Anne-Marie Slaughter seeks a revolution to solve society’s “care problem”

At the November 4 Milbank Tweed Forum, Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of the New America think tank and author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, spoke about the importance of caregiving in society, the related challenges facing both women and men, and how to modify the workplace to address this major social issue.

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Slaughter’s essay “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” published in the Atlantic in 2012, sparked a national conversation on the challenges facing women who want to combine professional achievement with family. But Slaughter, a former high-ranking official in the State Department, said she has since reconsidered her view. She now argues that the problem is the difficulty of working while also caring for others—be it children or aging parents—all without the societal or institutional supports that would lighten the load.

Until we build an infrastructure of care in society so that we have paid maternity leave and paternity leave as well as access to quality childcare, said Slaughter, caregiving will remain a challenge for both men and women. “As long as we see this care problem as a women’s issue,” she said, “we are reinforcing the very problem we need to overcome.”

Carol Gilligan (center) in the front row

Slaughter paid tribute to the scholarship of Affiliated University Professor Carol Gilligan, who has published widely on gender and culture and was in the audience in Greenberg Lounge. “Carol Gilligan’s work has made this argument about the raising of children and the investing in others being what it is to be human,” said Slaughter, “rather than what it is to be female, well before me.”

To female law students in the room, Slaughter advised that they ask law firms not just about flexible work policies but also about how many partners actually take advantage of such policies. She urged men to ask about family leave policies at interviews. And she encouraged law faculty to talk to both male and female students about navigating career and family challenges.

Slaughter acknowledged that she is advocating for a revolution in her book. And to those skeptical that one can occur, she pointed to some of the changes that have taken place in the last 50 years: the legalization of interracial marriage through Loving v. Virginia, the legalization of gay marriage, and the rejection of smoking across much of society. 

“Even five years ago I would not believe we could have same-sex marriage in all 50 states,” said Slaughter. “Look how fast that change happened when we put our minds to it and changed workplaces and culture and public policy. That’s what we need to do to finish the business of the women’s movement. Not the advancement of women, but real equality.”

Watch the full video of the event (1 hr, 8 min):

Posted November 10, 2015