Over at Signs's Short Takes, a forum on Slaughter's new book with Heather Boushey, Kimberly Freeman Brown, Stephanie Coontz, Nancy Folbre, Kathleen Geier, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Premilla Nadasen, Ai-jen Poo, and Joan C. Williams, with a response by Anne-Marie Slaughter. Nancy Folbre:
When the suit sitting next to me on an airplane saw me reading Anne-Marie Slaughter’sUnfinished Business (the subtitle, Women, Men, Work, Family, is not so easy to see), he cheerfully asked me what line of business I was in. When I said, “I’m in the feminist business,” he did a double take. “Yes,” I added, “and it’s expanding like mad.”
Fortunately he did not ask me about its profit margins.
Pondering the book’s title in the aftermath of this brief exchange, I registered the hidden pun. This is largely a book about busyness—tyrannical over-busyness. In this it succeeds as a thoughtful and therapeutic treatment.
Slaughter challenges the “women can do it all” norm that gives women so little permission to disappoint anyone’s expectations. She also sharply deplores the antifamily pressures of the modern workplace and the inadequacies of our public care infrastructure.
In some ways, she reverses Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (subtitled Women, Work, and the Will to Lead) by arguing that women need to lead men, as well as themselves, away from psychological subordination to paid employment. Lean in to your family, your friends, and your community, Slaughter urges. Lean in to make political change.
Unlike Sandberg, Slaughter almost manages to transform her privileged standpoint (as an academic and political superstar rather than an entrepreneur) into a political asset rather than a liability. After all, if a woman who can afford a full-time housekeeper still needs to take time out from the job of her dreams, the rest of us should not succumb to feelings of inadequacy when we do the same.
Unfortunately, her book, despite its attentiveness to economic differences among women, doesn’t quite preempt the “privilege” critique. In its cheerful exhortation to everyone to fight for changes that would, in principle, benefit everyone, it glosses over larger issues of income inequality.