Since last Thursday, the hottest topic in the Birchbox offices hasn’t been glitter, nail art, or anything beauty-related: it’s about whether or not women can have it all. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the first female director of policy planning at the State Department and a Princeton professor, triggered the debate with her story, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, in the July/August issue of The Atlantic. The thorough piece argues that the idea that women can have it all (if they have the right husband, enough ambition, etc.) just isn’t true, and this way of thinking is in fact detrimental to women. As someone who left her “dream job” in Washington after two years because she needed to be spending more time with her adolescent sons, Slaughter says feminists her age and older are unintentionally placing blame on their younger counterparts for not living up to their example. By insisting that women can have it all, the assumption is that if you don’t—you aren’t at the top of your career and at all of your children’s soccer games (and recitals, and parent-teacher conferences)—somehow the problem lies with you.
Slaughter argues that in fact, the women we so often call out as modern feminine role models are actually superwomen: the most brilliant minds in their field, privileged to work for themselves or in a role that allows them a flexible schedule, and—not incidentally—wealthy enough to afford childcare. For the vast majority of women in this country, that’s just not an option. Slaughter argues that women won’t be able to “have it all” until flexible work schedules become the norm across industries and other standards catch up with our modern lives.
In the last few years, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has become one of the most visible superwoman role model after making several high profile speeches, including her December 2010 TedWoman talk, “Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.” Slaughter calls out Sandberg in her article for the same blaming attitude she experienced first-hand upon leaving her post with the State Department. We should note that yesterday it was announced that Sandberg has just become the first female member of Facebook’s Board of Directors.
As a company that’s roughly 80 percent women, led by two brilliant, incredibly dedicated women, we’re obviously invested in the debate. We admire both Slaughter and Sandberg for their successes and know that there’s not one correct path to happiness.
Have you read Slaughter’s article and listened to Sandberg’s speeches? How about the myriad of responses—including this one in The Atlantic by Lori Gottlieb? What’s your take?
Meet some of the superhero men and women that help keep our company going in our team intros series.