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Anne-Marie Slaughter Proposes “New Social Contract” For Women and Men at Home and in the Workplace

AM Slaughter

Photo Credit: Sameer Khan

By Donald Gilpin

Promoting her latest work, Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, published in September by Random House, Ms. Slaughter, the Bert G. Kerstetter ’66 University Professor Emerita of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton and now president and CEO of New America, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute, explained that her book, unlike her Atlantic Monthly article, focuses as much on men as women.

Many of the letters and other responses to her 2012 article that led to a national debate came from men, who were saying, according to Ms. Slaughter, “I am just as much a prisoner of gender roles as women were 30 years ago. I have to be the breadwinner, I don’t have a choice. If I try to take a different role, I’ll be stigmatized. My masculinity will be called into question.”

“We are not giving men the same choices we are giving women,” declared Ms. Slaughter, who has two teen-aged sons. “We must value men for being caring beings as much as competitive beings. I’m asking men to stand for themselves, to stand for that sense of being powerfully needed, powerfully important for their children, for the emotional role that men can play.”

In describing her blueprint for change in society Ms. Slaughter criticized the one-sidedness of American culture. “We’re work-obsessed. This is a culture that values what you do to earn money above anything else.” The missing piece of the puzzle here, she said, is “care.”

“We need to value care for elders and for children. Care teaches patience, restraint. We are not valuing what we ought to be valuing as a society, as human beings.”

Ms. Slaughter’s speech, like her Atlantic article and her new book, combined persuasive scholarly argument with illustrative human stories, mostly personal, recounting her journey from undergraduate days at Princeton through career and family to her present position.

She recalled first sitting in the Woodrow Wilson School lecture hall in 1977 as a sophomore in a politics and international relations class. “Being a feminist was part of my identity,” she explained, as she saw her path ahead, following the feminist leaders of the previous decade, going to law school becoming a lawyer, going into the field of foreign policy.

Then she described her return to Princeton in 2002 as newly appointed dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, “thrilled to be a mom” with a three-year-old and a five-year-old and convinced that “you can do this. It’s just a question of wanting your career enough and making it work” Then, ten years later, in 2012, after facing the fact that she couldn’t “have it all,” she wrote — in the Atlantic article — and spoke at Princeton about the choices she had to make in leaving her post in the State Department to take care of her family and return to her university professorship.

Earlier this week, Ms. Slaughter was in a familiar setting, back again, speaking at the Woodrow Wilson School, with her new book and a revolutionary plan to create a culture that prioritizes caring for families as much as success in the workplace.

Hillary Clinton, Ms. Slaughter’s former boss at the State Department, in her praise for Unfinished Business, applauds “Anne-Marie’s hope and optimism that we can change our points of view and policies so that both men and women can fully participate in their families and use their full talents on the job.” Atul Gawande, best-selling author of Being Mortal, adds in his endorsement that Ms. Slaughter’s message is “Revolutionary … the instruction manual for our next cultural transformation.”