Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family Stress, Pain, and Illness

By Anne-Marie Slaughter

In her 2015 book Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, and Family, Anne Marie Slaughter expands upon her hotly debated 2012 article in The Atlantic, “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All.”

Slaughter was a woman on the fast track who took a leave from her tenured position at Princeton to become the first female director of policy planning at the US State Department.  She broke glass ceilings.  She theoretically “had it all,” with two healthy children who were in school, a supportive husband who was the primary caregiver, and a rising, high-profile political career that led her into high-level policy work. She left it early when issues with her child forced the decision to put family needs ahead of her political career.

Within her first hundred pages, Slaughter moves beyond basic gender politics. She rightly asserts that until society values care and caregiving, supports and accommodates it, and starts paying the true costs associated with it, equality for men and women will not happen. Obviously, this seemingly radical notion has significant implications for those of us working in education, the ultimate caregiving sector!

Slaughter explains that executives often make high-level decisions about leadership candidates, opportunities, mentoring, and succession planning behind closed doors. Women can still be taken seriously as “contenders” after having one child, but the onus is on them to ensure that their new caregiving role does not appear to interfere with their job performance. After a woman has a second child, many advancement opportunities disappear because it’s assumed that she will struggle to juggle family and work. For men who would like to exercise non-traditional pathways, like taking parental leave or becoming the primary caregiver, the stigma associated with doing so can instantly lead to a pre-child rising star’s light flickering out and falling off the opportunity fast track.

What is Slaughter’s remedy for all of this? She says we need to shift out of the 1950s paradigm of work and life, with its countless assumptions about the ideal worker, into a more flexible understanding of work. Ultimately, workers and managers need to decide, separately and in consultation, how to create an environment that allows everyone to fit care and career together in a mutually beneficial manner. That sounds like collective bargaining to me.

If you want to be infuriated, affirmed, and inspired, read this book. Then, determine how you can affect change in your particular role and start laying the groundwork for negotiations!

About Nanci Henderson
Nanci Henderson is a teacher in District 24, Waterloo and is a member of the provincial Communications/Political Action Committee.

3 Comments on Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family Stress, Pain, and Illness

  1. Kara Tremel // March 25, 2017 at 11:35 am // Reply

    You have my attention. I look forward to reading this book.

  2. Cheryl Nicholls Jones // March 25, 2017 at 5:06 pm // Reply

    Great review Nanci. I know what my next book purchase will be. As a woman born in the early 50’s I have personally experienced this and witnessed many welcome changes but there are many more that need to occur.
    I can hardly wait to read this book. Thanks for bringing it to my attention in such a meaningful way.

  3. I enjoyed reading this review Nanci. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect. Awareness is key to being able to articulate a compelling argument when faced with this kind of discrimination.

    I sat beside two young, “professional” men on a plane recently. One man was discussing a female colleague of theirs, “I will say, she’s a very efficient worker when she’s in the office, but I wouldn’t say she’s a hard worker. I say that only because she leaves at 4:30 on the dot. And I know it’s because of her family obligations, but still….”

    I wish I had had the words and guts to interrupt these strangers, rather than just throwing them a shock-fuelled glare…. but, we’ll see about next time…

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