed and biased against gays and gay couples raising kids. And it's important that you hear them. Let me explain. 

Throughout your original piece and elsewhere (during your interview on the Slate DoubleX Gabfest, for example), you have constantly reiterated the arguments that it is WOMEN who have this biological need to be with their children. I'm not sure if you really believe that men do not have an equal need, biological or not, to be with their children. But, reading your article and short piece reacting to the reaction, I get the sense that you think this drive is less among men (although you give plenty of exceptions to the rule of elite Washington men who at least wanted to be home with their children). You also said as much on the DoubleX Gabfest. you remarked that equality means respecting women's difference--a la Simone de Beauvoir. But, in your constant defense of the "biological necessity and drive" for a woman to be at home with her kids, you are giving ammunition to the school of thought that women ARE NECESSARY to raise a child. Now, I know that you do not to intend this. You would probably argue either a) I did not have gay couples in mind when I wrote this or b) the problem of finding a new work-family balance is a problem for all types of families. If the latter, then great. But you don't seem to give that much weight in your argument. Even in your "reaction to the reaction" piece, you once again state that you wrote this for women. And why? Because it is women that have this need to be back home and juggle work and family, PRIMARILY. So where does that leave 2 gay men raising a family? Do they also not have this problem?

Well, the answer, Prof. Slaughter, is not to strengthen stereotypes which are hetero-normative (which you do in your original Atlantic piece). You are probably not aware that your piece is being read by the gay community, especially those with children, as saying that "Oh, well, I don't have those pressures because I'm not a woman--how DARE HER!" EVERY type of caregiver, gay or straight, faces this difficulty. And what this implies, and what you can't seem to be torn away from, is that your perspective is that to say that PRIMARILY WOMEN face the pressure to "have it all" is itself sexist. The fact that you are "grateful" that Andy stepped in to take care of your children while you were away at the State Department only gives the reader a greater sense that it was YOUR fault and agony to bear when being away from them. Where was Andy earlier, before your teenage son was having problems? Did he ever experience loss when being away from his kids and writing his books? And why would you reconfirm these sexist stereotypes on the XX gabfest, when you said "it was difficult to be in a home full of testosterone." It took be a good minute to bring my eyes because of how far they rolled up into my head. Is that how you define masculinity? By claiming that there is this biological need for a woman to be with her kids, you are just re-affirming the stereotype that it is a WOMAN AND A MAN that is needed to properly raise a child.

And you are probably not aware that simply stating that it is the woman that has this desire to take care of her children, which is biological, you are giving ammunition to those groups who deny and which to take away those rights gays and gay families have fought for and received in the last 20 years. BECAUSE of the stereotypes you are re-affirming, I can hear plenty of right-wing, gay-hating groups saying, "SEE, even this smart, Harvard-educated, leftist woman thinks a WOMAN is NECESSARY to raise a real, functioning family," or at least to feel like a successful woman, i.e. have family and work success. I wonder if you can see the underlying bias of your article any better. 

Think of what the implications are for two gay men raising a child based on your thesis. If they are men, they both would rather pursue their careers and there will less of a "motherly" or "feminine" figure in the house. So, gay families would be weaker and less able to raise children because the two, gay, mean will pursue careers over family, because it's biological.

Finally, this leads me to my last point about where you think change will come from. You only vaguely say how, except that it's necessary to bring woman to power. Well, first, not every woman is going to share your analysis of the problem, i.e. Sarah Palin. Second, why not start convincing men that they should start taking care of their children as well. Maybe more childcare for ALL will then be available. Criticizing Hirshman's critique of your article just because she is another academic is kind of cheap. And you don't really respond to her central claim that your problem IS a problem that WE ALL must deal with. 

One last item..you cite Michelle Obama as a model to follow. You forget that she had a lot of help...from HER mother. Her mother LIVED with the family AND still does help raise the children. Perhaps if it was possible for the rest of us to rely on extended family to help care for our children, we all, gay and straight families, can have it all.



Sincerely,
Scott Siegel




And see Hirshman's response to Slaughter's Response!





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